By Seth Ferranti (www.gorillaconvict.com)
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, if you were in the drug game in Baltimore, then you answered to one man, Peanut King. He was the man in more ways than one- trendsetter, drug dealer, high roller, ladies’ man- these were only a few of the titles Peanut King carried. His name has gone down in infamy in Charm City as one of the baddest, boldest, smoothest, and most blatant to ever do it. He dressed stylish like a pimp, pumped heroin like the French Connection, and played the game the way it was meant to be played, city wide and on multiple levels. Portraying himself as a big time gambler who frequented Atlantic City and won millions, Peanut King had the style, flash, class, and substance to set himself apart from other dealers of the era. He also had a vicious team behind him. One that would put in the necessary work to keep Peanut on the winning side. The Peanut King Mob was well known up and down the east coast as one of the most notorious crews in Baltimore. They were well respected and feared, led by one of the biggest names in the drug game, street legend Peanut King. An original gangster who rose out of B-More’s rough and rowdy streets to become lord of the heroin trade.
In the streets of Charm City, Peanut was the recognized shot caller. “He was making $25 million a year,” says the dude from Holbrook, who was around during Nut’s reign. “Peanut King had Hoffman and Holbrook, that was the most lucrative area. He was putting seven to ten percent pure on the street. He had a better cut on the heroin. They’d be coming from D.C., Virginia, all over, to get that bang for their buck.” Most dealers put out three percent pure in that era, so the heroin that Nut’s people put out was of a higher quality, and with the better product, Nut quickly cornered the market. The Peanut King Mob sold a lot of heroin, and they broke it down into $60 and $70 bags. The feds estimated his mob made $5 million a year through their drug business. That was a nice sum. The money was too big to be ignored.
Trafficking spread to dozens of operations around the city. Junkies walked dazed through the streets looking for something to put in their veins. Nut controlled the market from Cherry Hill way over on the other side of the Hanover Street Bridge, to Streeper Street in Southeast Baltimore, where the rowhouses were bunched tightly with marble steps. In the front stoop culture that existed on the fringes of civilization, Nut ruled. Everybody knew what was going down, but the city supported Nut. In ghettos like Cherry Hill his mob made the lions share of money. The junkies were committing all the crimes- needles in the gutter, automatic gunfire in the streets, news in the morning paper of another overnight killing but Nut was making all the money. Nothing mattered to Peanut, he was above it all, he transcended the streets. As the king of Baltimore he clocked mad paper and had the run of the city with its inhabitants at his beck and call.
Peanut possessed an exoticness that was unique in the ghetto. The man drove a DeLorean which was unheard of in B-More. He brought that exotic-type shit into style. Many dudes bit his style, but Nut was the original. The innovator. He had a huge house in Silver Spring, Maryland. It’s said the house had no windows, just surveillance cameras on all angles of the house. Nut wasn’t taking any chances with security. He was a little paranoid due to his big name, and he wasn’t trying to get caught unaware. Make no mistake about Nut, he was a business man, but the five-foot-nine, 180 pound man would handle his business if and when necessary. But his M.O. was his extravagance. His demeanor wasn’t violent, it was all Charm City slickster. A pimp in the drug game that exuded true O.G. class.
In the early 1980s Maurice “Peanut” King of East Baltimore took drug dealing down a sinister new alley. At his peak, King headed a $50 million-a-year heroin ring, running it from an executive boardroom with computers to keep track of all the money. At North Avenue and Chester Street, he installed a fully mirrored gymnasium, two universal workout systems, punching bags, a whirlpool, plus something the cops had never seen before- a room where Peanut could adjust the weather in his little universe. “Yeah,” said the city’s top narcotics cop, Captain Joe Newman. “They could make it rain inside the room. They could make the wind blow. There was something called jungle mist.” Little Wayne can make it rain, but can he make it jungle mist like Peanut King? The man truly was before his time. A P. Diddy of the drug game, merchandising and marketing his brand into all types of businesses.
