A rare interview with a pillar of the Detroit music and skating scenes.
In truth, Dixon Jr.'s love for black skate culture is the reason we managed to score an interview with him. Only when it was made clear that we wouldn't be asking about the lost Moodymann album or his day-to-day life in Detroit did he agree to speak with us. In the process, we learned the larger-than-life swagger Dixon Jr. exudes on Moodymann records isn't an act. We also gained valuable perspective on his drive to give back—to the skaters and fans who show up to Soul Skate, to the working people from the neighborhood trying to make ends meet, and most of all, to the city he represents: Detroit.
As Dixon Jr. brings Soul Skate to Europe and ramps up for the 2020 Detroit edition of the party, we decided to mark the occasion by running our entire chat with Dixon Jr.
I came to Soul Skate in 2007, it changed my life.
I wouldn't be here. I wouldn't be doing what I do.
That was the first Soul Skate right?
Damn. Yeah… so, you ain't been to one since?
I was there last year.
Oh, you came last year? Did you have a good time?
Aw man, it was amazing.
What day did you come? Was it Saturday?
I came for the opening day, out at the hotel and then I came out for the adult prom as well. That's where I met Big Bob.
And then I also saw the documentary [United Skates] and then I was out on Saturday as well for the big event.
Oh, sorry about how hot it was in there. It was a little uncomfortable. We can't have that many people anymore. We still have to make it fun, it was way too many people last time, apologies for that.
No worries at all. I was a little intimidated to get out on the rink last time. But I met up with, what's her name again? She's an amazing singer, she sings with Piranhahead and a little with Omar-S as well.
Terr? Divinity? That's my baby.
Yeah, we met up. She's amazing. I was talking with Traci [Washington, from Mahogani and Soul Skate] earlier and she said the first time she saw you skate, she said, "I haven't seen anyone skate like this." It inspired her to start skating.
Oh, don't believe everything you hear...
So when did you start skating?
I don't even remember. It would be a better question to ask when I didn't skate. I mean it wasn't always... It's something to do. Everybody else was doing it, shit. That's where the girls are. Fuck it. It kept me out the street. It was fun, kept me active. Some people do other things but we just wanted to skate. It was just on Saturdays and when we got older we started doing other shit.
Let's talk about the Detroit skating style. We've got the slides, that's a Detroit thing. Fast backwards is Detroit. Locking, that's a Detroit thing. How would you describe Detroit skate style to somebody who doesn't know anything about skating?
Detroit. That's exactly how I would describe it, there's no other way to describe it. It's its own entity. You could look at any blaxploitation movie and you can feel that energy and that Detroit style of skating.
We don't even call it… you know, It's just how we skate. You know, look good. You can do anything, no matter if you're Atlanta style, Chi-Town, shit, Philly hot. I mean there are so many—North Carolina, LA. They got them patent leather, them Stacy Adams and the Chucks and shit. They getting it in. Everybody got a different style. Especially the way they move. I can sit down, I'm sure plenty of skaters have told you this, but I could sit down, and I've said this a million times and everyone that skates has probably said the same thing, I could sit down in any rink and within a couple seconds, just looking at his or her skating styles, just from knees or waist down, I can tell exactly where they from.
Big Bob said the same thing to me, of course—"If somebody busts one move I know exactly where they're from." I think Bill Butler was his mentor as far as being a skate DJ.
Yeah, I believe he's from Detroit as well. But we look at a lot of that and we don't give a fuck where they from. That's me, that's us. We uplift everybody because Bill Butler went out there representing skating in all ways, styles and colors and forms, but from our point of view and from where we grew up, no one else can tell that story. Just like in music and musicians, no one can tell that story. So it was good to have someone that's well-known to represent skaters and it's a blessing that he's even from the neighborhood.
You said the same thing about your DJ style. People shouldn't come out expecting you to play the hottest new white labels and stuff like that. You're playing a Detroit party, you're showing other people what that is.
Traci said that when Soul Skate started, it was to show the people from Movement what it's like out here. And now at this point, it's on the calendar for skaters all over the country. Can you talk about how that's changed and how it's become like a festival unto itself?
