Jail teaches some people a lesson, but many others become repeat offenders after they leave. Then there is Ralphige, who saw his arrest as a business opportunity.
"I was arrested once for making prank calls at the age of 18," said the faintly accented voice, being transmitted from somewhere in Florida. "I don't know if you ever saw the movie 'The Wash,' with Snoop and Dre? Well, I called a car wash and I told them that I was one of the producers of the movie, and that we made the movie based on his car wash. I said I wanted to fly him out to Los Angeles and give him a fat check ... there were actually cops at his house, tracing where the call was coming from ... they put me in handcuffs, and they charged me with stalking, harassing and obscene phone calls."
Six years later, Ralphige is an underground sensation who has made a name pranking celebrities like Michael Jackson (Ralphige told him to lay off the little kids), Paris Hilton (he discussed trading sexual favors for a reduced legal penalty) and Jay-Z (offering him a job and a pay raise). In the worlds of hip-hop and Hollywood, dozens of celebs (like Diddy) count themselves as fans — while many others want to smack, sue or otherwise suppress him.
"The first real celebrity I called was Scott Storch," recounted the voice. "One of his managers gave me his phone number, and I had it for about two weeks, but I had no idea what to call and tell him. Then I saw an episode of 'Live With Regis and Kelly,' and Hulk Hogan was telling Regis and Kelly about his daughter Brooke signing with Scott Storch for her album. ... Right there, a light bulb went off. Fifteen minutes after that episode aired, I gave [Storch] a call — and the Gregster came out."
Completely improvising (Ralphige insists he has to be spontaneous to make his calls convincing), he invented a "Jerky Boys"-like character named the Gregster, insisting that he was Brooke Hogan's boyfriend. After accusing the wealth-flaunting Storch of having an affair with the "About Us" singer, a furious Storch conferenced daddy Hulk Hogan on the phone, leading to a hilarious onslaught of confusion fueled by threats, F-bombs and Ralphige's repeated insistence that "I'm the Gregster!"
As quickly as Storch could change his private number, the call had been posted all over the Internet. Subsequent calls to everyone from Akon to David Banner to Nelly and Pharrell have followed, the legend of Ralphige growing with each.
Speaking with Ralphige is the modern-day equivalent of meeting Deep Throat in a parking garage: You e-mail his MySpace page and wait for a response. When the phone rings, all he'll tell you is the barest of facts. "I'm 24, I live in Miami ... I'm half Cuban, half Brazilian."
Between celebrities, bodyguards and lawyers, he's been threatened with more bodily harm than a Red Sox fan at Yankee Stadium. Taking his moniker from a nickname a boss gave him, his secret identity has so far allowed Ralphige to work a normal 9-to-5 job, surrounded by co-workers unaware that they're sitting next to the man Jay-Z wants to strangle.
"Nobody knows who I am — there's no pictures of me on the Internet," the voice said. "No one really knows who Ralphige is. I'm just this mystery person that's causing havoc throughout the whole entertainment industry, little by little. I feel safe, for now.
"Every time a celebrity goes out to a radio station or to do a show, they're always prepared — they make sure they look good and talk tough," he continued, explaining his popularity. "When I call them, they don't know that it's being recorded; they're being themselves, and it's not what people would expect to hear from them. I do get a pleasure in exposing the real them."
Typically, the prank process begins when a celeb's entourage sneaks Ralphige a top-secret private number. Once the call is placed, he makes small talk to lull a target into a sense of security ("I can't go too crazy on them right away, because they'll just hang up"). Then, he reveals himself as Chingy's gay lover, the ghost of Busta Rhymes' dead bodyguard, or a parole officer offering to reduce Paris' sentence (see "Paris Hilton Drops Appeal After Jail Time Is Cut For Good Behavior").
"I got her when she was just sentenced to probation, a couple of months ago," he said of the heiress. "I called saying I was her probation officer, and that when celebrities like her get sent to probation there are ways that she can get off of it a lot easier ... she was like, 'OK, go on.' "
Soon enough, the talk turned from monetary compensation to an act that outraged even the overexposed sex-tape star. "She just started going crazy: 'You f---er, you're wasting my time! Who do you think you are?' " Ralphige laughed. "And then she hung up the phone."
Although he doesn't technically have Hilton's permission, Ralphige put the call on his recently released new CD, Phone'kd: Celebrity Crank Calls. While he admits that the legalities are somewhat gray, Ralphige isn't too concerned about Paris. "I don't think she'll come after me," he said with a chuckle. "At least, not for another 45 days."
Instead, he'll continue distributing CDs through his site and planning his next wave of outrageous attacks. "I've got the phone numbers for Lenny Kravitz, Robin Thicke, Bobby Valentino, Reverend Run and Shaggy," he said of his lengthy to-do list. "I've also got Sway — one of your reporters."
The angel on my right shoulder wants to warn my larger-than-life MTV colleague. But the devil to my left can't wait to hear the call. And as the internal conflict washes over me, I understand why the world needs a Ralphige.