INTERVIEW: The star of "Cartel Crew" also shares why he would want Tupac and 50 Cent to be on the soundtrack of Griselda Blanco's life.
Imagine being 12-years-old while your mother and brothers are in prison, and your father is dead. Michael Corleone Blanco hadn't even reached his teenage years, but he was already taking on the family business: drug trafficking narcotics. His mother, Griselda Blanco— also known as La Madrina or the Cocaine Godmother— is one of the most notorious drug lords in cartel history. She led the drug trade between Colombia and Miami, and in her heyday, it's believed that she had a net worth estimated in excess of $2 billion.
Yet, authorities caught up with Griselda in 1985 and she was sentenced to ten years in prison. In order to keep her operation running like clockwork, Griselda called on her 12-year-old son to help her. Michael took on the responsibilities of his family, igniting his criminal career for decades to come. He drifted in and out of trouble with the law, endured multiple stints behind bars, buried 22 members of his family, and avoided assassination attempts on his life; but it was when his mother was shot and killed in Colombia in 2012 that he decided it was truly time for a change.
The Cocaine Godmother's infamous life has been documented in dozens of television shows, films, books, and even fashion brands. Music artists, specifically in hip hop, have made references to Griselda. Lil Kim called herself "Kimmy Blanco," while Nicki Minaj, The Game, Migos, Jacki-O, and Pusha-T have mentioned her in their rhymes. Westside Gunn even named his label Griselda Records.
Although the tales of his family have been widely shared and reported, Michael has taken it upon himself to divulge on what life was really like as the youngest Blanco son. He currently stars on VH1's reality series Cartel Crew, which is now entering into its second season, a show that documents the lives of children and family members of notorious cartel figures. "Expect to be shocked and to see what no other reality show...expect to see us, the children of the Cartel, and our entrepreneurial spirit," Michael told us exclusively. "You can expect to see people that reinvented themselves and are actually making moves. It's not just for TV."
It was recently announced that Jennifer Lopez will portray Griselda in a forthcoming biopic titled The Godmother, a film where the multi-hyphenated artist may also act as director. Michael shared it was two-and-a-half years ago when Lopez and her team first reached out to his life-rights lawyer. However, he hasn't been contacted, yet, to act as a consultant on The Godmother. "Every other film has fallen short because the story has many sides to it," he said. "What people don't understand is that you gotta hear it from a family member. Who else should you hear it from than the kid who saw it all?"
"I would like to shed light on [my mother's] achievements as she basically created the cocaine game as we know it," he added. Still, it's more important to Michael to highlight that his mother, along with the rest of his family, was more than just the unlawful narratives left behind. "I would also like to show the world that no matter how ruthless or how criminalistic my family was, I want the people to know that we were just that as well: a family," he said. "My brothers were great young men. Very intelligent. My mother was a queen and we were a home. We stayed together. We lived together. We ate together. We went on family vacations together. We've been apart of each other's story so I would want the public to understand that the Blanco Cartel, we were more than a cartel...My mother was my queen. My mommy."
Now that Michael has left his life of crime in the past, he's become a respectable businessman with a successful brand: Pure Blanco. The world watched on the first season of Cartel Crew as he ran into a few hiccups with his fashion brand because of its association with Griselda Blanco, but Michael admits that the show helped launch Pure Blanco into a new realm. "It's a learning process. I've been learning the game for three, almost four years. Actually four-and-a-half years," he said. "I just want to see where we go with it. There's a plan that we're executing and we're moving fast. For the first time in my life, I can say that I'm happy."
Michael has made another business move as Cartel Crew cameras follow him after he inked a licensing agreement deal with Cookies, the leading cannabis brand in North America, and Lemmonade. As a youth, Michael split his time between Miami and Northern California. "I grew up in an era where the marijuana boom was just starting," he said. "I was part of that generation that we knew one day it would probably be legal due to the amount of smokers and stoners, and people who were just medicating with it." He recognizes that there will be critics who don't believe that Griselda Blanco's son should be involved with the cannabis industry, but he makes it clear he only has a licensing agreement and has aligned himself with the best, and most reputable, company in the business.
The Blanco empire carries on, and although the name is wrought with murderous scandals and truths that are stranger than fiction, Michael wants to keep the past where it belongs, as he shares his story, lives his truth, and takes care of his family as a law-abiding citizen. Cartel Crew cameras may have captured some less than favorable moments of his relationship with Marie Ramirez De Arellano during the show's first season, but Michael insists that if it wasn't for her, he doesn't know where he would be today.
"Marie was the best thing to ever happen to me. My daughter, my other children," he said as his tone turned serious. "Marie really came in at a point in my life when I needed a good woman and you know, behind every great man is a great woman," he added with a chuckle. "We balance each other out. We're crazy in love and it's something special. Marie's the most special lady, besides my mother. Her and my daughter."
Hip hop is known for glorifying the gangster lifestyles-- Griselda Blanco in particular-- so we couldn't help but ask Michael what rapper he would choose to be featured on a soundtrack about his mother's life. After a brief pause, he offered up his answer. "Tupac. Straight up, Tupac, yeah. Or Curtis Jackson, 50 Cent," he said. "Tupac really motivated me in my revolutionary mindset, in my criminalistic ways. It was my motivation. It was my theme music growing up. 'Dear Mama' was the song I sang to my mother every Mother's Day."
Then, he shared that his connection to the All Eyez On Me rapper was just one-degree of separation. "What's crazy is that Tupac's best friend was incarcerated with my mother in a co-ed prison...Men and women used to share the yard, it was the last co-ed prison in the United States, and years later he became real close to me," adding, "He was visiting me here in Miami and Afeni Shakur called while we were driving through Carol City."
Cartel Crew Season 2 premieres tonight on VH1 at 9:00 p.m. EST/PST. Check out the trailer above and tune in to watch Michael and the rest of the cast— the children of the Cartel— make names for themselves beyond their families' dangerous legacies.