By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Ty Macklin stands in front of his Ensoniq Advanced Sampling Recorder, holding a computer disc that contains samples from six different songs from such artists as Al Green, Dexter Gordon, and Wes Montgomery. He slides the disc into the keyboard and, as he touches the keys, each piece of music is revealed in short, sampled bursts--a sharp honking sax solo, a snatch of flute, a bass line, some fat-bottomed funky beats.
When heard alone, they sound like random, disconnected pieces. But by punching a button and stroking a key, Macklin assembles the sounds one on top of the other until they form...a song. Suddenly these six sounds seem as though they belonged together all the time, magically combined into a single seamless and almost-beautiful whole, inextricably woven by a microchip.
Though he's heard the song a hundred times before, the architect smiles. "And this is the easiest song we've done," Macklin says. Behind him, his bandmates--young men who'd prefer to be known only as Fatz (who is Macklin's cousin) and DJ Bobby Dee--laugh. "Yeah, this is one of our simple ones," Bobby Dee says, cracking up.
"There it is, man," Macklin adds, laughing.
These three men, all in their early 20s, form Shabazz 3--the local hip-hop band most likely to bring Dallas' hip-hop underground to the surface. (Macklin also has a stage name--XL7, because he's the square of the bunch. "I don't drink or smoke," he says with great pride, "but I don't judge those who do.")
On this mid-August afternoon, they sit in Macklin's home "studio," where equipment covers one entire wall and half of another in a tiny room tucked away in his mother's North Dallas apartment; Mom, who doesn't mind the music coming from the next room, rides her exercise bike in the living room. Yards of cables and wires are strung behind shelves and underneath tables. Cassettes and computer discs and albums are stacked atop one another. This makeshift studio also contains the advanced sampling recording keyboard, a digital audio tape deck, two cassette decks, a turntable, and a mixing board--the jigsaw pieces of technology that, when assembled and employed properly, create a sound as wondrous as that of any big-league producer.
It's in this room that Macklin and Shabazz 3 have crafted a debut album to rival any hip-hop album released anywhere this year--an hour-long cassette dense with sampled jazz chords and riffs and beats. They pulse underneath the rhymes of young men as wise as they are funny, as sweet as they are sharp. "If you go to Pleasant Grove, that is where I stay with my momma, my poppa, my sister, and my brother," Fatz raps on "3 Black Cats." "My family, I love ya, come close and I will hug ya."
There's no gangsta here, no mention of blunts or 40-ounces or .38s--just the words of young men who attended Woodrow Wilson and Samuell high schools. But Shabazz 3, as they like to say, do "try to stay real."
"A lot of lyrics we talk about, it's real," says Macklin, a former member of Decadent Dub Team and Phlomatics, which was responsible for the song "Jack the Blue (Don't Back the Blue)." "Like, I'm a vegetarian and I'll be speakin' about vegetarianism. But I won't be tellin' nobody to go be a vegetarian."
"People can tell who's bein' real," Bobby Dee says. "Life isn't always happy, man, and there's a lot of things that happen that aren't fair, and that's just the way it is."
"I'm just tellin' you what I seen," Fatz adds.
The music is a dense, soulful melange of melodies and beats, not unlike the hip-hop-jazz fusion of Guru and Digable Planets--old jazz and soul samples spliced together by Macklin, with words added by Macklin and Fatz, with Bobby coming in at the end to add the breaks. It's a remarkable sound of wide-open spaces and ambient dreams.
"I'll listen to the notes, and sometimes, if it's just an instrument with a certain note that I like, I'll grab it out of a record," Macklin says. "Notes be inspirin' 'cause to me notes are mystical...A song can be a country and western song, and if it's got some fat-ass notes then I can use it."
"We try to keep a flavor to it that's jazz-oriented, but with a jagged edge to let you know we're real," Fatz adds. "We put more into it than just gettin' on the beat machine and makin' a beat. We put more energy into it."
For now, though, their album sits unreleased and unheard as Macklin and his partners wait for a record label to come along --or at least until they find a manufacturing and distribution deal that's affordable on their tiny budget. They are true do-it-yourselfers, as Macklin ponders in "I Gosta Handle Mine": "Love has got me goin' in circles/Should I buy equipment or buy the girl clothes?"
"We put out a sound that people hear," Fatz says, "and then they come here [to Macklin's studio] and say, 'This is it?'"
Most of the band's equipment actually belongs to a local management company called SLP Management--nothing more than two wannabe music-biz insiders who operate out of their home and share Macklin's dream of hitting it big someday. They have offered their time to promote Shabazz 3 in exchange only for a promise that if the group ever lands a record deal, it will take SLP along to some place bigger.