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That's the Breaks

Houston rap labels and their artists look for that big deal

The DJ had bumped into the Jam Down people during a failing Triple Threat project, which Screw was producing. Through Screw, Jam Down hooked up with Lil' Keke, who performed on Screw's celebrated 3 N' the Morning albums. Screw's first album, 1997's Don't Mess Wit Texas, sold up to 80,000 copies in Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, Arkansas and Louisiana.

Even then everybody believed Jam Down had potential. "We didn't have this label, actually, like it is today," says Lewis. "It was just basically a $5 record name and the little money we had." Loans and money made from parties helped pay for distribution. "To get to this level, we started selling the little tapes," says Lewis. "And then, more money comes in."

Houston has developed a treacherous reputation for not giving much love to artists who break out of their regional status. (Remember the singing trio H-Town? Didn't think so.) But Lewis doesn't think that reputation is fair. He believes Houston rap listeners give many of today's local rappers (his Jam Down stable included) their props. "Houston is supporting big-time now," Lewis says. "Right now, you can't really put out a tape without having Houston on your side. 'Cuz if you don't have Houston on your side right now, it's gonna be hard to get somebody else because Houston is a major market."

Still, the down-and-dirty form of Texas-bred hardcore rap that Jam Down and many other Houston rap labels specialize in rarely gets its share of airplay around these parts. "It's basically an underground thing," Lewis says. "But it just don't have enough [DJs] supporting it in this market. They don't have no clubs. They don't have nothing happening for them here."

Jam Down's distribution strategy is simple. "We're not into all that shit with the movies and all that," Lewis says. "We're not into that. When we do get to that level, fine. But we need a gold and platinum album first."

But even with his laid-back attitude, Lewis can still utter a promise to those who are ready to go to the mat with Jam Down. "Either roll with us," Lewis says, "or get rolled over."

"The design for this company is not to be a Rap-A-Lot or to be a Suave House," says Derrick Dixon, 29, CEO of southwest Houston's Wreckshop Records. "It's to be a Priority or a Relativity. To be a MCA. To even be a Polygram. You see what I'm sayin'? So it's all in the vision that we have that's gonna separate us."

Strong words, but it's not like the man hasn't tried it before. In 1992, the Beaumont-born Dixon, who has an MBA in marketing from Clark Atlanta University, moved to Atlanta to form Gemini Entertainment. After five years of occasional "creative conflict," Dixon set his sights on forming a label in Houston. In 1997, he formed Wreckshop.

Dixon, now a husband and father, claims he named the company after his "lifestyle." More important, he named it for the wrecks, crashes and other obstacles of life. There was that auto accident in high school, in which he was injured, and then there was a young rapper named Fat Pat (nee Patrick Hawkins).

In March 1997, Fat Pat had signed a Wreckshop contract. Dixon recruited a production team and began working to meet a debut release date in early 1998.

But on February 3, 1998, Fat Pat was fatally shot once in the head at the Meadows Southwest Apartments in southwest Houston. Three of his friends had been waiting in the car while Pat went to collect money from a promoter.

Two men were later charged with murder. Fat Pat was 27.
"I can actually say I built my company around Pat," says Dixon, sitting with older brother Floyd Dixon, Wreckshop vice president, and Big D, promotions and marketing director. "So, for me to lose Pat that early in the game was a major loss." A month after Fat Pat was killed, his posthumous album, Ghetto Dreams, was released. It has sold up to 100,000 copies to date. Later in the fall, Dixon and Wreckshop released Throwed in the Game, another collection of tracks Pat had recorded with Wreckshop artists Pimp Tyte, Double D, ESG, Noke D, Big Hawk (Fat Pat's brother) and singer Ronnie Spencer. Dixon believes, unabashedly, the show had to go on.

"First of all, nobody else believed in Pat until I came along, you know," he says. "And I feel like no one else was willing to take the gamble that I was on Fat Pat as a solo artist. And I took that. I had no idea what was gonna happen to Pat, and my job was to sell records. Pat was here, and now that he's not here, my job is still to sell records. Pat didn't want ... Pat don't want his name to die. Pat wants his name to live on forever and ever. We don't have no more material on him. But his name will always be referenced as long as Wreckshop is here. So, it ain't like he dead -- it ain't ever gonna be no, 'he dead and that's it about Fat Pat.'

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