Paid in Full is the story of three friends, Ace, Mitch and Rico, and their exploits as drug dealers in the Harlem community of New York City during the late 1980s.
The film begins with Ace (Wood Harris), a bright young man who works at the neighborhood dry cleaners owned by Pip (Chi McBride). Reared in a single-parent, working class family, he has no significant plans for his future. His best friend, Mitch (Mekhi Phifer), is a drug dealer who shows off his success, whether it’s the latest designer apparel he wears to the lavish diamond and gold-encrusted pieces of jewelry.
One day at work, Ace discovers a small amount of cocaine left in the pocket of a pair of pants that a customer, Lulu (Esai Morales), owns. He returns the dope to Lulu, who, in rewarding Ace’s honesty, allows Ace to keep it. Shortly after, Calvin (Kevin Carroll), the boyfriend of his sister, is arrested for selling drugs. When one of Calvin’s customers is looking for him to make a purchase, Ace sells him the cocaine that Lulu let him keep. Impressed at how easy, quick and profitable the transaction was, Ace visits Lulu and agrees to sell his high-quality cocaine for him.