In the past year, however, the band has begun to slip by some of the roadblocks, mainly because it realized no one else was going to move them. And by helping itself, the band helped everyone else as well. Shabazz 3's Fatz told the Observer last November that Dallas hip-hop is under construction and Shabazz 3 is the architect. As true as that statement is, it misses the point a bit. Fatz and his bandmates, Bobby Dee and Ty Macklin, haven't just drawn up the blueprints; they've helped build the thing from the ground up. Bobby Dee spotlights local acts on his weekly Internet radio show, Rap 3000. Fatz, along with Mental Chaos' DJ Rodney, hosts a hip-hop night at Liquid Lounge every Saturday. Macklin has produced almost every hip-hop artist--or former hip-hop artist, in the case of Erykah Badu--to come out of Dallas in the last decade. They aren't just the architects of Dallas hip-hop; they're the bolts that keep it together.
But as much as Shabazz 3 has done for itself and the rest of the Dallas hip-hop community, it's still waiting for a record label to come along and do the rest. That's why Live or Die, the EP the group released last year, was more than a little misleading. Of the five versions of the title track included on the disc, one is listed as the "LP version." However, the track isn't included on any of Shabazz 3's full-lengths, because, well, there aren't any. Better to wait to record an album until a label is willing to release one, the band figures. So its discography is small enough to fit on a price tag, numbering just one EP and a couple of compilation appearances--including "Latitude/Longitude" on 1998's Down by Sound, the local hip-hop collection assembled by KNON-FM (89.3)--giving us only a glimpse of its talent.
It's enough of a glimpse to know that Shabazz 3 is one of the finest hip-hop bands this city has ever produced. The members have the easy chemistry that comes from being together for so long; Shabazz 3 formed in 1993, and all three were in the Phlomatics (responsible for the underground hit "Jack the Blue, Don't Back the Blue") before that. Every song sounds like the East Coast-West Coast feud ending in a tie, neither side getting the upper hand for very long. Macklin, who also goes by the handle XL7, delivers his verses in a voice so high and airy that his words seem to drift like clouds, tethered to the ground only by Fatz's commanding delivery. Live or Die is A Tribe Called Quest as produced by Dr. Dre, jazz hitting the street running. Or maybe it's N.W.A. onstage at Birdland, Roy Ayers' vibes melting Ice Cube's glare. Either way, Shabazz 3 has been in the future for the past five years, and no one's caught up yet.
You can't blame the band for waiting to record an album, or at least you couldn't a couple of years ago. In 1996, Musician magazine named Shabazz 3 one of the best unsigned bands in the country, which for many bands usually means they won't stay unsigned very long. Plus, Macklin's work on Badu's 1997 debut Baduizm--he produced "Drama"--should have netted him more than just the handful of courtesy calls he got from a few record labels, more a case of labels covering their asses than of any real interest. In the end, all Shabazz 3 got was a few sentences to add to its press bio and another disc to file in its record collection instead of a gold one to hang on the wall. A long-overdue Dallas Observer Music Award isn't much of a consolation prize in the major-label game, but maybe the band should stop playing it. Let the labels have Pimpadelic or Hellafied Funk Crew. They don't deserve Shabazz 3 anyway.
Winner for: Reggae
Percussion so terse it explodes like machine-gun fire in the air; beats that skitter across the room like a thousand mice; a relentless, pulsating bass line--this is dub music as performed by Sub Oslo, reggae at the end of the century. Of course, theirs isn't a revolutionary sound, merely an evolutionary one, where music stretches so far out there, it sometimes doesn't snap back. This music's been around for decades--dub was originally credited to King Tubby and Lee "Scratch" Perry, the progenitors of Jamaican reggae in the late 1960s and '70s--but when done right, it still sounds brand-new, unheard, ultra. There's a reason the Clash went dub when punk became too limiting; there's a reason the Beastie Boys revere Lee Perry as if he were some voodoo priest. No other music allows for so much space; dance this mess around, even if it means standing in place.