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Bad boy blues
G. Dep’s ill-fated romance with street life serves
as a cautionary tale for kids blinded by bling
There are many problems with hip-hop music — there’s misogyny and vulgarity, and far too many artists insist on maintaining a connection to real-world violence.
But one of the worst problems — one that rarely gets talked about — is the way young artists get picked up, financially exploited and unceremoniously dumped.
The fact that many of the record execs doing the exploiting are black doesn’t matter. Young kids with talent who dream of hooking up with moguls like Jay-Z, P. Diddy and Russell Simmons should know the sad, infuriating story of rapper G. Dep, whose real name is Trevell Coleman.
Dep sat down to talk with me last week — two days after getting released from jail — about the ups and downs that took him from the top of the music charts to a cell on Rikers Island.
We met at the Daily News Harlem Bureau, better known as Amy Ruth’s Home-Style Southern Cuisine on 116th St. near Lenox Ave. Dep was with a neighborhood pal, Eddie Gibbs, who is acting as his manager.
I could hardly believe the quiet, wary man across the table from me was the same G. Dep who made the hip-hop classic “Special Delivery,” which carried an infectious beat and a video that introduced the world to the wiggly dance called the Harlem Shake.
Go online, and you can find videos of kids from Korea to the suburbs of Connecticut doing the Harlem Shake. I figured Dep would be rich, or at least comfortable, and a long way from his tough upbringing in East Harlem’s James Weldon Johnson housing projects.
That’s not how it turned out.
When I met him, Dep had just spent 23 days on Rikers after a Jan. 15 arrest for grabbing and breaking a display-model cell phone during an argument with a T-mobile salesman in a Manhattan store. Dep’s bail was only $750, but he stayed in Rikers because he couldn’t raise the cash — a sign of how far he’d tumbled since the heyday of the Harlem Shake.
Like all too many performers, Dep fell victim to the three-headed monster of drugs, illusory wealth and slick record execs who talked him into a contract almost guaranteed to leave him broke.
Dep signed a contract to create five albums for Diddy’s Bad Boy record label for $350,000 — what seemed like a princely sum at the time. Dep’s first album, “Child of the Ghetto,” came out in 2001 and did respectably.
But industry experts say it takes about two years, on average, to create and launch a new album, partly because the creative process can’t be rushed and partly because an artist’s sales slump when radio stations and fans get flooded with too many albums to choose from.
Dep’s five-album deal, in reality, was more like a 10-year employment contract — the equivalent of making $35,000 a year working for somebody else. Actually, it’s worse than that, because the money’s gone now — but any new music Dep wants to record will belong to the label.
“There’s a lot of things I should have looked into,” Dep now says. “At the time, I didn’t think about it too much.”
Gibbs, who watched his buddy’s rise and fall, blames the situation on Dep’s mentor. “When you got P. Diddy pulling up in the Johnson projects in a sky-blue Bentley, you don’t ask a lot of questions,” he says, recalling the way the flashy music mogul swept Dep into his orbit.
Hit by sudden fame and money, Dep blew through the cash, and began dabbling with drugs with disastrous results. It reminded me of the tragic story of Flo Ballard, a girl from the Detroit housing projects who became one of the original members of the Supremes alongside Diana Ross.
At the height of the group’s fame, Ballard left the group and began an unsuccessful solo career and downward spiral that included addiction and poverty. Ballard was on welfare when she died at age 32.
Dep, who makes frequent guest appearances on other rappers’ songs, is planning a comeback — going into the studio to record new songs this week, preparing to go on tour and talking with VH1 about a new video. I hope he makes it.
And I hope youngsters thinking about going into the music business remember his story, and remember not to sign their lives away for an illusion. Better still, become the lawyer who writes the contract.