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.

"I prefer it to be like that, because I'm still doing a radio show, and it's hard to appease everybody," Eddie D says after the show. "I have the only show, so I have to cater to a lot of people. I know everybody wants a piece of it." Eddie D's job is like being a coach at the NBA All-Star Game, trying to find enough playing time to keep everyone on the team happy. He does it as well as anyone could, but it's still not enough.

Other cities have urban radio stations that support hip-hop. They don't just have weekly shows like Eddie D's; they have nightly slots that feature everything from established groups to upstart crews with home recordings. Dallas' only urban station, K104, has banished underground hip-hop from its playlist, in favor of the tired gansterisms of Master P and the hip-pop of Puff Daddy.

Local bands haven't had any support from K104 in years. Its weekly hip-hop show is a thing of the past, a relic from an era when the quality of the artist was as important to the station as the quantity of records sold. K104 even held back from playing Erykah Badu until her record became a hit, an inexplicable blunder and a perfect example of how little K104 is concerned with the local scene.

"This market doesn't break records," says DJ Rodney. "This market follows. Whatever's hitting in Los Angeles or Florida or Chicago or wherever, they'll follow that. With Erykah, she blew up elsewhere, and then came back home and finally blew up here. That's not the way it should be. The home city should help the artist get exposure."

It sounds logical, but Dallas artists long ago gave up expecting any assistance from their hometown radio station. If Eddie D's show goes, so does Dallas hip-hop. Knowledge Dropped, Lessons Taught isn't much. It's everything.

Eddie D could have given up a long time ago. He could have quit being Dallas' patron saint of lost causes, stopped giving his time, energy, and money to a ship that's been sinking for years. But he can't. He's already given too much. Hip-hop is under his skin deeper than the blue ink of the tattoos that line his thin arms.

"I'm 37, and I've been here almost half my life now," he says. "This is my home. This is what I do for a living. I've been doing it for a long time, and I can see myself 70, 80, still doing the same thing. Without a question. Ask me the same questions two decades from now."

Eddie D laughs as he says this, but you can tell he means it. And that's the funny thing about the Dallas hip-hop community. No one wants to give up the dream of putting Dallas on the map. One would think that after more than a decade of hard luck, after all the false starts and blown chances, after being neglected by clubs and ignored by radio, after watching the scene move so far underground it lives in a cave, that Dallas hip-hop would be a ghost town.

You would think by now that Shabazz 3 and Mental Chaos and Legendary Fritz and everyone else in the Dallas hip-hop community would have taken The D.O.C.'s lead and moved to a city where their music is more appreciated, where they have a better chance of succeeding. But that's not a part of the plan. They don't want to achieve their goals somewhere else. They want to make it here, build a scene in Dallas instead of becoming a part of one in Los Angeles or New York.

"Just to up and relocate, you can't do that overnight," DJ Rodney says. "We've considered it. We're still considering it. But we want to be one of the first ones to break this market open, like a challenge."

Even though DJ Rodney has lived in Dallas only for a little more than three years, he has been one of the most active in keeping the scene alive. He puts together shows and pesters record labels, letting people know there's hip-hop in Dallas, you just have to search for it. Now, he's in the process of starting his own hip-hop show on KNON, working with Eddie D until he can find a time slot. Dallas hip-hop may never break nationally, but as long as people like DJ Rodney are a part of it, at least there's a chance.

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