Atlanta’s #BillionDollarLawyer Is Looking Out for Your Favorite Rappers
Posted February 8, 2018 9:35 p.m. EST
ATLANTA — Drew Findling, a 58-year-old cool dad with a taste for gingham blazers, is more likely to be recognized by a famous rapper than to recognize one himself. Within the current nerve center of hip-hop — especially here in Georgia — he is known, somewhat mythically, as a “witch doctor,” a “magician,” a “god in the streets.” He is also “the illest.”
Backstage at concerts, Findling often finds himself being approached by young people — “all these hip-hop stars that I’ve never heard of in my life” — who thank him for all that he’s done for the culture. At Gucci Mane’s televised wedding last year, Findling recalled, 2 Chainz singled him out with a pointed finger. “See that guy right there,” the rapper told his wife. “Honey, we don’t ever want to be in his office.”
This is the surreal life of the #BillionDollarLawyer, a reputation and hashtag Findling developed years after becoming an indispensable, behind-the-scenes fixture in the world of Atlanta rap — which, with the rise of the trap sound and dominance of streaming, is basically the heart of the musical universe.
A criminal defense attorney by trade, Findling has little to do with the career planning or creative output of Migos, Gucci Mane or Waka Flocka Flame, all of whom he’s successfully represented in court. But given that those artists’ lyrical subject matter and biographical credibility stem from their proximity to, or past participation in, grim netherworlds of drugs and guns — and, more plainly, given their status as vulnerable black men under 40 — Findling’s services are nonetheless a key ingredient in their success.
“He’s the biggest lawyer in the game, man,” said Offset, 26, whose trio, Migos, topped the Billboard album chart for the second time in a row with its new release, “Culture II.” “I’m a young black kid that made my dreams come true. A lot of people that I run into try to use me for what I don’t know.” But Findling, “he’s never, ever done that, from day one.”
Todd Moscowitz, a veteran music executive and the founder of Alamo Records, stressed the importance of having a reliable advocate for his artists. Findling invests in “how people turn out, not just in the particular case he’s handling,” he said. “He stays in touch with everybody.”
So while Findling has gained some renown as a courtroom killer — having tallied wily legal victories and plea deals for an array of high-profile acts — he has also taken on the role of a mentor, and even a father figure, to the flashy and the fast-living as they try to outrun societal disadvantages (and youthful recklessness) in favor of fame.
“It is increasingly disturbing to me, the ‘X’ that is on the forehead of people in this industry,” Findling said in an interview at his Atlanta office, which is decorated in playful art, including an oversize Annie Leibovitz photo book, and framed newspaper clippings from his biggest cases.
“There’s such a target on these young guys,” he said. “Every once in a while someone is going to make a mistake. But no one looks at all the good that comes out of what they do.”
Findling’s track record is strong, both legally and interpersonally: He began representing Gucci Mane near the rapper’s drug-riddled rock bottom in 2013 and helped to negotiate the federal plea deal, for possession of a firearm by a felon, that put a stop to his downward spiral. (Findling later secured Gucci Mane’s early release from prison after three years, leading to the rapper’s magnificent rebirth and best-selling autobiography.)
He also assisted Migos at a key moment in the group’s ascent, advocating Offset, who had a prior felony conviction, after the trio was arrested on marijuana and weapons possession charges at a Deep South college show. (The charges were eventually dropped.) At trial, Findling earned an acquittal last year for Waka Flocka Flame, arguing that the rapper had brought a gun to the airport only because he’d accidentally grabbed his girlfriend’s matching bag. The jury decided in the rapper’s favor after less than half an hour.
Gregarious, disarmingly casual (“Dude, call me Drew”) and usually in sunglasses, Findling did not seek out this world. At the three-lawyer firm he founded in 1987, after a few years in the public defender’s office, Findling handles a diverse portfolio of cases that don’t feature TMZ-type names. In July, he will be sworn in as the president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. And he still prefers to call his rapper friends by their legal names: Radric Davis. Kiari Cephus. Juaquin Malphurs.
But as Atlanta has developed into what Findling called “Hip-Hop Hollywood,” a black entertainment mecca, demand for his guidance has increased among not only musicians but also the rap-adjacent, including the comedians Mike Epps and Katt Williams, as well as athletes and reality stars from “Love & Hip Hop.”
It started, in many ways, with Demetrius Flenory.
Better known as Big Meech, Flenory became part of rap lore for his leadership role in the Detroit-via-Atlanta drug syndicate Black Mafia Family, which also dabbled in music before the government brought down the wide-reaching criminal conspiracy in 2005. A few years earlier, Flenory had been arrested and charged in a double murder outside of an Atlanta club — a former bodyguard of Diddy's was among the victims — and Findling, oblivious to the wider context, served as his counsel.
