Cops are probing whether a beef between Busta Rhymes' producer and two members of rapper 50 Cent's notorious posse spurred fatal gunfire at a star-studded video shoot in Brooklyn.
The slaying of Rhymes' security guard came just an hour after a heated argument between producer Swizz Beatz and G-Unit rap-group members Tony Yayo and Lloyd Banks inside the soundstage, probers said.
The men began arguing over who was getting to lay down what tracks for the video. And tensions only grew as more and more members of different posses began cramming into space around the stage, forcing security to order some to leave.
In the end, security guard Israel Ramirez, 29, wound up dead when bullets flew outside.
Yayo lawyered up yesterday in the shooting outside the Kiss the Cactus soundstage in Greenpoint.
His lawyer, Scott Leemon, faxed letters to the Brooklyn DA's office and NYPD detectives warning that the 27-year-old Queens ex-con, whose real name is Marvin Bernard, would not speak to investigators about the murder. Police have not officially named him as a suspect.
"I adamantly deny he had any involvement in the shooting of the security guard," Leemon said. "Based on my advice, Mr. Bernard will not, and does not, speak to prosecuting authorities. He never has, and he doesn't plan on it."
Yayo is on federal probation for possessing a phony passport. Leemon's comments came as Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said the department is "in the process of locating Busta Rhymes. We want to speak with him."
Rhymes' spokesman declined to comment yesterday.
Kelly told reporters that a dispute had erupted inside the studio on Green Street, where hip-hop stars Mary J. Blige, DMX and Missy Elliott had descended to appear as cameos in Rhymes' song "Touch It."
Before the shooting, eyewitnesses described an increasingly crowded scene, with more than 100 people — celebrities and their posses — jamming the area near the stage where filming was taking place.
Yayo had arrived late Saturday night with his own posse and began badmouthing rapper Cassidy to Swizz Beatz, police sources said.
Yayo "was mad at Swizz because he had given [music] tracks to Cassidy," said a person who was at the video shoot.
Then, Banks, who was scheduled to be filmed for the video, refused to take the stage while Swizz was in the area, police sources said.
Yayo soon loudly left with his crew, police sources said.
An eyewitness at the video shoot said Rhymes approached Beatz and, in a loud voice, "was like, 'Yo, man, I got not problem with you, we're cool.' "
Later, at about 12:15 a.m. Sunday, the witness said they saw a security guard they believed to be Ramirez approached on the street by a man who told the guard, "Yo, so-and-so's on his way over here, and some s- - - might go down."
Outside the studio, about 75 men stood in a circle on Green Street.
Inside the studio, Beatz walked Rhymes outside to go to the rapper's car, sources said.
As they walked out, there was some kind of confrontation on the street, and multiple shots were fired, with one hitting Ramirez in the back, killing the father of three, sources said.
Ramirez's widow, Amelin, said Rhymes told her the unidentified shooter yelled to Ramirez, "It has nothing to do with you, just get out of the way!" before unleashing a hail of gunfire. Ramirez had been handling Rhymes' jewelry during the filming.
"Busta said he was standing right next to him when it happened," said Amelin, who has a young son with the rapper. "He was trying to tell me what happened, but everyone was in shock." Amelin said Busta did not tell her anything about the identity of the shooter.
The shooting sent the crowd scurrying for cover, with people fleeing in their cars.
Cops were able to interview about 20 people at the scene and also obtained footage from the video shoot, as well as video that an MTV camera crew was taking of the shoot during the day.
Ramirez's wife said the slain bodyguard had in the past year become worried about the nature of his work because he had been at another shooting.
"He was very shaky about it," Amelin said.
In December 1999, Ramirez was working security at Club New York when three people were shot by rapper Jamal "Shyne" Barrow.
Ramirez later took the stand at rap mogul Sean "Diddy" Combs' related gun-possession trial, testifying that Combs did not have a weapon in his hands when shots rang out that night.
Ramirez's best friend, Alex Echavarra, said, "I'd been telling him to stop doing this [security work] for a while, with this industry the way it is now.
It's getting a little out of control."
Echavarra, who is a martial-arts instructor, said he was supposed to work with Ramirez on the day he was shot, but "I had to cancel on him. I had to cancel on him. I didn't want to go up there. I don't feel comfortable working these things."
Additional reporting by Erin Calabrese and Perry Chiaramonte.