Houston rap history is ridden with tragic stories, but few are as exacting in their damage as the deaths that bookend the legacy of Wreckshop Records. Founded in 1997 by Derrick D-Reck Dixon (who also wrote and produced the instant classic The Dirty 3rd the Movie and its sequel The Dirty Third 2: Home Sweet Home), Wreckshop was home to the legendary Houston rappers Big Moe and Fat Pat, both of whom were original members of the late DJ Screw’s Screwed Up Click. Screw’s slowed-down freestyle mixtapes served as Houston’s local rap broadcast throughout the ’90s, and Fat Pat’s big voice and Moe’s hooks were all over them, booming out of cars around the city and developing full underground careers for each of them before coming to Wreckshop.
Pat’s career was to be the first launched by the label, with the release of his debut album Ghetto Dreams in early 1998. Fat Pat was destined for stardom — the first real superstar born from the late DJ Screw’s infamous grey tapes — and had already influenced plenty of rappers and amassed a legion of fans through his slang, storytelling, rhythm, swagger and unique style (which included designer suits and shoes, hats, canes and a bunch of customized cars). He embodied an artistry and charisma that was unparalleled throughout Texas and Louisiana. Pat was the man.
But on February 3, 1998, less than a month before the release of Ghetto Dreams, Fat Pat was murdered in Southwest Houston. The album would go on to make Pat a star posthumously, selling into the hundreds of thousands, but the label that had invested everything in a sure thing was hit hard.
In the wake of Pat’s death, his older brother Hawk carried on the family legacy with his solo career (until his murder in 2006), and Big Pokey, E.S.G., Pymp Tyte, D Gotti, Big Moe and Wreckshop Family picked up the torch for Wreckshop. Moe became the label’s marquee act over the years, building on a career he’d established as the singer and melodic foundation of countless Screwtapes. He was also a hell of a rapper, smart as a whip, and known for being accessible to his fans. And then, in 2007, Big Moe died after suffering a heart attack, knocking the wind out of Wreckshop Records.
Wreckshop has been on hiatus since 2008, but D-Reck, sitting down with me on a recent visit to New York City, said he is ready to resurrect it. In our long talk, we discussed the implosion of Southwest Wholesale, a huge manufacturer and distributor for the Houston rap community through the ’90s, and the shockwave it sent through the business end of the Houston rap world when it shuttered in 2003. With the production and distribution arrangement Southwest had with many Houston labels gone, artists and labels were left scrambling. Some signed, some stayed independent, and others faded away. It was only a couple of years later that the mainstream began to notice what was building in the Bayou City, and artists like Mike Jones, Paul Wall, Slim Thug, and Chamillionaire broke into the mainstream, bringing Houston with them into the spotlight.
D-Reck and I also talked about that 2005 juggernaut, Houston radio, current record production values, the iffy movie theater premiere of The Dirty 3rd the Movie, and a lot about Big Moe. We also hint towards the new wave of Houston rappers that includes artists like Propain, Doughbeezy, Fat Tony, Le$ and Beatking. Oh, and of course, we talk about codeine.
So you’re out here because you’ve got a new project going on.
Right, right. I actually came out here for my brother’s birthday. Since I’m here, I’m just kind of doing both. Basically, I haven’t done anything in like seven years.
That was when the last Wreckshop record came out?
Yeah. You know, it’s all about timing. I look at what’s going on, I look at our music scene — I feel like we’ve accomplished a lot. [Houston artists] took it somewhere, but at the same I feel like it’s incomplete. When I look around, I can tell that our scene has really impacted a lot of artists. The culture, as well as some of the bad shit — like sippin’ drank. Our shit’s been around, been sampled, and it’s impacted the whole industry. But at the same time, there’s really no Houston artist that’s really maximizing that right now. And so I just wanna do my part, and bring what I think I bring to the table. So, we gonna put [Wreckshop] back in the mix, and try to help turn it around.
Do you think that’s kind of the Houston thing, to not completely maximize that? To just keep it consistent?
Nah, the thing about it is that an industry — a good, healthy industry — recycles itself. There’s always a “next,” just like somebody will take their career and learn how to reinvent themselves and bridge themselves to new things. The industry, the area, the market — you gotta be on it. It’s like everything was working in harmony to get the scene where it got to, and then when it really arrived, no one else was able to be the bridge. Some of it has to do with people not working together. There’s a lot of things internal.
When you talk about that, do you talk about the run-up to [local record production outlet] Southwest Wholesale imploding [in 2003]?
I’m talking about the run-up to Mike Jones, I’m talking about the run-up to when Swishahouse went national. Mixtapes were a vehicle for new artists to develop, but the bad thing that happened in Houston with the radio was that when we were building the market and trying to get this music heard, at first, radio stations wouldn’t hardly even play this music. At that time, they had two spots on the radio station for local music. And we battled for that, among everybody.
Oh you mean like two songs in rotation at any time? Was it a written rule?
It was an unwritten rule. But that’s what the pattern was. So we were always having to fight for that. But here’s the deal — two spots are better than no spots.
Especially back then.
