The secret of his success 

Gene Griffin scored hits in three genres over three decades by knowing when and where to hang out

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By his teens, Riley had earned quite a reputation for his multi-instrumental and production abilities, and he formed Kids At Work with friends from the projects. Under Griffin's direction, the group signed to CBS and put out one record in 1984. When it flopped, the group replaced one of its members, signed a new deal with MCA and changed its name to Guy. This time it clicked.

With Guy's substantial success on the R&B charts, by the late '80s the production partnership Griffin and Riley had formed -- GR Productions -- became a focal point for a new urban-music sound. A writer in the Village Voice dubbed it "new jack swing" -- a mix of traditional vocal-group R&B with a contemporary hip-hop flavor -- and it stuck. During that period, Griffin (usually with Riley) had a hand in writing songs like "My Prerogative" for Bobby Brown and "Just Got Paid" for Johnny Kemp (recently covered by none other than 'N Sync), and producing tracks for other leading new jacks, including Keith Sweat, as well as acts like the Jacksons and Boy George.

By 1990, Griffin had steered the members of Guy to move with him back to Georgia, where they all settled in Gwinnett County's Berkeley Lake. But within the year, the group had dissolved and the decade-long relationship between Griffin and Riley -- which, in a 1994 issue of Vibe magazine, Riley acknowledged was like a father and son -- ended on less than amicable terms.

According to Griffin, factions at the record company interested in breaking Griffin's influence over the group worked to convince Riley that Griffin had taken money from him. Riley, who could not be reached for comment, now lives in Virginia Beach and has continued to have success as a producer (Michael Jackson, 'N Sync), with the mid-'90s group Blackstreet (he's currently working on his solo debut). Though a settlement for money withheld from Griffin during the dispute later brought him what he calls a seven-figure sum, the damage done to Griffin's career -- both from the breakup with Riley, and from the harmful allegations against him -- kept Griffin largely on the outside of the music industry for most of the '90s.

"I was straight-out scuffling," Griffin says of the period. "By them making the allegations that I had taken from them, young kids didn't want to deal with me. They thought, 'Well if he took from Teddy and he was his son, what would he do with us?' So we had to get that straight before I could get back on track."

At decade's end, the dispute -- nine years after it started -- finally ended. Griffin's credibility was largely restored, though he still feels the sting of his personal loss.

"I was real hurt over it, and bitter for a while, because I was his father," Griffin says. "It was family. I've got pictures around here of Christmases we spent together. He was like part of our family. So it was really disturbing."

With Griffin's name out of the mix for nearly a decade, he knew time was running out if he ever planned on getting his career back. After considering a return to New York, Griffin decided too much had changed since he'd left and instead turned his attention to the boom market in Southern hip-hop. "I really don't care for that kind of music," he says, "but I had to get a money maker. You can't stay out of the business for too long, because people forget about you."

To get back in, Griffin reverted to tried and true methods: hanging out and keeping his eyes open for opportunities. Soon, he'd heard about a rapper out in Augusta named Pastor Troy and decided to go there and take a look for himself.

In judging Troy's potential, he applied a "theory" he learned long ago. "The way you can tell if a person's a star: you don't need 10,000 people, you don't even need 1,000. All a person has to do is get everyone in the room. There were only about 50 people there and [Pastor Troy] had them all trying to climb on the stage. I knew I had something there."

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