The Death of Disco

The frantic rise and fatal fall of hip-hop producer Disco D

Disco, whose aggressive stance was shaped by an unfavorable contract he signed early in his career, was unwilling to compromise. His desperation was exacerbated by his troubles making the rent on his dream loft. "At the end of the day, they made a shitload of money off it, and they paid him not even a month's salary," says James Johnson, who lived a floor below Disco in Williamsburg. "That was hard to swallow."

The "Ski Mask Way" situation might have been more tenable had other prospective G-Unit projects like those with rapper Tony Yayo and singer Olivia actually materialized. And it wasn't only G-Unit. "There were always five mainstream projects maybe going to happen," Cheadle says.

Disco D photographed in Williamsburg 2005
photo: Tatiana Arocha
Disco D photographed in Williamsburg 2005

Disco's anxiousness to find the next "Ski Mask Way" frequently landed him in trouble. He composed Trick Daddy's "I Pop," an infectious ode to ignorance, for the Miami rapper's seventh album, Back by Thug Demand. "We were considering it for an underground buzz single, and we were going to do an underground video for it," says Atlantic A&R vice president Mike Caren. "During the mix process, when D found out that it was going to be his buzz single, he leaked the song and sent an announcement that he produced Trick Daddy's first single." In an era in which entire albums are freely available online before the release date, labels like Atlantic are increasingly concerned about their MP3s floating around the Net. "Any producers/songwriters that leak records and don't stay in line with me on our plan, I shy away from working or at least trusting them with music," Caren says plainly.

Unable to properly set up and promote "I Pop," Caren responded by dropping the song from the album. ("I Pop" was eventually included as a bonus cut on a special Best Buy album edition.) "It upset me and hurt our friendship for a while," Caren admits.

The incident eventually spurred a conversation in which Disco told Caren that he struggled with mental illness. Still, the damage was done.

As Disco became more manic, his indiscretion grew. On, the message board of the Philadelphia DJ crew Hollertronix, he gushed about a session with Lil' Jon protégé Lil' Scrappy. The faithful congratulated him. But other posts—especially his spirited, hyper-intellectual defense of the Federline project—were frequently disparaged.

"Yes, 'PopoZao' was all a big joke, just to see if I could pull it off," Disco wrote. "Enjoy the show."

But to the hypercritical adherents of, Disco's attempt to play off his work with the music biz's favorite whipping boy as irony didn't stick.

"I just don't buy this," a poster replied to Disco. "Sorry."

"I also don't see you buying the album, physically or digitally," Disco replied. "This product wasn't intended for you to consume. It was intended to consume your opinions. I don't see someone like you ever choosing to monetize a relationship with 'pop' culture in a traditional way. However, there are tons of other 'brainwashed analog computers' that will monetize that kind of relationship, or convince their parents or other fiscally influential 'humans' to 'pay' for it."

Offline, Disco's stance shifted. When charscalex100 King magazine interviewed him for a K-Fed feature, Disco seemed genuinely upset that Federline's record company didn't properly promote the baile-funk single in Brazil. Disco even continued to defend the project to Caren, who was dead set against it. This further complicated their already strained relationship. (Federline was unavailable for comment, but Disco's neighbor James Johnson says that after an argument, many of Disco's contributions were chopped from K-Fed's widely panned album. Johnson also alleges that Disco wasn't fairly compensated for the Federline project.)

By the time Disco connected with Cheadle and Selter on in the summer of 2006, he was at his "most manic," Cheadle recalls. His profile signature listed all of his business ventures: Braza; aLeda, a clear rolling paper from Brazil he'd begun importing; the Hustle Harder documentary; and And he had more schemes on the boards. Inspired by Brazil's move toward energy independence, he announced plans to import sugar ethanol, describing his distribution plans in byzantine detail.

In his 700-square-foot loft, the confluence of these interests—along with Moses, Johnson's 175-pound English mastiff—formed a surreal scene. "I'm sitting there chilling," Emile recalls, "and he's got the video camera, and he's doing a million things, like, 'Let's go play this video game—wait, let's go make this beat! Look at this!' Then these people start showing up. He's got this crazy skunk weed, and he's rolling these clear joints. And then this dude comes in with this massive horse of a dog. He's got like 16 interns running around, and he's ordering them around: 'Go fix me some soup!' and 'Mail this out!' It's like, 'Dude, your life is crazy.' "

As the summer wore on, the interns multiplied. First came Ben Levin (a/k/a Benny Blanco), who'd MySpaced Disco and told him that "Ski Mask Way" inspired him to make beats. Donny "Goines" Scott, an aspiring rapper, started working for Disco the same day he placed an ad on a music-industry website. (Disco handed him keys to his loft on the spot.) Donnie and Bennie begat more interns: Doobie, Benny Blanco's childhood rap partner; Grocery Man, a teenage producer from Westchester who shared insomnia and inspiration with Disco; and Mike Tons, a friend from Ann Arbor. There were even interns in other countries, engaged in online promotions. Most of his non-virtual volunteer force crashed on his floor.

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