When Ron C was a teenager, he started making big bucks selling drugs in South Dallas. But he also learned how to rap and started writing lyrics that accurately depicted his street life. He applied the business skills he learned from being a drug dealer into successfully selling records independently. At the height of his popularity, Ron C was transitioning from being a drug dealer to a hip-hop artist. But then he was sentenced to jail.
Before all this, Ron C was a square from Richmond, California. He enjoyed going to the beach and surfing. He remembers friends in his neighborhood making fun of him for hanging out with white people. But when his family moved to South Dallas in 1986, everything changed. Ron C was 17, finishing high school and working at a barbecue restaurant. “I was a curious kid,” he says. “I met some people who said you can make some money doing this and that.”
He quit his job, stayed in school and started learning the drug trade very quickly. But he remembers learning to rap around other drug dealers, who encouraged him and even first showed him how to get beats. There was really no interest in his music otherwise and he certainly didn’t have any investors, so he used the drug money to record music and have cassettes, vinyl records and shirts manufactured. From there he started using his skills to sell his music.
“I was already infamous because I was living the street life,” says Ron C. “I knew a lot of people.” Widely known as a drug dealer, Ron C was quickly making it known that he wanted to be taken seriously as a rapper. He remembers giving free music to women just like he had given them free drugs. It made customers out of men both times. He would go to any store that did consignments, sold his music in parks, on sidewalks and on streets. He also made contacts in other cities and started shipping orders.
As sales increased, he remembers picking up thousands of vinyl records, cassettes and CDs from local manufacturers like A&R Records. In a matter of months, he had become a rapper just as fast as he had become a drug dealer. His 1988 Trendsetter EP is a North Texas hip-hop classic and he sold tens of thousands of copies independently. Then record labels were courting him.
He had a few offers, but decided to sign with Profile Records. The East Coast label was best known for Run-D.M.C., which appealed to Ron C. But after the successes of artists like Young MC and Tone Loc, Profile started eyeing talent on the West Coast and in Texas. Ron C signed with Priority around the same time the label also picked up Nemesis, the early dirty south hip-hip group out of Dallas.
Ron C recorded his debut album, C Ya, and waited for its release date in 1989. There was just one problem: A pending case for drug possession. After being arrested, he paid bail and was released the next day. He had never been in trouble before and expected probation. It was while waiting for his hearing that Ron C decided he wanted to make music and leave drugs behind.
After a long wait for his hearing, Ron C was sentenced to prison. He could have avoided jail by being a rat, but figured it would just get him killed. That day he went from preparing to promote his first album to serving two years in jail. A month later his album was released. From his prison cell he actually first heard that his album was doing well when he heard a prison guard talking about how good it was.
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It was a strange predicament. C Ya went on to become a Gold record after a few years. Ron C admits that the money and skills he learned from selling drugs made his rap career possible. But it also took it away. “I wasn’t angry,” Ron C says. “I brought it on myself. If you keep eating cakes you’re going to be a fat kid. I just got too fat and consumed with that lifestyle.” But it’s worth noting that even though selling drugs made such an enormous impact on his life, he only did it for less than a year.
DJ Snake, an extremely accomplished producer and member of Nemesis, would become one of Ron C’s closest collaborators. After prison, Ron C recorded two more solo albums for Profile before joining Nemesis in 1995 for two more albums with the label. From there, Ron C resumed his solo career with releases on independent records, the last one released in 2004. Then he started working in real estate, which he compares to selling music — or drugs.
Inspired by older rappers like Jay-Z and Ice Cube, Ron C is working with DJ Snake to launch a comeback. Over the years, he played shows in other cities with artists like Too Short, DJ Quik and UGK. Ron C stayed in Dallas, but somehow never managed to play a local show as a solo artist. He would get big offers for performances in other cities, but not much in his hometown. Now that he is recording new music with DJ Snake and preparing for some shows, he hopes to correct this.
“Every man is guilty of something,” Ron C says. He never worried about selling drugs until he got caught. In hindsight, it horrifies him to think that he preyed on people. He also says he never used drugs, even tends to think less of people who do. But selling drugs gave him a hip-hop career. And took it away.