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Even for Benny, his most prized intern, working for Disco grew challenging, especially when the wiry producer critiqued his work. "He'd be like, 'That's horriblethrow all these beats away.' He'd crack CDs over his knee," says Benny. "It was intense."
In Disco's better moments, he took special pride in guiding his interns through the business. "I remember he was like, 'Donny, come here. Tell these kids what you do,' " Selter recalls. "And this kid comes in and is like, 'I'm a rapper. I've been using MySpace for about six months now, and I'm getting successI've been in these offices and now I'm here working for Disco.' It was like it was a presentation."
But almost as frequently, relations with the interns went horribly wrong. Disco met a young producer from Alaska on low-bee.com. The kid shared both his passion for music and his bipolar disorder. Along with Cheadle and Selter, Disco resolved to "adopt" him. But when he and Disco clashed, the kid wound up on Cheadle and Selter's couch, refusing to return to Disco's loft. Soon the adoptee began threatening Cheadle and Selter and their cat. They called in a local rap group and had him forcibly removed. In another instance, two interns from the neighborhood stole a sampler and demanded a ransom. (They eventually returned it unharmed.)
As relations with the interns frayed, Disco grew increasingly isolated. He sent for Joe Hahn, an old friend from the ghetto-tech scene who also battles bipolar disorder. Disco wanted to hustle beats, and the two set off for rapper Rick Ross's release party in Miami. Hahn drove straight through, stopping only for pancakes and a nap at Disco's mother and stepfather's Washington, D.C., home.
Shortly after they returned, Disco's mania turned to depression. "Think of a circle above your head, and you have 10 positive thoughts and 10 negative," explains Hahn. "Every time that circle goes around, one positive thing will drop out. Eventually, the only things he would focus on were the negative things."
Selter recalls that period: "We'd be on IM and sense shit. We'd be like, 'We're coming up to your neighborhood,' and we'd just bring him food. He'd be up there shivering away, having not taken a shower in I don't know how long. It was just like, 'Damn, to me on the outside, you have all this talent, you have these connections, you have this crazy energy.' The depression just overrode all that shit."
In one instance, Benny ran into the rapper AZ, with whom Disco had previously collaborated, on the street near his apartment. He called for Disco, who wandered downstairs in his pajamas. "AZ is, like, ordering a burrito," recalls Selter, who was also present. "So Disco comes out, and AZ's like, 'Hey, man, how you doing? You got to come by the studio. I want to hear more music. I need to get a beat from you. You got anything?' Disco's like, 'I don't have anything right now. I'd have to come up with something special for you.' " He never followed up.
By December, the interns were history. "They realized their dreams weren't being accomplished and they all went home," neighbor Johnson says. "Right before Christmas, he was alone, and he went through some pretty bad shit upstairs by himself. He came down to my room very emotional." Disco sat with Moses, taking solace in the massive dog's gentle company. "He basically didn't leave me and my girlfriend's side for 48 hours, until Joe came up and his father came to get him. We sent him home to his mother's to regroup."
At first, there were hopeful signs. "He hung with us a lot," says his mother, Deborah Amdur. "We got him a membership to our gym. We spent a lot of quality time together." But, she adds, "I think it was also difficult for him to feel so far removed from his music community."
In mid-January, Disco received some encouraging news: Chamillionaire had selected one of his beats, and Lil' Wayne would appear with him on the song. "He was happy when he found out Lil' Wayne was going to be on the track," Chamillionaire recalls. "He was like, 'You and Lil' Wayne are two of my favorite Southern rappers right now. I'll be honored.' "
Disco discussed the good news with Benny via IM in late January. But something about the conversation gave Benny pause. "For some reason, I suspected something was up," Benny says. "We were talking like it was the last time we were going to speak.
"I told him, 'You've always been a big influence.' I have no idea why I said that. He was like, 'Yeah, man, you're going to be really big soon.' It just ended on a real brotherly thing. We started pouring emotions out about each other. I was like, 'I love you, man.'
"And he just said, 'I'm going to bed.' Now, D was a late-nighter. This was pretty early."
On January 23, Benny tried to reach his mentor: "I hit him up on the phone. He didn't answer. I hit him up on e-mail. He didn't hit me back. As the day went on, I found out more and more." The news spread quickly on IM, e-mail, and message boards: Disco was gone.