With the headliner T.I. set to appear, the chaos erupted backstage shortly after 10 p.m., with a fight in a green room above the stage of the Union Square venue, NYPD officials and witnesses told the Daily News.
Hip hop artists Maino and Uncle Murda were performing when the sudden sound of gun shots sent hundreds into a frenzy.
An employee told The News that the carnage started as a beef between two rival crews associated with Maino and rapper Troy Ave. The gunman and the victims were all credentialed guests with access to the VIP area, a source said.
Ronald McPhatter, 33, who later died, stumbled downstairs after being shot in the stomach.
“One guy got shot in the chest right in front of me,” said Tiffany Smallwood, 22, of Harlem, who was in the crowd. “Everyone was running, it was crazy.”
The bloodshed began just before T.I., the Atlanta-based rapper behind the hits “Whatever You Like” and “Live Your Life,” took the stage at the 1,000-person capacity concert hall, witnesses said.
Social media posts showed NYPD officers rushing into the venue on Irving Place and 15th St. with guns drawn as the crowd stampeded to escape the club.
“People were running and stomping over one another,” said Rodney Molina, 37.
“It was real loud, like it was in my ear,” said Kirk Elphage, 41, of Harlem. “People were using each other for shields. It was unbelievable.”
McPhatter died at Mount Sinai Beth Israel Hospital. Maggie Heckstall, 26, shot in the leg, and Christopher Vinson, 34, shot in the chest, were taken to Bellevue Hospital, where they were listed in stable condition, sources said.
Troy Ave, a 30 year-old Crown Heights rapper whose real name is Roland Collins, was shot in the leg and was driven to NYU Langone Medical Center in an SUV, sources said.
No arrests were made, police said.
Johnny Wilkins, 28, a barber from the Bronx, said he was in the overcrowded green room when the fight started.
“It was a fight over a push, it was over some b-------,” Wilkins said. “It was like 50 or 60 people in the VIP room. It was crazy. It’s crazy more people didn’t get shot.”
Some at the show said they were surprised by the lax security, saying they didn’t have to show ID and weren’t patted down at the entrance, Molina said.
“There is security, there’s a security protocol,” Chief William Aubry of the Manhattan South Detective Squad said. “There are metal detectors that are in there.”
An employee said the venue uses handheld wand detectors.
Cops recovered ballistic evidence and were talking to witnesses and canvassing for video, according to Aubry.
T.I., whose real name is Clifford Harris Jr., was not in the room when the gunman opened fire, a source said.
The 35-year-old Grammy-winner is no stranger to gunplay.
In 2006, T.I.’s personal assistant and friend Philant Johnson was killed during a gun battle involving members of the rap star’s crew following a concert in Cincinnati.
Harris pleaded guilty in 2008 to federal weapons possession charges for buying three unregistered machine guns and two silencers.
In 2014, a man and a woman were hospitalized with nonlife-threatening injuries at a T.I. show in Charlotte, N.C.