King and Meredith Market and Deli on East North Avenue was one of three stores owned by Joe Dancer, Magic Meredith, and Nut. He was one of the first drug dealers to try and go legit by investing in businesses in his community. He was reinvesting in the hood. Nut had a Robin Hood image in the ghetto, and the people loved him and worshiped the ground he walked on. He was a mythical type figure, an icon. He was looked up to and admired for his classy and extravagant ways. Dudes in the city emulated his style of dress and wore bedroom slippers that cost $150 just to be like Nut. That was his thing- being a trendsetter and hood star. He reveled in his celebrity. It’s said he used to step out of limo’s in front of the clubs wearing flawless diamond pinkie rings that Nut said cost 40 grand. All lights were on him as he shined brightly, a lord of B-More’s underworld. Because for real he wasn’t Robin Hood, he was in the hood.
“By 81-82, he done took over Baltimore. He bought some shops and had some clubs on the strip,” the old head remembers. “He had some clothing stores he used for fronts. He laundered all his money through businesses. He bailed people out through his bail bonds to clean money.” Nut was a gangster, but he was so much more. He saw the big picture and took it all in, incorporating all aspects under his control. He knew where his niche was and he made an all out effort to get in where he fit in. “He had a good chunk of Baltimore. He owned it all. A real good chunk,” recalls the old head. In his book, Alfred Reed wrote of Peanut, “I used to see him get to his store on North Avenue, Grocery and Deli on the side. Peanut had a lot of class to be a drug dealer. He was very smart, and he could feel you. Once I brought my nephew to personally meet Peanut. Nut came down the steps to meet him, and my nephew said after he met Peanut, ‘He looks like a gangster.’” That’s because Peanut King was a gangster from the old school. He was well versed in gangster decorum and etiquette, and he knew how to carry it like a man. Back in the day there was honor among thieves, and Nut epitomized that ideal. To him the street code was paramount, but Nut also made his own rules
Peanut King revolutionized the drug game by taking Nicky Barnes’ use of kids to another level. Nut used teenagers who, unlike the kids used by Barnes were wise to the drug game and were dedicated to their jobs. Furthermore, to make their jobs work more efficiently, Nut bought mopeds for all of his young workers to get back and forth from the stash spots to customers. The mopeds gave the youngsters mobility, agility, and speed in transporting the merchandise to the customers. With Nut it was all about good customer service. Teens in Russell brand sweat pants, Coach shorts, and bedroom slippers, the style Nut made popular, became a common sight on Baltimore’s inner-city streets. By forming the children’s brigade Nut took his big time narcotics trade where no one had gone before. He bought 18 Mopeds from an East Baltimore cycle shop and had his lieutenants give them to school kids, some as young as 11, and then paid the kids up to $500 a week to run heroin for him. Peanut thus insulated himself from easy arrest and the kids made a fortune. The city was also horribly afflicted by this adolescent army, swollen with unimagined money, numb to all sense of morality, disdainful of sitting through school or finding some chump job slinging hamburgers when their ship seemed to have come in. And Peanut King was the captain of that ship. A ghetto pirate with that Pirates of the Caribbean flavor.
“He had kids between fifteen and eighteen, about 30 or 40 of them on Mopeds, selling heroin,” the Holbrook dude says. “This was one of his strategic moves because it sped up his deliveries with the transfer between money and drugs. The lure with the kids was that if you worked for Peanut King, you got a moped, so all the kids wanted to work for Peanut. He always had hundreds of kids who wanted to work for him. This was his stroke of genius.” The use of teenagers by Nut caused a new law to go on the books in Maryland though. It became a requirement for anyone driving a moped to have a valid driver’s license. That gave the beat police a reason to stop the kids on mopeds, taking a lot of Nut’s kids off their bikes.
“Nut was big from the early to late 70s into the 80s. He was always present,” the young hustler comments. “In 1980 a kilo cost like $130,000. It was part of that French Connection/Nicky Barnes hookup.” If you weren’t hustling for Nut, it was dangerous to hustle. “You couldn’t sell nothing,” the young hustler remembers. “If you were a hopper, you knew where it ended up. Nut wasn’t having it. It was about them putting their hands on you. It was just Nut. You respected him.” Nut was instrumental in the youth basketball leagues as well sponsoring teams and tournaments. His grass roots efforts led to the development of players like Sam Cassell, Carmelo Anthony and Rudy Gay, who all made it to the NBA from inner-city Baltimore.
