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.

Fatz continues. "If more people could hear it, and it was out there more, then people would come and check out the crews, and there would be a demand for it. I don't think hip-hop is disrespected. It's just ignored."

The members of Shabazz 3, all in their mid-20s, have been involved in the local hip-hop scene for years, paying their dues and waiting for their shot. Macklin (who goes by the name "XL7," meaning "extra square") was a member of Decadent Dub Team as a teenager, and he has produced songs for nearly every hip-hop group in Dallas, first in his home studio (House of Demos), and now at Alpha Omega Studios. Bobby Dee used to spin records every Thursday night at the Tropical Exodus on Crowdus Street, carrying two crates of records for six blocks to catch a bus, and walking all the way back when it got out too late to catch a bus or a cab home. He did it for free. Fatz spent time as the onstage bodyguard for Phlomatics--the group responsible for the underground hit "Jack the Blue, Don't Back the Blue"--before joining the band as an MC when it became Shabazz 3.

The trio knows talent will keep them going, but it is business savvy that will get them through the door in the first place. They stay focused, making sure their music is tight and their business strategies tighter. Program directors and label executives can ignore them now, but not forever.

"Don't be like, 'Well, K104 won't play me, so I quit,' Fatz says. "Stay in [K104 programming director] Skip Cheatum or whoever's face, until they're like, 'Well, damn, we gotta play them.' Don't give up. You can't just send them a tape, and they're gonna play it. That ain't gonna happen. You gotta get up off of your ass, go up there, stay up there. That's the same with anything. You gotta look at being in a hip-hop group like it's a business. Don't just sit back and say, 'I'm gonna smoke this joint and let everybody else do my business for me.' Yeah, you might blow up eventually, but you gonna blow up and go broke, because you don't know what's happening around you.

"Get out there and work hard and do the little shows. So what ain't but 10 people there? It might be 10 people that'll buy your CD. That's 10 more people that didn't hear your music yesterday. You just have to keep working at it. You can't just be like, 'Yeah, I'm gonna rap, and I expect to be in a Rolls Royce.' You can have talent and all of that, but we know that alone is not gonna make it."

So Shabazz 3 keeps hustling, trying to help themselves and the scene at the same time. Bobby Dee hosts an Internet-only radio show on broadcast.com, Wrap Radio, which mirrors Eddie D's format, mixing local with national in an attempt to go global. Macklin continues to be the best producer no money can buy, recording anyone and everyone at Alpha Omega. They pick up shows wherever they can find them--including an unlikely performance at a Dallas Jazz Under the Stars concert--adding other bands to the bill, trying to get Dallas hip-hop seen and heard as much as possible. They don't care where it is, as long as there's a chance they can win a new fan.

"The moves we make, we don't worry about if anybody's ever done this or are we gonna fit in. We just do it," Fatz says. "If they called us up and said, 'Garth Brooks is in town, and we want y'all to open up,' shit, we'd be up there opening up. We'd be asking Garth Brooks if we could go on the road with him."

Shabazz 3 is determined to win back a place for hip-hop in Deep Ellum, where it has vanished since Exodus closed, even if they have to do it one club at a time. To that end, Fatz--along with Mental Chaos' DJ Rodney--recently made a deal with the Liquid Lounge, allowing him to book two Saturday shows a month at the club. So far, the agreement has worked out well for everyone involved, though some of the other club owners initially tried to warn the Liquid Lounge away from the idea.

For whatever reason, club owners in Deep Ellum are apprehensive when they see too many black faces, especially when most of them are male. They worry about the potential for danger, believing that a shoot-out or God knows what else could erupt at any moment. Of course, they don't have the same concerns with mostly male, mostly white crowds. Seems it's OK to book a white "rap" band like Pimpadelic or Hellafied Funk Crew several nights a month, just as it's OK to relegate Shabazz 3 to specialty nights, such as the "Future Beat" shows at the Curtain Club, once every few months.

Club owners can't see past their own misconceptions, the things they've heard or read about hip-hop concerts. Liquid Lounge and Curtain Club owner Doug Simmons says that on the night of the first Shabazz 3 show at the Liquid Lounge, a few employees from Club Clearview cautioned him about booking hip-hop shows. It was a warning that wasn't heeded, and wasn't needed.

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