Beat down

Dallas' hip-hop scene is more vital than ever, but you'd never know it: no clubs, no radio, no major-label deals. But the musicians, some of this city's best, refuse to give up.

"When you're dealing with a group--any group--that's been together for a long time, of course you're going to have internal things where certain people want to start doing other things," says Cold Cris, who is working on a solo album under the name Lootacris. "It kind of makes the time in between projects a little long, because you're dealing with a lot of people with their own visions. The group is still together--it's just that we've gone back to a more independent approach. It's not all about being signed to a major label, and all the shit that we went through with Priority. Basically, it's about taking our time."

Time--that is all Dallas' hip-hop bands have. And far too much of it. Time to wait, time to dream, time to kill. Mad Flava's abortive relationship with Priority and Curry's abandonment of Dallas should have served as cautionary tales, warning local bands not to get their hopes up every time one of their own signs with a major label. Curry had the power but not the desire to help out his hometown comrades, and Mad Flava had the desire but no power at all.

But when Erykah Badu signed in early 1996 with Kidar Entertainment, a subsidiary of Universal Records, she seemed to have both. Local groups couldn't help but get excited by the prospect, even though most of them had been burned before, when Mad Flava's deal turned to dust.

"It's like, 'I made it, y'all made it,'" Badu told the Observer in 1996, a year before the release of her star-making debut Baduizm. "I call them all the time: 'OK, this is where we are right now.' That's what I tell them when I'm talking about the project. 'We are here, we are at this point, and when we get here, I'm bringing you up here.'"

While not a hip-hop album per se, Baduizm did feature several local hip-hop producers, including Shabazz 3's Ty Macklin, who is the Elmer's to Eddie D's super glue when it comes to holding Dallas' hip-hop scene together. The album's double-platinum sales, as well as Badu's use of local talent and her ties to the Dallas hip-hop scene--Mad Flava's Kasaan booked her first gigs and hooked her up with a few producers--should have led to major interest in Dallas acts from major labels. At least, that's what many people thought would happen.

"It opened it up for some Dallas producers and those who sing, but as far as MCs and hip-hop itself, I don't think it helped at all," says Mental Chaos' DJ Rodney, shaking his head.

Instead of record contracts for Badu's friends and fellow Dallas artists, all that resulted from the overwhelming success of Baduizm was a quickie live album released later that year, proving that major labels can have enough talent but never enough money. No deals were struck, and there wasn't even that much interest sparked by the album, apart from some courtesy calls from a couple of the labels. So, a year later, a year after Erykah Badu was supposed to lead them all to the promised land, the members of the Dallas hip-hop scene continue to toil in anonymity, sadder but wiser after being left at the altar. Again.

"I think a lot of people were banking on that," says Eddie D. "I don't think that's any fault of Erykah, because she's done what she can. But that's one of the things that you hoped would happen, and it just didn't. I think seeing the way that this happened, it probably opened a lot of eyes. No one will be expecting that anymore."

You couldn't blame Shabazz 3 if they, too, thought Badu's success would spill over onto them, that Macklin's appearance on the album was the winning lottery ticket they had been waiting and working for. If anyone in Dallas deserves a chance at success, it's Shabazz 3. They've been stars in their bedrooms for five years, five long years of scrambling for gigs and badgering program directors for radio airplay. Sometimes, it seems as though success will always be just out of their grasp.

Today, as the members of Shabazz 3--Fatz, Macklin, and Bobby Dee--sit in the house manager Ron Guerra shares with ousted Deep Blue Something guitarist Kirk Tatom on Lower Greenville, success is quite literally just out of their reach. Tatom's framed gold record--which he received for Deep Blue Something's 1996 album Home--hangs on one bare wall, a bit of irony not lost on the trio. Shabazz 3 may be one of the most talented groups to come out of Dallas in the last decade, but they've never even had a record contract, much less a gold record, to call their own.

"There's two different hip-hop worlds in Dallas," Bobby Dee says. "You got the underground, which is what we do, and you got the mainstream--more like gangster or whatever you want to call it--that you hear on K104. Well, the hip-hop that we do is not heard as much as anything else is heard here in Dallas. So, obviously, you have to get out there and work harder with it, to get the crowd coming. We, basically, are seen and not heard, you know what I'm saying? You got hip-hop fans here. People want the music. It's just [that] we don't have a place to release it. We can't go to the radio, and the venues, they've never heard of most of the underground crews, so they don't want you. All we've got is KNON."

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