“His crew were real avid basketball dudes. They ran the dope leagues,” the young hustler says, and locals remember playground legends like Skip Wise lighting up the games with his signature “honey dip.” Peanut’s crew used to style and profile over at O’Dell’s too. O’Dell’s was known as the baddest club on the strip where all the players, hustlers, ballers, dime pieces, and pimps congregated. “O’Dell’s was like Studio 54, the hood version. It was over on North Avenue between St. Paul and Charles Streets. The line would go around the block. It kicked like that from 1975 to 1985. They had a million dollar sound system. Thursday nights were the nights,” the young hustler says. It was rumored that Nut owned the club. The hustlers would be lined up in their furs and jewels, pimped out. It was a beautiful time in Charm City. Gangsters stunted in all their glory.
Nut’s crew was different, sharp but professional; passersby would have thought they were businessmen. They were that fresh. Peanut always had a reserved table and women all around him. His crew was deep up in O’Dell’s. “The club had a radio commercial which said, ‘The underground is open. You’ll know if you belong,’” the young hustler says. “And Nut and his crew definitely belonged. They were like royalty up in that joint. Police would be up in there dancing and everything. It was crazy.” The photo booth captured the moments, even the moments with Nut. Him sitting in the wicker chair like it was a throne, his enforcers and colleagues surrounding him. Heavy was the head that wore the crown.
“Nut was well protected. He always had like three or four dudes around him,” the old head says. “You had to go through these guys if you wanted to talk to Nut. He was the man for real. He had a piece of the action of every club on the strip. The clubs, strip joints, gambling. Nut had it all.” Baltimore Street at that time was the strip and Peanut allegedly had his hand in the inner workings of most establishments in the area. “He took over prostitution on Pratt and Monroe Streets and sold a lot of heroin down there. That’s when Lafayette was ringing. The big money was made at the projects. The money generated off his name was crazy. Twenty to thirty thousand a day coming off of one corner selling halves and wholes,” explains the young hustler. The heroin spots in B-More were bubbling, making the Peanut King Mob crazy cash.
“Peanut King was bigger than the mayor because he took care of the ghetto,” the old head remembers. “He did things in different ways. He was a business man with morals. He showed love. He had big Christmas dinners in Lafayette, pulled up a U-Haul van and gave away presents for the kids, so how can you say something bad about a man like that? He was like the savior of the ghetto. He was one of the best con men in the business. If he could fool society and get them on his side while pushing dope and employing ruthless killers, his game was tight. He knew how to play every angle.” Peanut King was a man of many talents. He had the foresight to see a problem before it evolved. It’s said he made a lot of cases go away through his team of lawyers. “His lawyers were crooked as a two dollar bill,” the old head recalls. “They laundered his money and made all of his business dealings look legit. Anything big that was going down was going down because of Peanut. He was the king.” But like every king, Nut eventually fell.
Peanut King was the lord of Baltimore’s heroin trade throughout the 1970s and into the 1980s. He has gone down as a certified street legend in Charm City and all up and down the east coast. There have been many dudes featured in street DVD’s, magazines, and on BET’s American Gangster whose legends don’t compare to Peanut King’s. Not to diminish who they were but Peanut King’s star shines brighter. His stature and reputation is recognized by the many respected men who have played this so called game. In the belly of the beast he is widely known and acknowledged as a true original gangster. The man was an innovator whose business techniques in the heroin trade revolutionized the game. His swagger, flamboyance, demeanor and style has often been copied but no one can really do it like Peanut did. He left an undeniable mark on the streets, and his legend has reverberated, elevating him to mythical proportions in gangster lore and in the prisons, the only place where it really counts. In the pantheon of gangsterdom, Peanut King’s legend looms large. Taking its place next to the giants of gangster history.
Check out the rest of this story and more in Street Legends Vol. 2.
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