By Emma Silvers
By Gary Moskowitz
By Alee Karim
By Ian S. Port
By Ian S. Port
By Derek Opperman
By Emma Silvers
By Alee Karim
The mentioning of drug use in rap lyrics has a long and slowly revealed history. In the beginning, drugs were only referenced in supply-side-economics terms -- the ghetto protagonist needed product to sell in order to climb out of poverty, and before one could move records it was rocks. The politics separating dealer and user were always clear, and actually dabbling in the stuff was a sign of weakness -- N.W.A's rule was never get high on your own supply. It wasn't until 1992 and Dr. Dre's The Chronic that rappers freely admitted to smoking weed, and it took Eminem in the late '90s to open the window on psychedelics and Ecstasy.
Still, the line has always been drawn at recreational drugs. It's never, ever been cool to admit to doing dirty drugs, the kind that get you addicted. And crack, which, given its ubiquity in the American inner city, has always been portrayed as the ultimate playa's kryptonite, is the Great Taboo. Historically, when rappers have mentioned it, it's been either as a public service announcement not to do it, or deeply in the past tense, as proof of their bleak upbringing, like when Wu-Tang's Raekwon confessed of his adolescence, "No question I would speed/ For cracks and weed/ The combination made my eyes bleed." Now that there are openly gay rappers and openly white rappers, an unrepentant crack-toking MC is truly the final frontier.
Meet San Francisco's own Lewis Troy Dixon, a middle-aged rapper who happily smashes that last glass floor between hip-hopper and rock-gobbler. Not only does he readily acknowledge in his music that smoking 'base is lots of fun, but he also calls himself the Crack Emcee. And he holds his title with pride. He is crackhead, hear him roar.
But wait up -- don't go writing him off as a gimmick just yet. Dixon is a considerable musical talent; his album Rap's Creationwas one of the best (and surely the most ignored) Bay Area hip hop records released last year. It's definitely an oddity -- a sort of Ol' Dirty Bastard-meets-Prince Paul celebration of quirky black pop music. He sings as often as rhymes, frequently stumbling onto bizarre but memorable choruses such as the one on his recent, as-of-yet-unreleased single "Neighborhood Freak": "I'm not a pimp/ I'm not a ho/ I'm not a person/ I'm the neighborhood freak."
Crack isn't the raison d'être for Dixon's music -- he's not the Cypress Hill of crystallized coke. For Dixon, the ridiculously addictive drug has become a war medal, a symbol of a formative period in his life. He's currently off the pipe. "But once a crackhead, always a crackhead," he chuckles over lunch in his Haight Street apartment, explaining that he's replaced that vice with fiending for greasy pork appetizers from his local Chinese takeout.
Rappers love to talk up the roughness of their backgrounds, but with Dixon, the road was legitimately rockier than most. Instead of dwelling on it, though, and mining the same adolescent gangster fantasies that his colleagues do, he has created the Crack Emcee persona, who's like the playful, slightly fucked-up uncle who went to Nam. Dixon's gone through his share of drama, put most of his weaknesses behind him, and just decided to entertain folks -- and the result is his own refreshing, genreless strain of party music that hearkens back to acts like Rick James. Add it all up and you've got a compelling musician and endearing personality who nonetheless is all but unheard-of here in his own city.
Raised in foster homes around South Central, Dixon says he retreated into his Walkman as a kid and often found himself caught between color lines when it came to his tastes.
"As a teenager," he recalls, "I would get in fights about music -- I wanted to hear everything. In South Central, I'd be the only black motherfucker walking around with headphones listening to Queen. If any black dude heard I was listening to Queen, I'd have to fight. They'd be like, 'Didn't you see Roots?' And I'd say, 'Yeah, I saw Roots. What the fuck that got to do with Freddie Mercury?' It's always been like that for me with music -- people have always stood in the way of me doing what I wanted to do with it."
In 1983, after four years in the Navy -- much of it spent in the brig, he says -- Dixon moved to San Francisco and fell in with some Polk Street drag queens, who helped him get acquainted with the city. Eventually, he found his niche as a regular at Nightbreak, the Upper Haight club that ruled the local hard-rock scene in the '80s. "Guns N' Roses would play there and there'd be bikers, that kind of place," he says. "But they also had this weird contingent of black guys, who like me didn't exactly fit the mold -- nobody wanted to sag [their pants] for instance. We met up with each other, and our thing was that we knew we were somewhat different. Out of that group came the Beatnigs, which released an album in '88 and toured all over Europe."