Back then, and even now. Because see, what happened was we had a regime change at the station, and they came in not really understanding the culture. They embraced local music, but really they were only embracing local music that had a major record label behind it. So no one complained about, “We don’t hear no Houston music,” because we still hearin’ Mike Jones or Paul Wall or Slim Thug or someone. What we wasn’t hearin’ was who’s next. For the whole industry, it had got to where it was hard for new artists to emerge, when everything went bust, when all the record stores closed, and we started transitioning to digital shit. Money couldn’t be made the same way. Independent labels have a hard time, ’cause they can’t get seven dollars. They only get one dollar.
Was that gradual for you?
Yeah, but I saw all of that comin’. I knew the hustle. So to put all that money out there behind a project, you had to know how much you were gonna make. I knew that. I know I’m gonna sell x amount of records pretty much no matter what. And get seven dollars. The thing I hate about what happened is that people can make records for less money, but to me the quality has depreciated. It’s like…
It’s too easy to produce.
It’s too easy to produce. You can take short, different type of marketing approach to it, but you got so many people makin’ beats, so it’s like…a guy might make 200 beats. Ain’t but one of them worth a damn, but it’s a hit! It’s a hit. Or, the fact that because it don’t have live instruments, or it don’t have that warm feeling that came from tape. People all around the world still like to listen to the stuff we made. And to me, it’s because it was made with more quality. And the stuff that came after it is not. But, look at how much we spent in production. You can’t do that now. You can’t spend 40 grand tryin’ to make an independent record.
Well, the thing is also that your path for producing something used to be so much longer that by the time you’re done with it, you’ve learned all these things. You’ve learned so many things about the music and the rhythm as you’re recording so that by the time you’re done with it, you understand music in general in a different way. Now we have tools that make it so easy to produce that people miss all that learning.
Yeah. It’s just a lot of things changed, man. And instead of worrying about it, I’m just using my talents to bring some new talent out. And there’s a process to it. The main thing I’m doing right now, I feel like the legacy of Houston music — I feel like right now it need to be told in as many ways and forms as possible.
Well, [Houston's] population isn’t going away, so it’s just a matter of kids developing skills and how they learn. That’s important.
Man, they got so much talent there. I see an awakening. Houston is lookin’ good, you know what I’m sayin’? I believe that in a couple of years we’ll start having artists emerge consistently. There’s a lot of new artists I like, but I try to grind with all of them, try and support every last one of them. Because the main thing is that somebody get on, period. That’s what it’s about. So I’m trying to do as many things as possible. Got a lot of film projects in the works. I got a film project I’m talkin’ about. And I’m just still figuring out how I want to do it, but it’s centered around some characters that really grew up when drank started jumpin’ off.
I just gotta watch how I do that, though. I wanna be conscientious about what type of stuff I do. I want it to impact people positively. I know in the past, when I was younger, some of the songs and some of the things we did…I don’t know what effect it had in totality, but I know that I want to help now that I’m older and wiser. You know, you gotta watch what you sell. I wanna do some positive shit. We gotta be careful what we do with drank. I look at power of it. If it’s made just one person get on that shit, then that ain’t good.
That’s too many. Because we’d have a few more people still with us if it weren’t for drank. At least three guys. Screw, Pimp C and Moe — if drank hadn’t have been involved, they might still be with us.
I cannot deny its involvement.
It’s a factor. That really can’t kill anybody, it has to be a series of things. It’s just too slow to actually kill somebody outright, but it’ll mess a bunch of other things up slowly.
Slowly, over time.
The heart attacks that Screw had…
If you’re already vulnerable to something, that sure ain’t helpin’. And so many people wanna try it, but what if you like it? And shit — when I was sippin’ drank, I ain’t even know it had heroin in it!
It is heroin, yeah. It’s the same thing.
I found out later. My promoter one time told me what the hell was goin’ on. ‘Cause, like — I ain’t got no paper — I couldn’t smoke, couldn’t blow trees. Shit, Black & Milds and drank, that was my supplement. Next thing you know, I’m drinkin’ the shit regular. Every now and then, I would notice that I would have a…I don’t know how to explain it. It feels weird. Like kind of a cold sweat, that type of shit was goin’ on. So, that shit went on for about a month or two, and I was like really, “What the fuck is this? Because something might be wrong with me.” I happened to mention that shit in front of Moe, and Moe said, “Aw shit, Reck, that ain’t nothin’ but withdrawin’. You goin’ through withdrawals!” He broke it down. I had never thought about it. When I stopped, I lost like 20 pounds. I’m talkin’ about like within four days or a week.
Because it slows down your metabolism.
Well, yeah, you got all that fluid on you that don’t belong on you. I never would cramp up, though. See, a lot of people cramp up. And it has an effect, especially when you’re an artist and you’re tryin’ to be gone for three weeks, and you goin’ to cities that you can’t get it, and you can’t bring it.
That’s some fucked shit. We had to rearrange flights and all kinda shit behind that. I don’t know how they sip that shit now. That shit’s too expensive. When I stepped away, I was taking a chance as a businessman to go and develop — get some other projects done, and God done blessed me, and now…I don’t have to be worried about music. I can do this, take my own time, and try to inject my growth as a businessman back into music.