Flenory was ultimately not indicted in the shooting, a victory for Findling that would reverberate for years. “At the time, I didn’t assign any significance to this,” said Findling, who also worked with NBA stars Dennis Rodman and Shaquille O’Neal. “Truth be told, I’d never listened to a rap song.”
But his name spread among the black Atlanta underground, leading him to cross paths with the future rap executive Pierre Thomas (of Quality Control) and eventually Gucci Mane, the Ur-connector in town.
Far from a natural hip-hop fan — “I’m always going to hit that ‘70s channel on Sirius, man,” Findling said — he has developed a protective affinity for the art form, and especially its innovators. “People go to Wharton to try to achieve the business acumen that just naturally flows through the veins of these guys,” he said.
Through his proximity to rap clientele, Findling has also taken an increased interest in activism, speaking nationally and on social media, alongside his clients, about racism in the criminal justice system, mass incarceration, prisoner re-entry and the problems with probation, which he calls “modern-day shackles.” On a movie set last fall with Epps, where the comedian filmed a public service announcement on the lack of rights for felons, Findling cracked jokes about starring in a hip-hop reboot of “My Cousin Vinny.” Asked why entertainers were so drawn to Findling, Epps shot back, “Because he’s an entertainer, too!”
“He’s like Robin Hood,” Epps added, “with Jesus swag.”
Findling was raised Jewish on Long Island by a single mother, on a steady diet of Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin and peace rallies. At 17, he moved to Atlanta on a running scholarship and never left. And while he praises the city as a “heterogeneous, open-minded and progressive.” Findling is also aware of the intricacies of his surroundings.
He called the 2015 arrest of Migos at Georgia Southern University, in Statesboro, a “life-altering” event. “There was this interpretation that these successful, young African-American artists had to be gang members,” Findling said, recalling that he walked by Confederate monuments on his way into court. “If they could do this to Migos, they could do it to any poor African-American in any small town in America, let alone the South.” Offset, who had recently completed probation from an earlier theft conviction, was behind bars for eight months even though the initial charges were eventually dropped. (While incarcerated, he was charged with fighting with an inmate and was ultimately sentenced to time served.) “It was the worst time of my life when I was facing jail,” Offset said. But Findling “would drive four hours just to make sure that I wasn’t tripping, just to talk to me. It means a lot when you have someone who genuinely cares.”
Now, even when he’s not in trouble, Offset and his mother speak to Findling up to 10 times a week, the rapper said — never mind the other Migos, Quavo and Takeoff, who also go to Findling for advice. “He always tries to prevent me from doing dumb stuff — not even criminal stuff, but just in life,” Offset said. “I really feel I can trust him.”
Moscowitz pointed to Findling’s humility and professionalism. “These are often incredibly trying times for the artist,” he said. “The last thing they want to worry about, in addition to everything else, is whether the person they’re working with has an ulterior motive or is looking for clout themselves.” Findling said he saves pro bono work “for poor people and good causes.” He added, “Trying to promote myself at the expense of somebody famous is not a good business idea.”
Still, he gets a kick out of his blossoming fame in certain circles. Findling’s son, Zack, 28, runs his all-smiles, rapper-heavy Instagram account, which has accumulated nearly 25,000 followers. “Now he gets a million messages a day asking to send him beats,” the younger Findling said. (The #BillionDollarLawyer tag, a fixture of the account, came from the Memphis rapper Young Dolph, who left the hospital with Findling by his side after being shot multiple times in Hollywood last year.)
A new generation of rappers, including Lud Foe and Lil Baby, is now lining up to become clients. “I’m getting phone calls, literally, from all over America right now,” Findling said.
But in addition to the work, Findling cherishes the up-tempo exchange of ideas, the energy and unlikely experiences that come with being on the vanguard of culture. Along with the constant stream of “I love you, man” and “I’m so proud of you” messages volleyed over text and FaceTime, Findling is never short on life tips — save your money, pay your taxes, don’t invest in restaurants — and he admits to absorbing just as much from the other side.
“This is just a new generation, like all past musical generations,” Findling said. “Blues was the devil’s music, everybody thought jazz was this horrible thing, and rock ‘n’ roll was going to destroy the earth.”
Rap, he has learned, is no different in its appeal to “people of all races, all socioeconomic groups.” Besides, “If you can’t hear that ‘Bad and Boujee’ is a classic,” he said, “try again.”