With Gucci Mane once again headed back to jail, his new song, "My Own Worst Enemy," feels particularly apropos. Over a melancholy synth beat from Drumma Boy, Gucci touches on his near-deadly beef with Young Jeezy, his conversations with the currently incarcerated T.I., and his own frequent brushes with the law: "Me, Jeezy and T.I. share one thing in common/All are poets/Role models to young people/Though at times man we still ignore it."
On Nov. 12, Gucci (née Radric Davis) was sentenced to 12 months behind bars for violating his probation and was removed from a Fulton County courtroom in handcuffs. He is expected to serve about half of that time. A judge ruled that he had not completed community service requirements, that he failed drug tests and that he did not secure permission to travel. The case dates back to a 2005 conviction for attacking a club promoter, and this is the second time he has failed to meet the terms of his probation — the first time, last year, sent him to jail for seven months.
The setback seems to come at a bad time for him. The Atlanta-bred rapper is more popular than ever, and his highly anticipated new album, The State vs. Radric Davis, is due Dec. 8. But it has already caused chaos with fans and concert promoters around the country. His past incarceration and probation terms have led to the cancellation of about a dozen shows this year. His absences have left promoters squabbling with his manager and booking agent — and threatening to file lawsuits.
But beyond the allegations lies the allegory. If Gucci is the frog prince of Atlanta trap-rap, impatiently waiting as he has for the better half of a decade to take his turn on the throne, he doesn't need anything else to stunt his growth. Despite collaborating in 2009 with the likes of Mariah Carey, Black Eyed Peas, Mario and Usher — who's featured in the current single "Spotlight" from his upcoming album — Gucci's transition from 'hood star to pop star remains fraught with hiccups. It's something the industry may have to come to terms with, warts and all.
The promoters claim that Gucci's Atlanta-based booking agent, Johnnie Cabbell, and the rapper's manager, Debra Antney, have stiffed them out of deposits and promotional expenditures when concerts were abruptly canceled; booked Gucci for shows under false pretenses; and were overcharged thousands in unwarranted expenses. Cabbell and Antney deny engaging in improper or illegal practices. "I've been doing business since 2002, and I never [before] had a problem with any promoter," says Cabbell. (Gucci himself is not facing any allegations relating to these issues.)
The one thing everyone agrees on is that following his release from prison in March, Gucci capped a stunning four-year rise. Though he first hit the Billboard charts in 2005 with his scrappy debut Trap House, his per-show earnings back then were relatively modest. Pittsburgh-based promoter William Marshall booked him for $6,500 that year, he says, and later paid $8,000 each to throw two concerts for him in 2006. Marshall signed him on again for around $15,000 for a November 2008 performance, but when Gucci returned to prison, the show had to be canceled. Upon his release this year, Marshall rebooked him for an August gig, which – due to his sudden explosion in popularity – was to cost $50,000.
Marshall figured it was worth it. "He's always been big in Pittsburgh and Ohio," he says. "We were booking him in clubs before, but he was too popular for clubs now." And so Marshall and a few other partners reserved the Pittsburgh Indoor Sports Arena (which has a capacity of more than 3,000) and paid Gucci's $27,500 deposit, as well as another $13,500 to secure the venue and promote the show, he says. After Gucci failed to appear, and two planned makeup dates fell through, Marshall felt burned, and alleges that Cabbell and Antney weren't straightforward about Gucci's availability. "They didn't tell me what was going on with him," he says. "They continued to book shows, even though they didn't know if he was going to be available." Promoter John Mosely, who booked two canceled Gucci shows, makes the same claim.
Antney concedes that Gucci missed his August dates due to travel restrictions owing to his probation, though he was sometimes given "travel passes." She also confirms long-running rumors that Gucci did a rehab stint for alcohol and marijuana this year. She won't say when or where he attended rehab, but insists that he's now doing better. Though Gucci's lawyer, Dwight L. Thomas, told MTV.com that his client has been "receiving counseling and getting himself off of cocaine, marijuana and alcohol," Antney maintains that Gucci was in rehab only for marijuana and alcohol, not cocaine.
She vehemently denies knowing that he might not have been able to perform. "There's definitely no truth to that," she says. "Why would I do that? The only thing you have is your name, and if you ruin your name, you ruin everything."
Cabbell also denies booking Gucci without being sure he could attend shows. He adds that Marshall's deposit – along with those of everyone else promoting a canceled Gucci show he booked – will be refunded, adding: "It was never to my understanding that [Marshall and his partners] wanted their money back until recently." Marshall is unconvinced, however, and says he is considering a lawsuit if the matter is not resolved soon.
Chicago promoter John Mosely is crying foul as well, claiming to have lost tens of thousands of dollars in radio spots, promo fliers and other advertising expenditures for a pair of canceled Gucci shows, one this year and one last year. Again, Cabbell denies any improper dealings, noting that his contracts do not offer reimbursement for lost advertising costs.
Atlanta promoter and Ozone rap magazine Publisher Julia Beverly, meanwhile, alleges that she was overcharged thousands of dollars in extra security costs preceding a show by Gucci collaborator OJ da Juiceman, who is also represented by Cabbell and Antney. Both parties agree that Beverly was asked to pay last-minute additional fees to OJ's crew on the August afternoon of the Atlanta rapper's show in Jackson, Miss., but Cabbell denies Beverly's claims that the costs were excessive or unnecessary. (Their contract, provided by Beverly, is vague, stipulating only a $10,000 performance fee "plus travel and hotel and rider.")
Clearly, there was a rush to cash in on the Gucci phenomenon – both by his management and by promoters. In fact, Antney notes that she is already receiving requests to schedule Gucci shows when he returns from jail, and Cabbell says his client's performance price is now hovering around $60,000.
Though many are predicting that a return to jail will stall Gucci's career, the reverse seems just as likely. Who knows? When Gucci emerges again in 2010, he might be earning six figures. Perhaps, as he raps on "My Own Worst Enemy," he's also his own best friend.
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