BY GAVIN GODFREY
Believe it or not, Curtis Snow grew up in a “well-rounded family,” as he tells me sitting on a couch in a haze of marijuana smoke. In his hands, Snow is gripping a giant can of 4 Loko and in between joint pulls; he’s cracking jokes about the night before with his manager, David Kwon Kim. We’re sitting in Kim’s Atlantic Station condo, a far cry from Snow’s home of Vine City in an area known as “Tha Bluff,” where Snow spent his days as a dope dealer and stick-up man.
One of six children, Snow’s father and mother were together, but not married. Snow’s pop’s spent 25 years at Diazo Specialty Blueprint before he passed, and made sure all of his children were fed, clothed and attended nearby Mary McLeod Bethune Elementary school. Typical at first glance, but for a young Black kid in Vine City, there was a more natural, less legal path.
“I had a lot of family folk that was real deep in the dope game,” Snow says of how he got into his first passion of selling crack. “All I had to do was just be there because I’m fucking with these folks and these my family – I’m in. I was about 13.”
Snow also remembers it was around this time, the late ‘80s/early ‘90s aka the rise of Freaknik that Atlanta was growing as fast the drug game and the Dirty South looked more like the Wild Wild West.
“That’s when they were taking motherfucker’s Starter jackets and motherfuckers robbed you for your shoes,” he says.
Oh, and it got worse.
“The Miami boys had come through like they were going to take over and there were real wars going on about that dope shit. That’s when dope was really out there,” he says. “Motherfuckers were really smoking crack for real, giving up their children and shit.”
It’s not like Snow wasn’t playing his own part in the destruction of the community, but as a teenager there was nothing better than the life revolving around being the neighborhood pusher man.
In fact, he took immense pride in his early career. “I might be serving your momma and you would have to like it because your momma was happy,” he says.
Then again, there was a dark side, and a man’s soul can’t deny the chaos his eyes see.
“I’ve seen doctors and shits come down here, get a job at Grady Memorial Hospital, come to Tha Bluff, get hooked on dope, lose everything.”
Dealing, robbing, and trying to outrun death made Snow a frequent resident at the Fulton County jail. Barely hitting his ‘20s, Snow was on his way to being a statistic when one dark week changed his life forever.
It started with the murder of his brother, one of Snows’ siblings who didn’t get caught up in the life he led.
That was on a Monday. The following Wednesday, Snow’s mother died, he says because of the pain from the loss of her son and his brother.
And as they say, “death comes in threes,” and before the week ended, Snow’s cousin (the one who sang at his brother’s funeral) was also killed.
The once proud dope boy had finally hit rock bottom.
“I’ve got an answer for every question and question for every answer but when all that shit was going on, I couldn’t really tell a motherfucker shit,” he says in the most somber tone of our entire conversation. “My whole world just went crashing. I didn’t want to eat. I didn’t want to sleep. I didn’t want to talk. I didn’t want to walk. I didn’t want to live.”
While death was around the corner, it was a sudden will to live and the, “you can’t die right if you’re doing wrong,” mentality that emerged within Snow’s psyche. Instead of calling it quits, Snow found a true purpose.
“I was like let me just see if I can do something better than the bullshit I was doing,” he says. “They saved their life for me, so I’ve got to try and do something to make them smile in the heavens above.”
So what was Snow’s first path to a career change?
“I started out as a comedian when I really wanted to be somebody,” he says, telling me how he used to sit around with his crew and, “jone motherfuckers all day.”
Eventually Snow’s antics found their way onto a friend’s video camera. Shooting mostly what he calls, “hood documentaries” since the age of 15, he says there was something different about seeing himself as a moving picture. “For some reason when that camera came on, I snapped into my mode,” he says
Snow and his partner pushed their early videos out the trunk of a car, moving from hood to hood, shooting new projects and selling product along the way. Then things stopped. Snow claims his fellow filmmaker was just a “local joker,” and that he had no real intentions of stardom, but still had an itch to make his presence felt on television somewhere.
In between making films for the streets, Snow landed one of his first big breaks with an appearance in Young Jeezy’s, “Crazy World,” video. But like any hustle he’d had before, Snow treated that moment like easy money, ignoring the hype and keeping his mind focused on the end goal.
“They paid me in cash,” he says. “That’s all I was thinking about. I got the money and got the hell on.”
After the “Crazy World” cameo, Snow started getting contacted by folks trying to make more gritty visuals, but he wanted something different. Instead of being presented, Snow wanted to take his work to someone who could put all of his film into an actual narrative. Snow met filmmaker Damon Russell, and “Snow On Tha Bluff” was born.
SOTB chronicles all of the daily ups and downs in the life of Snow as seen through the lens of a handheld camera. The movie was released and critics and the community were both in a full dialogue and at a loss for words.
As Snow tells me, things went beyond his expectations when SOTB and the entire mystique behind the man at its center blew up.
“I didn’t know shit was going to get this big to where I can’t even shop at Kroger without someone being like, ‘Is that you? Let me get a picture!”
Snow says he doesn’t mind a lot of the attention and can tell the difference between folks approaching him for the cause or the fall. Hell, he’s even making friends and connects outside the Tha Bluff.
“I’m mingling and it’s like these are the same motherfuckers that have been here all the time,” he says. “I had just never left and they probably were too spooked to come to my neighborhood.”
Nowadays Snow finding his and American Dream with a slew of various titles, ranging from film producer and author to music video cameo king. Snow likes the Atlanta he lives in now, albeit full of transplants and folks looking to turn the town into “the next Hollywood.”
No disrespect to the town’s newcomer’s, but Snow likes to remind folks who built this city.
“Atlanta’s still crunk. Nobody brought no Atlanta spirit to no nothing – we’ve been doing it,” he says. “They say shit moving fast in New York. Fuck around, come down here, you might get tricked out your whole life savings.”
Snow says his life, before anything, revolves around his young son, Curtis Junior. The most important role in the life of a man some folks have called one of the city’s most intimidating people, is “dad.”
Though he only gets to spend three days a week with his son, Snow tells me he doesn’t waste a minute trying to educate his seed, while praising the city that raised one generation and is currently fostering the other.
Whether its trips to Underground Atlanta or Centennial Olympic Park, Snow doesn’t hesitate to make sure that that he keeps life in perspective for young Curtis.
“This is a good city and I wouldn’t want him to move nowhere when he gets older,” he says. “While he’s young I’m going to make sure I stay in his ear and stay in his life to make sure he’s always straight.”
Somewhere in heaven, Snow’s family is grinning ear to ear, knowing their legacy is safe in his hands. •