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— by Joseph Patel

Stylish Harlem hustler Cam'ron is known for a lot of things: there's his distinct think-pink personal style, his bleak street lyrics and his ability to stack words like Tetris blocks. But first and foremost, Cam remains a compelling figure because he brandishes a hyperactive sense of self-aggrandizing arrogance.

  Cam'ron live at the Apollo
To put it another way, Cam feels himself in a way that makes Puffy look like the model of humility.

Just a couple of hours before a recent show at the famed Apollo Theatre in his former stomping grounds of Harlem, Cam'ron was at a neighboring clothing store, Apollo Signature, soapboxing on his rap peers' lack of style when compared to the Dip Set Don.

"A lot of rappers are wack, it speaks for they self, they just not fly," he said, holding court in the brightly lit storefront, whose entrance was blocked by a beefy security guard.

Dip Set member: Cam'ron

Alias: King Jaffe Joffer

Actuality: Jaffe was the father of Eddie Murphy's character Akeem and the king of the fictional country Zamunda in the movie "Coming to America." Jaffe was played by James Earl Jones, who we all know is the voice of Darth Vader. Homie had so much juice, beautiful ladies threw rose petals at his feet wherever he walked.

Dip Set member: Jim Jones

Alias: One Eyed Willie

Actuality: The infamous pirate who was integral to the plot of the 1985 movie "The Goonies." Mikey, Chunk and the guys were looking for Willie's treasure in the adventure flick. Jones calls his side crew the Goonies and yells "goonie goo-goo" when upset. Coincidently, in a comedy routine, Eddie Murphy also joked about his fictional wife from Africa saying "goonie goo-goo."

Dip Set member: Juelz Santana

Alias: Human Crack in the Flesh

Actuality: Crack, the illegal substance made from cooking powder cocaine to a rock form, hit communities across the country in the '80s and became an epidemic. But the drug was instrumental in helping the careers of burgeoning actors Chris Rock, Samuel L. Jackson and Halle Berry. All three famously played crackheads — Rock in "New Jack City" and Berry and Jackson in "Jungle Fever." Who can forget Sam's infamous jig as Gator Purify — the original version of the Harlem Shake, if you will — the Gator dance?
"Fly doesn't necessarily mean your clothes. Fly means when I wake up in the morning, before I put my socks on, I'm fly. I'm at the hotel somewhere, takin' a pi-- in the morning like, 'I'm Cam, man, I'm fly.' I don't even got my T-shirt on and I already know I'm fly before I wake up in the morning. When I get out the bed, I say my prayers and be thankful for being so fly. I be having cold sleep in my eyes and I know I'm still at the bathroom, fly like this. It's a whole swagger, a bathroom swagger."

Cam stood amongst members of his crew, the Diplomats, and seemed possessed by the power of his sermon. "It's bigger than me, you know?" he continued. "You can't buy this in stores — you gotta be born with this. This is instilled in you. I should bottle it up and sell my swagger. I could get at least $12 million for it because ain't nobody else got it."

Cam's Purple Haze has indoctrinated an almost cultlike following precisely because of the highly stylized ego that he and the Diplomats have cultivated. Two years ago, during the days of recording and promoting his 2002 album, Come Home With Me, Cam popularized the color pink as part of his sartorial ensemble. If pink had ever been perceived as a nonmasculine color, Cam twisted that perception inside out, donning pink from head to toe and even buying $100,000 automobiles in the blushed hue. He proved to have great foresight, as pink became the new black.

Now the color for Cam might be purple, though he disagrees. And no matter what color he wears, he insists, his impact will be felt. "I just like to do things that people don't do, you feel me? When I was wearing pink, I was doing it because everyone wasn't doing it. Then when everybody started doing it, I stopped doing it," he explained. "I see I have such an effect on people with colors like I'm Crayola. But until I switch up my color definitely, I'm wearing the white tee like I'm from Atlanta."

Cam's peacock strut matches his confidence in his music and that of the Dip Set. He's signed a deal for the Diplomats with distribution company Koch Records that allows them to reap more money per CD sold. Speculation remains that Cam might sign to release his solo material through Koch, since Jay-Z is taking over at Def Jam, whose parent company bought Cam's current home, Roc-A-Fella. (Jay-Z has never been a Cam'ron fan, and some cite that as one of the conflicts that arose between him and former Roc-A-Fella partner Damon Dash.) Wherever Cam ends up, he's anything but insecure about his prospects.

"We hot," he proclaimed. "At the end of the day, anything that my name is attached to — as executive producer or rapping — is going to be hot. We the stuff, the stuffing. Y'all the turkeys and we're the stuffing."

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Photo: Roc-A-Fella

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