ALBANY -- Just a couple of years ago, Darrio Bullock, better-known by his nom-de-rap "Dastreetsweepa," appeared to be on the verge of stardom.
His songs "Pacman" and "Motorcycle" were getting airplay here and in countries around the world, and he was opening for superstar artists like Lil Wayne, Young Jeezy, Chris Brown, Bow Wow and Ciara. No less a publication than The Source, rap's burning bush, declared that 'Sweepa would be the next underground act to blow up.
In that magical time, representatives of Atlantic, Universal, Def Jam, Capitol, Zone 4, Asylum and Jive Records got in line to try and sign the untamed talent from Albany.
But if making it in the music industry is about anything, it's about timing. And Bullock had the bad fortune of falling under the guidance of what most who know him agree was mismanagement at just the wrong time.
A record deal never materialized. Interest in rap's hottest new property dried up. And Dastreetsweepa's promising career pretty much blew up in his face.
Things got so bad, Bullock was hospitalized for complications related to depression and stress.
"I was about as low as you could get," the rapper said of those dark days. "I just happened to be under contract with some people who couldn't close a deal. I was getting all this attention -- was known by all the people in the industry -- but for whatever reason things didn't happen.
"I came back to Albany and just fell apart. I walked away from it all."
Now, however, a slightly older but much wiser Bullock has started a comeback that he hopes will take him back to where he was and beyond. He's recorded a remix of "Pacman" with Atlanta rapper Fabo, and it, along with his latest, "Bumper Cars," is getting play on hot urban stations in Atlanta.
'Sweepa has also signed on for the Atlanta-based reality show "I Love Music," and he's working on a new album at Albany's Platinum Sound Studios.
"God is my manager now," Bullock said. "Before, I forgot about Him and believed in people. This ain't up to people, it's up to God. I'm at peace now."
Prodded by his cousin Deveron Bullock, Darrio started spitting some of Deveron's rhymes when he was only 7. He rapped in -- and won -- local talent contests and gained a measure of schoolboy notoriety when he performed a "Say No to Drugs" rap at Westover High School.
Bullock landed a job at Cagle's in Camilla after graduating Westover in 1998 and used most of the money he made to buy recording equipment. That's when he started "pestering" local DJ legend Jammin' Jay to give his music a listen.
"He told me I needed to take my music to a better studio," Bullock said of Jay's initial reaction. "I re-recorded my stuff and kept trying to get him to give it another listen. I think I caught him off guard with 'Pacman.' He told me he put it into his car CD player and immediately turned around and went back to the radio station (urban giant WJIZ) and put it on the air."
Jay, who now is an on-air personality at Power 105 in Albany, said he thought Bullock, though rough, had the goods to make it ... with proper guidance.
"I played his stuff to try and help him get his career off the ground, and I actually connected him with a guy out of Cleveland who had worked with some big acts," the DJ said. "Unfortunately, he'd gotten involved with a 'shade-tree manager' who pulled him in another direction.
"I thought (Bullock) had some catchy tunes, and there was a period when he was really hot. But he didn't take advantage of it, and that's what you have to do in this industry. I decided it was best for me to stay out of his situation at the time."
Despite what most say was bad advice from his then-management, Dastreetsweepa was so eager to make a name for himself among rap's elite he ended up "sleeping out in my truck on the street" before some shows.
His Lil Jon-like growl of a voice and catchy songs like "Pacman," "Motorcycle," "Lapdance" and "NBA Money" got him listed among rap's artists to watch, but just as quickly as his star rose, it plummeted. With no record deal and even less hope, Bullock returned home a broken man.
But with a renewed faith in God and in his talent, Dastreetsweepa says he's ready for his comeback.
"I believe in myself more now than I ever have," he said. "And I know now what I have to do to catch people's attention, to create that buzz. I love Albany, but I know to make it I'm going to have to build buzz in bigger cities."
Already, Bullock has performed to large crowds in Valdosta, Macon, Atlanta and Dothan, Ala. And he's still got believers on his side.
" 'Sweepa's got this thing about him; he's not just a traditional artist, not what you'd expect from a typical local artist," Platinum Sound Owner/Producer Mario Meadows said. "He'll come up with some crazy, out-of-the-box concept, and you'll say 'What is this I'm listening to?' But it sticks in your mind, and you find yourself liking it.
"He clearly has a vision for his music; he comes into the studio and he's got his song all mapped out. You don't have to give him advice; he knows what he wants. 'Sweepa's like a modern-day Lil Jon. But he's also trying to make it at a time when talent alone will not get you noticed. The days of (record labels) signing raw talent, unfortunately, is over with."
Even Jammin' Jay, who kick-started Bullock's career, believes 'Sweepa has what it takes to make a comeback.
"He's capable, there's no doubt about that," Jay said. "But he's got to pull the right cards. 'Sweepa is unique -- he's different -- and kids seem to gravitate toward him. As far as his coming back, it's all in his head and in being around the right people."
That part, Bullock says, he's taken care of.
"I made a lot of mistakes in the past -- I trusted the wrong people -- but I've learned from my mistakes," he said. "That's made me stronger. A lot of times when things start to happen for you, you lose focus. That's what happened to me.
"But one of the things I've learned is that you've got to be strong in the music game. People will take advantage of you. I'm going to do everything I can to make sure that doesn't happen to me ... again."