That was truly a mistake. It's its own monster. But I was blessed with a team around me as well. Most definitely. Really it started out as, how can I put everybody in one room? Let's focus on them buying my T-shirts. I wanna put everybody and smother them with my record label, my artists and my T-shirts. That was one of the ideas for Soul Skate and then that flopped and people didn't give a fuck about my T-shirts or my product or my records. They were like, "When's your next skate party." And I was like, "Fuck that skate party shit. Y'all ain't buy no shit, no records." I didn't sell a T-shirt, nothing. After that, we did it again and I tried to sell more T-shirts and get everybody in there so I can sell my record label but they didn't give a fuck about no record label, they tried to find out when the next skate party was. Yeah, it's its own monster now.
But, I'm grateful. It's more than me, it's most definitely more than me. That party is for Detroit. We take a L every time... it takes us two years to recoup, save up and get money. But we're in the negative every year, that party is for Detroit.
For example, a lot of us skaters travel. But there's a lot of skaters that hear about the out-of-town parties and they can't travel. They don't have the means or the funds. Or whatever situation, they can't get out to enjoy these parties in LA or North Carolina or Pittsburgh, Texas—the cities go on. It goes on and on. We decided, why don't we just bring it to them? A lot of people ask me, how come you not DJing, or the regular rink DJ is not there? Because in a lot of ways that's them playing the same stuff we hear on a weekly basis. The idea of this here is bringing the out-of-town Soul Skate people here so that, one, they can enjoy all the out-of-towners they don't get the opportunity to enjoy, and two, we can show them Detroit hospitality and make sure everyone's having a good time.
It's also a good time for the fellas to come down talk to some ladies. You know, we play the slow jams. You know what I'm saying? It creates a beautiful environment. And then it grew into people wanting more days and they were like, "Well fuck, we came out here from California or wherever the fuck," and they'll say, "That's it, just Saturday? Well fuck that, do something else!" So it just grew into its own entity but again that was with a lot of fucking help. And it also includes a lot of help from all around, because we also sponsor little skate things overseas, we pick people out from around Detroit as well as Chicago, LA, we just pluck 'em out and say, hey, come on with us, we representing Soul Skate which represents everything American, most definitely Detroit, and we show them how we get down. How the fuck we get down.
Can we talk a little bit about the team behind Soul Skate.
Aw man, first of all it's the city itself. Just the city. It's gonna represent that strong and if you don't know, that's Detroit city. Unfortunately, I don't drive through it. I drive in it, so I get a good piece of action there. That's the main focus behind Soul Skate. And then there's the crew. There's about 13 of us. We really enjoy skating. When it comes time, we all support one another and we all help as well. Then we also have some that are scattered around the country. You know, maybe five or six that really help us with the promotion. It's a collective issue, but it's mainly Detroit, you know, that's what that brand is about. It's not just me, at all, trust me. You know, if anything, I kind of sit back, relax and enjoy and make sure everyone else has a good time. I don't even fuck around with that shit no more [laughs]. I wanna be a part of what's happening, forget I'm even involved.
I noticed that. At last year's Soul Skate you were kind of low-key, you would just go by and give people a pound real quick…
I don't wanna make it about me. That's another reason why, you know, I don't play, I could give that opportunity to someone else. There's this whole world there. And that's a great opportunity to showcase our talent and showcase people from other spots around the world or whatever we're doing. Also, what we give to Detroit and everybody else is that we give an unannounced guest as well. I don't know if people are aware of that.
I saw Rakim at Northland, that was amazing. Ronald Isley as well.
People get mad at me. "Well if you woulda told me they was gonna be there we woulda came!" We don't want you to come when you know, we want you to support what we're doing. That's our gift for people who came to support. We don't promise that every year, these motherfuckers get spoiled. But you know we was blessed to have… I ain't gonna start naming names. I remember Whodini. I think my favorite was my own personal pick, I got selfish. Usually, we whisper and see who we want and I usually roll with what everybody else would like, but it was 2016 and I was like, fuck the world, I'm bringing Rakim. That was one of my heroes, you know, growing up. So I was selfish with that one. We had Ronald Isley, Mr. Biggs, from the Isley brothers last year, but it was so hot in there. It was just too hot for everybody in there and that stage was just burning up. He gave a good show but he couldn't stay long. But when we dropped the curtains and he started singing and the sound fucked up a little bit, people thought it was the record. But they did that with everybody. About the time they looked up they were like, what the fuck is going on? You might have missed what was going on.
