Carmen Bryan ups the ante on hip-hop tell-alls with her eagerly anticipated memoir, It’s No Secret (VH1 Books/Pocket Books, $24.95). In looking back on her life, the 35-year-old author manages to pack 259 pages with more drama than you’ll see in a full season of Desperate Housewives. There’s a scandalous affair with a baller, a love triangle with two shot callers, infidelity, drug use, a suicide attempt and, of course, the rap song that started it all.
With the publication of It’s No Secret, the Long Island, New York, author chronicles her relationships with Nasir “Nas” Jones and Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter, joining a growing list of women who are revealing their personal lives with A-list (and sometimes D-minus list) celebrities. Karrine Steffans, aka Superhead, was the first to go public with her account of what it’s like to sleep with the biggest names in hip-hop. Since its 2005 release, Confessions of a Video Vixen (Amistad) has sold more than 300,000 hardcover copies. And Steffans has signed a six-figure two-book deal with Warner Books, which includes The Vixen Diaries, a follow-up to Confessions that’s scheduled for release this fall. Publishing insiders are watching the sales of It’s No Secret to see how readers respond to Bryan’s story. If her sometimes lurid but hard-to-resist memoir succeeds, expect some literary agents to capitalize with more jaw-dropping tales of hip-hop’s finest. Gilda Squire, the publicity director who in 2005 acquired Confessions for Amistad, a unit of publishing giant HarperCollins, says since that book’s publication she’s been besieged with . letters from would-be authors offering to give their inside view of the entertainment industry. However, most fell short in delivering any real content. “Some books are better left alone,” says Squire.
Karen Thomas, the executive editor at Warner Books who signed Steffans for two additional books, is also cautious about acquiring other titles from hip-hop dancers and groupies. “Karrine Steffans has staying power,” says Thomas. “Confessions gave us far more exposure into her life beyond hip-hop.”
Despite criticism posted on urban blogs that Bryan’s a bitter groupie, a gold digger and a professional baby mama, she insists she’s releasing Secret to clear her name. “I’m not an MC; I can’t go in the studio and respond to individuals,” she says. “So when Jay-Z and Nas recorded songs about me, they opened this door.”
It’s No Secret wastes little time taking us back to that day in 2001 when Bryan, who was then engaged to Nas, first heard the rap song “Is That Your Chick?” The song, which included angry verses by Jay-Z, was later followed by “Super Ugly.” That acidic vivisection recorded by Jay-Z accused Bryan of many things, including having sex with the Brooklyn-born Jay-Z in the backseat of Nas’s own Bentley. But why would someone with Jay-Z’s fame lash out at a 5-foot-2 “regular girl” from Long Island?
Bryan claims that Jay-Z, with whom she’d had a five-year affair, was upset that she’d accepted longtime lover Nas’s proposal. Her fiancé responded to Jay-Z’s taunts with “Ether,” now widely considered by some critics as the best diss song ever released. But despite Nas’s valiant response, Bryan’s relationship with him never recovered, and neither did her reputation.
That’s why Bryan says she wants to set the record straight with Secret. “I had no forum,” says the mother of 12-year-old Destiny, the daughter she had with Nas in 1994. “Once I was given the opportunity to tell my story, I jumped at it.” But this isn’t the first time Bryan has tried to disclose all. In 2005, some time after the feud between the two rappers hit the airwaves, she self-published Sex, Drugs and Hip-Hop, a detailed account of her life with both men, which sold only 100 copies through sexdrugsandhiphop.com, her Web site. Last year, she expanded the book at the suggestion of rapper 50 Cent. While there’s enough between-the-sheets scoop in Bryan’s book to rival any Zane novel—such as her alleged hotel romps with Philadelphia 76er Allen Iverson, whom she dated in 1996—at its core, It’s No Secret is the cautionary tale of a misguided young woman who falls for two very charismatic men. Bryan, who had been dating an alleged cocaine hustler in Connecticut, fell for Nas when she moved back to Queens, New York, where he lived and where she grew up. Though Bryan plays tough, as you read the book you quickly surmise that, underneath it all, she’s looking for a loving man. Or at least that’s how she explains why she stepped out on Nas and hooked up with Jay-Z, whom she met in a nightclub two years after Nas’s 1994 debut CD, Illmatic, blew up and kept him on the road.
She reached out to Jay-Z—she calls him SC—and admits they crossed the line from friends to lovers when a passionate kiss led to the beginning of their clandestine affair. (Both Nas and Jay-Z, through their representatives, declined to discuss Bryan and her book for this article.)
Is Bryan worried about a backlash, especially since at this point her two ex-lovers have healed their rift, and Nas, now married to singer Kelis, has signed with Def Jam, which Jay-Z runs? “There’s nothing to be afraid of,” says a confident Bryan. “It wasn’t my decision to make this a public affair.” But now that she’s talking, there’s no turning back. Bryan, who has worked at both Def Jam and Capitol Records, is now interested in being in front of the camera: A reality show is currently in the works. “Telling all is a full-time job,” she says with a laugh. “I still love SC, and I still love Nas. Love is an energy that can never be destroyed.”