No story grabs attention quite like one that’s both outlandish and true. So it’s no wonder that BMF, also known as Black Mafia Family, is one of the biggest television series in the world right now, attracting more than four million viewers for its recent Season 2 premiere. The Detroit, Michigan-set crime drama (pictured) tells the story of two brothers’ gritty, yet strategic rise in the drug game — dramatizing a fascinatingly-built criminal empire that tried to become a legitimate, larger-than-life entertainment business.
“When you talking about BMF, you’re talking about a cultural phenomenon,” multiplatinum recording artist/actor T.I. described in a recent interview. “The lifestyle and the music are tethered together.”
A majority of the moments that transpire in the show are identical to true events, immortalising the infamous background to a hip hop powerhouse with a dark underbelly.
The story you’re about to read is the documented truth about a nationwide drug trafficking ring and its kingpins. The names and events are non-fictionalized for authentic purposes. This is the story of the Black Mafia Family.
The Black Mafia Family was founded by the street-smart, widely ambitious, and braggadocious Detroit-raised brothers Demetrius and Terry Flenory, better known as Big Meech and Southwest T, in 1989.
“If you want to know the reason for us first getting in the game,” said Big Meech during a recorded federal prison phone interview. “It was just about being poor, man. We on welfare, at the gas station with food stamps. We keep catching the bus with holes in the bottom of your shoes. That was the motivation. We gotta do something. Fast. Once me and my brother got a real taste of money, it’s like you don’t never want that feeling to go away.”
Through passionate aspirations and a direct Mexican cocaine supplier, BMF became a large distributor of cocaine, transporting its wares through a family-owned car service. By the early 2000s, BMF had established a flashy and nightlife-driven entertainment front, expanding across the U.S., including Alabama, California, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, and Tennessee. During its last days, BMF was 500 members strong.
On the rise, Big Meech and Southwest T endured turf wars, conquering regional territories, survivor’s remorse, and, most of all, war scars. In the late ‘80s, Southwest T was shot in the right eye and left with partial sight, permanently. Big Meech was shot and wounded on two separate occassions. Once in the neck outside of a Chinese restaurant in the late ‘80s and another time in the ass during a 2004 shooting outside an Atlanta nightclub, following an argument with former Puff Daddy bodyguard Anthony “Wolf” Jones, who was killed in the altercation.
Outside the drugs and racketeering, BMF was best known for their lavish lifestyle, including: 13 multi-million dollar mansions across the U.S., the latest luxury car fleets at their beck and call, a direct line to limitless amounts of jewellery from world famous trader Jacob The Jeweler, and an expensive wardrobe. Big Meech and Southwest T credit their addiction to the flashy accessories and fashion to the trendsetting drug dealers they saw growing up like Detroit’s The Chamber Brothers and Young Boys Inc.
According to Big Meech, BMF’s successful takeover is based on brotherhood. “You don’t get nothing like this nowhere,” he said in a in in Smack DVD 8 interview in June 2005. “Everybody move like brothers and everybody from different places. Milwaukee, St. Louis, Detroit, Texas, Atlanta, Cali, Florida. Everybody move as one. Everybody is prospering in some kind of way, in their own way. Every man plays his own role and everything starts with the leader. I’m a good leader, so I got good people that follow. Simple.”
At the empire’s peak, Southwest T’s meticulous control and Big Meech’s obnoxiously flashy appeal, on top of sibling rivalry, caused a rift and led to cracks appearing in the organisation. Members would often recall the brothers’ public spats over the smallest issues in interviews. Eventually, each brother’s unwillingness to relinquish full control to the other caused an implosion
At the organisation’s most powerful point, Big Meech and Southwest T mutually decided to divide the empire. T would relocate to Los Angeles to be closer to Mexico and keep a closer eye on the business, while Meech would operate in Atlanta. The division resulted in members choosing sides in allegiance and relocating to different parts of the U.S.
In Atlanta, Big Meech became attracted to the music industry and launched BMF Entertainment in 2000. Known for his larger-than-life persona that fit perfectly with the entertainment industry’s addiction to spectacle, Big Meech and BMF was hip hop’s hottest new company with the launch of a record label and media outlet.
As the genre evolved from an unknown phenomenon that told real-life stories to the most influential musical style in the world, rap’s future legends like T.I., Jeezy, Diddy, Jay-Z and 50 Cent befriended or encountered Big Meech. Stories of Meech’s countless nightclub escapades with 100-plus entourages and unbelievable luxury items are told by artists to this day.
In several interviews, Jeezy recalled Big Meech – who was fairly new in the music industry at the time – pulling up to his music video shoot for ‘Soul Survivor’ in a one-of-a-kind Maybach and parking it right next to Jay-Z, the president of Def Jam Recordings, for bragging rights.
One of the most talked about stories told by those tied to BMF is Big Meech’s jungled-themed birthday party at Atlanta’s Magic City strip club that featured a pair of white tigers. Pusha T referenced the memorable moment on his 2018 track ‘If You Know You Know’, where he raps: “Where were you when Big Meech brought the tigers in?”.