So it’ll be Wreckshop booting back up in full? Releasing records?
Well what Wreckshop is gonna be is not what it was before, but in terms of that brand and the person that’s behind it, then it’ll be active, yeah.
So it’ll be an updated Wreckshop that has all kinds of stuff going on.
Yeah, something that’s hyper, that can survive in this type of business. It’s not the same.
Well, the thing about a record label is that you can pour a lot of money into it and have it go nowhere. So it seems like it made a lot of sense that you stepped away when you did. Watch what was going on, technology-wise, for a little bit.
I knew when that shit started happening, because I had my deal with Capitol, and after we released [Big] Moe’s record, a couple of little things happened, and I left. I coulda stayed, but I left, and I went back to Southwest, because I was like, “Shit, I’m makin’ more money sellin’ independent records than I did with this deal.” So, instead of me stayin’ in a deal like that, let’s go back to Southwest Wholesale. But that was right when they tanked.
And after that, the industry started shifting, the whole record industry as a whole, shit went bust. It had got bigger and bigger and bigger, and then it bust, so it kind of was like, if you had a deal, you was good. And then, now this new wave is here.
How much did you work with Screw back in the day?
Worked with, but I can’t say that me and him was friends. Probably like the last two to three years of his life. I came to Houston in ’98. Even before Screw took off, though…we gotta keep it real. We wouldn’t have nothing without Rap-A-Lot and Suave House and those things that took place before Screw. Back then, everybody worked together. I was tellin’ somebody this the other day. He said, “What’s wrong?” I said, “Look around. I’ll tell you right now: People ain’t workin’ together.” You gotta quit worryin’ about yourself, man, and worry about the whole motherfuckin’ thing. As long as good music is coming out and being heard, then other doors are being opened for other people. Everybody can eat, and eat longer, and eat more. Not just for a short time. It’s a shame. Even the city don’t see that. Look at the radio station! It’s simple. If you got two, three platinum artists from your city, there’s more things you can do as well! It only helps. There’s more money being made, it’s good for the promoters, it’s good for the clubs, it’s good for the radio. That’s when it’s really fun. When you ain’t worried about no particular outcome. You just wanted to get in and do it. Building some shit. That’s what I’m all about.
Big Moe was like that, wasn’t he? He paid it forward.
Oh yeah. Moe was good people, man. Moe just wanted to sing. And entertain. Moe was just simple, real, down to earth. And I think that played a big role in his success. That goodness came out of him. People liked Moe.
He was nice to people.
Nice and funny, man. But most importantly, man, he was such a unique person. And he was super talented. People don’t know that.
He’s hearing a texture in the music that he’s hearing from experience. He knows where to slip into the rhythms with his vocals.
He ain’t even rappin’. “It’s that Motorola/ Southside money folder…” it’s always [chops with hand], you know what I’m sayin’? It didn’t matter what Moe said! Half the time, you ain’t even know what Moe sayin’! But you knew it. It’s just how he said it.
What keeps you motivated? [the graf below is not an answer to this question]
I still haven’t lost that feeling. That feeling when you put something out, and you actually like what you do? That’s a feelin’ that’s…crazy. We used to be in the studio. We’d be in there, and we hear what we think gonna be the single. And I’m sayin’, “Six months from now, they gonna be jammin’ this shit.” Nothing’s easy, man. It takes a long time. With Dirty Third… , when we were editing, we went around the clock. Like, four or five days straight. Then to roll the shit out, I rented a damn theater. No one had done that. Because my whole thing was, “How can I make local shit look like national shit?” This was 2010, when The Dirty 3rd the Movie and the album came out.
You rented a real theater to screen it in.
Yeah, that had not been done. So the day of, I’ve got the radio station, I’ve got 97.9…I’ve got everybody in this damn theater. I knew the theater held like 300, so I took like 1,000 tickets and printed them up, and all of us at Wreckshop, we went from mall to mall, every day, acting like we were selling the tickets, and then just be like, “I tell you what — I’ll just give you one.” So we gave all these tickets away. I got everybody in this motherfucker. This plan has been goin’ on like nine months. And it’s all comin’ to this shit right here. And guess what? The god damn shit wouldn’t play [laughs].
The DVD wouldn’t play, man. So I’m goin’ back and forth with the people at the theater. We goin’ upstairs, they’re tryin’ to find somebody that could make this shit play. And so then I went back in the theater. I’m down there, I don’t know if it’s gonna play or not. I gotta go back in to calm the people ’cause I don’t want people to start leavin’. So I go in the front, say some old fly shit about how, “Yeah, you know, we ghetto. It’s all good.” I go outside…I wanted to start punchin’ walls and shit. Like, “Nah, man — this is bullshit.” Soon as I was coming back into the door, man, they cut the lights off and that shit was comin’ on.
They worked it!
I sat down, and I knew when everybody watched that shit and they was laughin’ when they was supposed to, they got upset when they was supposed to… know what I’m sayin’…it was high-fives. Man, just that type of shit — pulling shit off.