When the curtain dropped people screamed. I remember when you introduced Rakim and you were like, "OK we got R, here." People don't buy the ticket to see them. This is just another thing.
And I wanna do different genres every year. And believe me, these artists aren't coming for no hookup. They don't give a fuck where you got me at. My fee is my fee. I don't give a fuck if it's your child's birthday or if I'm at the Coliseum, this is how this gets down. You know, we have no problem dealing with that because we think it's more important to give a show. A lot of these people didn't have the opportunity to go see 'Kim, or Chico DeBarge or DJ Quik. Or they may have had money but had to work!
You know what I'm saying, this ain't the youngest crowd in town, this is grown and sexy. These grown folks in there. They kids is downtown, you understand? We kinda uptown a little bit. But it's fun, it's great. But it also gives other people other things to do. But we also have other things going on. Everybody's coming from everywhere and I don't give a fuck. Everybody's from Detroit that night. I don't give a fuck where you landed two days before that, or that evening, you might have landed a couple hours ago, everybody's from Detroit.
There are five rinks within city limits. Two of them, I think RollerCade and maybe The Great Skate, are black-owned. Skating is alive and well in Detroit.
I'm not gonna lie. About ten years ago we were bitching that all the rinks was closing down. But when we started traveling and seeing how other people have lesser rinks, I was like, damn, we still got rinks. It ain't like they everywhere no more. I remember going to Wheel Zone on Eight Mile for the longest, I mean, they were everywhere. And also when we was young, the parking lot used to be where the party was. Lots has changed. Nowadays, I'm good just getting there to get some exercise.
Let's talk about skate DJs, when did you meet Big Bob? He said he started coming out in Detroit in 1989.
I met him not too long ago, realistically started talking to him, I dunno, four or five years ago. He didn't know me but I knew him. Everybody knew Big Bob, you know. He was always a classic. I've heard about him from years ago, even Louie Vega mentioned him. It's amazing that he still gets down the way he gets down.
He had a heart issue, he's still out there, with the soundsystem as well.
We ain't letting the motherfucker go nowhere, fuck that. We ain't done with him yet [laughs].
Let's talk about what makes a good skate DJ versus a good club DJ.
Well a good skate DJ plays like your parents at home. They play like it's back in the '70s when you went to a club and they played everything. See, I can go to a club, get down, sweat, have a great time. Boy, that shit was exciting, me and my friends, we would get down. We would have a great time, talk to the ladies. But at the skate rink, we gonna play the slow jams. I don't gotta do too much talking. I'm at a skate party, it's different, it's OK to be socially polite with a young lady and she's comfortable with it, and we rolling.
I saw some older couple skating out at Wheels this morning.
Oh baby, feels good, it feels good. You can't get that at the club. You know hips moving, you can understand what I'm talking about, you understand. It's a beautiful thing. Most definitely.
And that's different because at the skate rink, they gonna slow it down, they gonna break it down, they gonna break it all the way down. You know, at a club, you ain't gonna hear no slow jams at the club no more. Back in the '80s and '70s they'd rock you for about two hours and they'd break it back down. You're telling me you're not gonna play no "Do Me Baby" in this bitch? The fuck? Fuck that.
What are some classic skate jams for you? Traci was telling me you've been playing one skate jam, "GaGaGa."
Everyone plays that, I'm not gonna announce what's out there, I'm not gonna give away my secrets for free. I'm gonna be honest with you, a good DJ can damn near make anything sound good. You know the record, but you hear it for the first time? A good DJ is representation, also. You probably don't understand it but, you know, gonna hear Peter Frampton at the skate rink? "Do You Feel Like We Do" is incredible. Then you gonna break me off with some James I don't give a fuck, pick a track. You know, it's a '70s feel with a '70s, '80s attitude of DJing approach. I don't give a fuck what you don't like, at some point in the evening, he played your jam. He played your genre.
