NEW YORKER: Who was Kali? Glover wasn’t sure, but as their relationship evolved he picked up some clues. Kali’s 818 area code was from the Los Angeles region. The voice in the background that Glover sometimes heard on the calls sounded as if it might be Kali’s mother. There was also the marijuana leaf that served as RNS’s official emblem: Glover thought he could tell when Kali was high. Most striking was the exaggerated hip-hop swagger that Kali affected. He only ever referred to Glover as “D.” No one else called him that.
“He would try to talk, like, with a slang,” Glover told me. “Kinda cool, kinda hard.” Glover suspected that Kali wasn’t black, though he sensed that he probably wasn’t white, either. Glover was not permitted to interact with the other members of the group, not even the one who served as the “ripping coördinator.” His online handle was RST, and his name was Simon Tai. A second-generation Chinese immigrant, Tai was brought up in Southern California before arriving at the University of Pennsylvania, in 1997. As a freshman with a T1 Internet connection, he’d been in awe of RNS. After hanging around in the chat channel for nearly a year, he was asked to join.
He also applied for a slot as a d.j. at the school’s radio station. For two years, Kali cultivated Tai’s interest in rap music and told him to make connections with the promotional people at various labels. In 2000, Tai, now a senior at Penn, was promoted to music director at the station and given a key to the office, where he had access to the station’s promo disks. Every day, he checked the station’s mail; when something good came in, he raced back to his dorm room to upload it. Beating rival Scene crews was sometimes a matter of seconds.
Tai scored two major leaks that year, Ludacris’s “Back for the First Time” and Outkast’s “Stankonia.” With his Scene credentials established, for the next two years Tai managed RNS’s roster of leakers. Along with Kali, he tracked the major labels’ distribution schedules and directed his sources to keep an eye out for certain albums. MORE