In the early 2000s, BMF had a significant presence in the music industry. And many drug dealers-turned-chart-topping recording artists would try to steer clear of BMF at all costs for fear of relapsing into their old ways, while being unable to avoid Big Meech in extravagant VIP sections.
“I first heard about it [BMF] in 2003,” 50 Cent told DJ Drama in 2019 on his Sirius XM radio show. “They were so embedded into the music business, because when you can find your pockets, people like you around. When you at the nightclub and Puffy can’t buy champagne because you bought all of it, they start to have to speak to you. … I stayed away from it, because I know who I am, and I know how easy it is for me to… I might have bought something. I might’ve got too involved or too into it. Or it would be easy enough for people to make me involved without me being involved. I was doing too well. … They would reach out to me and I would avoid it, because it just wasn’t good for where I was at.”
Meech and T’s distance allowed the business to expand; however, the rift between them contributed to their downfall, as T would speak on his displeasure with Big Meech’s excessive lifestyle to family and friends which was caught on wiretaps. Meanwhile, Big Meech continued to draw attention from law enforcement with his over-the-top parties that saw him spending millions in a single night surrounded by an huge entourage that featured undercover law enforcement surveillance.
Of course, nothing lasts forever in the drug game. Following a 15-year investigation by combined local and federal task forces, including the IRS, that resulted in a report of more than 900 pages of wiretaps, informants, seized financial records, and surveillance, Big Meech and Southwest T were arrested on drugs and racketeering charges in 2005. Orchestrated raids took down the brothers — Southwest T in St. Louis, Missouri, and Big Meech in Frisco, Texas — along with 150 BMF affiliates.
Before the raid, BMF was well aware of the impending take down. While Southwest T was arrested first, it’s documented that Big Meech was offered the opportunity to flee to Mexico to avoid capture from law enforcement. However, he refused and fled to Miami, then Frisco, where he was eventually arrested.
Among the BMF members apprehended were the Flenory brothers’ father, sister, and girlfriends, whose names were on the titles of various homes and shell businesses throughout the U.S and were used as leverage by the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) in exchange for the brothers’ cooperation. With the agreement that their family would be spared any charges; the brothers agreed to take accountability for the criminal enterprise.
At the time of the RICO indictment, the empire was reportedly worth $270 million dollars. Both Big Meech and Southwest T pleaded guilty to being the ringleaders in 2007 and were sentenced to 30 years of federal imprisonment in September, 2008.
Southwest T was released from a Kentucky prison in 2020 after serving 22 years and receiving a reduced sentence due to the coronavirus outbreak. Big Meech was denied compassionate relief for ill health due to conoronavirus that same year, but is scheduled to be released from Federal Correctional Institution, Sheridan in 2024.
While incarcerated, Black Mafia Family lore transitioned into pop culture due to the culture’s biggest stars keeping their infamy alive through music, fashion, and interviews.
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Five years after the Flenorys’ incarceration, Big Meech and BMF’s mythos transformed into a pop culture phenomenon, beginning with the in-depth book on the rise and fall of the criminal organisation, BMF: The Rise and Fall of Big Meech and the Black Mafia Family, written by Mara Shalhoup in March 2010. That same year, hip hop – the most influential musical genre in the world – joined in the craze with hit music that glorified Big Meech’s extravagant lifestyle like Rick Ross’s massive hit, ‘B.M.F. (Blowin’ Money Fast)’.
After its demise, the popularity of BMF has lived on through public interest. The BMF logo was idolized in pop culture through tattoos, custom jewelry, clothing, and much more. Alongside the rise of mammoth social media outlets like YouTube, Twitter and Instagram, BMF’s legendary tales spread across the world via fan-made documentaries, interviews with known affiliates, and the resurfacing of old video footage that made enthusiasts addicted to the history of Big Meech and Southwest Tee.
In April 2020, based on the popularity of the criminal enterprise, Starz, 50 Cent and his G-Unit Films – who were coming off the success of the Power universe – fixed their sights on producing a television adaptation based on the Black Mafia Family’s origin. Enlisting Detroit screenwriter Randy Huggins, the show marked the introduction to Big Meech’s son, Demetrius “Lil Meech” Flenory Jr. (pictured above, left), who made his acting debut playing his father.
Lil Meech has often said in interviews that the BMF series has brought him closer to his father. While he and many viewers already know the fate of BMF, the series is designed to be a loose adaptation and leave room for change. But Lil Meech has voiced he wouldn’t change anything about how the story will end. “I believe everything happens for a reason,” he explained last month on the BMF Season 2 red carpet.
In support of the series’ success, 50 Cent and Starz released an eight-hour docuseries on the rise and fall of BMF on October 23, 2022, titled The BMF Documentary: Blowing Money Fast. And now BMF’s television series is expanding to a cinematic universe known as BMF Immortal, with the announcement of three upcoming spin-off shows, alongside a highly-anticipated third season of the flagship series being greenlit.
BMF Season Two is produced by Lionsgate+. It can be streamed in the UK on the Lionsgate Plus app
Bryson “Boom” Paul is a freelance writer, follow him on Twitter
Written by: Tim Hopkins