They gonna play that new hip-hop shit, I don't give a fuck if you like that shit or not. I like a lot of that new shit. A lot of these old heads, they're like, "They tripping." Yeah they is tripping, we was too, motherfucker. Think about the shit we was doing. Yeah, they on TV with that shit I understand but at the end of the day, the music, the product is amazing because you can't fuck with the talent of a person. You may not like what the fuck they do, but that ain't got nothing to do with his talent when he gets down on the guitar or whatever. You understand? So that was the DJ approach. You sure got me talking a lot right now. You know I gotta get the fuck outta here, right?
I never imagined I'd get to speak to you about this stuff. I appreciate it so much.
That's cool. I hope you had a good time while you was here. You should have went to Northland, did you go there Friday night?
I got in on Tuesday so I didn't make it. But I've been out to Northland for Soul Skate of course. And thanks for telling me about this morning, the 9:45 AM session.
Oh yeah, they're all over town. You can get down, get your practice in, everybody know everybody. You know who you shoulda really talked to was The Baby Jim. I ain't sayin Baby Jim, that's not his name. His name is The Baby Jim. You gotta get that right. That's probably one of the coolest motherfuckers at the rink. He's been blessing us for a lot of years. I'm sure you've seen him today, only n**** walking around with that toothpick in his mouth. I don't care what's going on the floor that toothpick ain't going nowhere. He be in there with his young lady friend, his girl Red, they be steppin' sometime, but they look good together. But that's who you should talk to. Maybe we can set up a phone conversation. He could take you back, way back.
You would say he's one of the infamous characters of Detroit.
Hey let me tell you something, that brother's still of age, I ain't gonna shout out his numbers, he's up there. He slide, he got one of the smoothest slides and he still get kicked out of the rink. That's how passionate some of these old folks is.
It's funny what you said when you were like, "I was initially gonna promote the label, the T-shirts through Soul Skate." But now people go there and they know you through Soul Skate, they're buying Soul Skate T-shirts. When you go out to Roller Wheels, do they know you're traveling around the world every weekend to go play festivals to all these people?
A few, it leaks out because you got the internet now. But have I officially come out and agreed to any of that shit? No. [Laughs] That's not what's important. It gives me the opportunity to do things like that. Unconsciously, it's just my way of paying dues, paying my taxes. Going over there is providing a way for me to do things like this. To give people a concert they didn't even know that it was coming to them. They might have not seen Maze, or 'Kim, or you know, believe it or not you got people that skate and will skip out on dinner or provide for their children and I got a full course meal, you know? Try to keep it all night. I got food. Don't leave talkin' about you're hungry. I gotta go and I'm hungry. I got that for you. Don't leave cause I gotta go to a club to see some other thing. I got a concert for you. You ain't gotta go nowhere, it's all tonight, baby. I got plenty of women for you. Plenty of motherfuckers from all around on the floor. Sometimes you can get down with someone all night and not speak their language. Don't know what they talking about, but you skate with them all night. We ain't got nothing to talk about. You can groove with them all night.
It's funny, people talk about the dance floor, this idea of togetherness, losing yourself in the music, but skating is almost an easier way to get there.
You got some bad motherfuckers out there that don't do nothing but float. They do nothing but float. Can sense when you're close. I ain't saying they're in there with their eyes closed but they in they zone. Leave 'em alone, they be in they zone. Don't let the wrong record come on, i mean right record come on, or wrong one... The wrong one come on, get out the way, let him do his thing.
You're one of those people as well, that's what Traci says.
I would disagree because I know great skating when I see it and I'm not one of them. I exercise a little bit, you know, I'm not fluent in the language but I can understand it.
Hey man, I'm not gonna take up any more of your time.
I appreciate it. I like that shirt you got on [points to my Sound Signature sweatshirt with baby Theo Parrish and the label's logo]. That's my brother, take care of him now. Don't forget these motherfuckin' shirts, I hope you got what you need.