Late on the night of December 15, 2010, Trevell Coleman stepped out of the subway station at East 116th Street. The evening was bitterly cold, down to almost 20 degrees. He wore a North Face parka and a scarf wrapped around his head like a hoodie. He’d told nobody where he was going—not his mother, not his friends, not his relatives—because he knew they’d try to stop him.
With his hands jammed into his pockets, he began walking up Lexington Avenue toward East 119th Street. For years, he had been contending with flashbacks, nightmares, and intense feelings of guilt. The only way to stop them, he now thought, would be to talk to the police. And at this point, what did he have to lose? He was 36 years old and had almost nothing—no job, no money, and no apartment of his own.
All he really had was a rap moniker—“G. Dep”—left over from his days as a member of Puff Daddy’s Bad Boy crew. Earlier that night, he had been playing the role of G. Dep once again, taping a public-access TV show in the back seat of a car. It was a far cry from 2001, when he’d been in regular rotation on MTV with “Let’s Get It,” the video that turned the Harlem Shake into a dance craze.
But now none of that seemed important. All that did matter was what he’d done half a lifetime ago, in the fall of 1993, when he approached a man late one night, fired a gun, then fled. He never knew where the bullets landed or what became of the man. And after seventeen years, he decided he needed to find out exactly what he’d done.
Coleman had already visited the 25th Precinct once before, not long ago. He’d spoken to a detective and given his cell number, but didn’t hear back. As a police source would later explain to a reporter, Coleman had been “high as a kite.”
Tonight, he was more clearheaded and had decided this was going to be his last trip to the precinct. If he didn’t get any answers this time, he would take that as a sign that he should move on and leave the past behind. But there was a chance, he knew, that once he started talking to the police, they might not let him leave. In fact, he might not get to walk the streets of East Harlem again for a very long time.
Shortly before 11 p.m., he opened the door to the 25th Precinct and stepped inside.
In early 1993, Trevell Coleman was an 18-year-old freshman enrolled at Iona College in New Rochelle. He’d made it through one semester, but soon after the second started, he decided he’d had enough. He called his mother and told her the news: “I’m leaving school because I want to be a rapper.”
“A what? A rapper?” she said. “Are you kidding me?”
She had hoped he might become a lawyer—he’d had an internship at a law firm when he was in high school—but she also knew he loved music. For years, she had listened to him rhyming in the shower, and she’d watched the composition notebooks pile up in his bedroom, each page filled with lyrics. But who quit college to be a rapper?
If he stopped going to school, she told him, she would stop supporting him: “You’re on your own.”
His mother had been 18 when she gave birth to Coleman, and she’d raised him by herself in the Bronx and Washington Heights. Eventually, she married a cop, got a job with the MTA, and bought a house in Piscataway, New Jersey. At first, Coleman had commuted from there to his Catholic high school, La Salle Academy, on the Lower East Side. Soon, however, he tired of the 90-minute trip twice a day.
He announced he wanted to stay with his grandmother, who lived in the James Weldon Johnson Houses in East Harlem. His mother wasn’t happy about the idea—she’d grown up in this housing project in the sixties and early seventies, during the heroin epidemic, and fled as soon as she got out of high school—but she agreed to let him move in with her mother. She didn’t know it then, but her son had already discovered an easy way to earn extra money, having hung out at the Johnson Houses from an early age: sell a package of crack and make $30.
After he quit Iona, he moved back in with his grandmother at 1840 Lexington Avenue, where his 14-year-old cousin Boysie also lived. To support himself, Coleman would stand outside on Lexington, on the sidewalk in front of his grandmother’s building, selling cocaine. On a good day, he made $200; other days his income covered little more than pizza and marijuana. Whenever he saved enough money, he and a friend would go to the Bronx and spend four or five hours at a recording studio.