[Editor's note: This week's music feature looks at a recent DEA drug bust that claimed a substantial connection between late Vallejo rap legend Mac Dre's record label and a large-scale Ecstasy trafficking ring, of which 25 alleged members were arrested last month. One source for our story was East Bay hip-hop industry figure Stretch, who manages artists like Kreayshawn and Mistah F.A.B., among others. We thought Stretch's comments on the issue deserved reproduction at greater length than we could fit in print. Read our Q&A with him below.]
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency recently sent ripples of controversy through the Bay Area hip-hop scene by alleging that late rap legend Mac Dre's Thizz Entertainment label is tied to an ecstasy trafficking ring. It's a claim that those involved with upholding Dre's Thizz legacy have sternly denied -- including Bay Area industry figure Stretch, who gave us his views on the matter in a recent interview.
What's your official involvement with Thizz Nation?
I'm a partner in Thizz Nation.
What was your first reaction to hearing the DEA was investigating Thizz Entertainment?
When I heard about it, it was from someone else, and they called me asking what was going on, and I looked at the paper, and they had the indictment on it. I read the entire indictment, 50 something pages, and from my perspective, it was ridiculous. It's one thing to say that these people are doing these things, but it's another thing to say they're all associated [with Thizz], because the thing about it is Vallejo's a small city and the majority of the people that got caught up in this thing are from Vallejo.
If four out of 25 people are associated with the label, how does that make the label involved? I bet you at least four of those people are also related to a church or a basketball team. My problem is, if an artist gets arrested that's associated with Universal Records, they don't say it's a Universal drug ring unless there's actually a plot to make money off of it. My first reaction was, I don't see why it's been sensationalized to look like it was some giant drug ring corroborated by the actual label.
Why do you think the D.E.A. has presented the case like that?
I think it has more to do with the history of just the Romper Room Gang [a Vallejo street gang with which Mac Dre was sometimes affiliated] and the history of the Crest [Dre's Vallejo neighborhood]. There's always been something with the Federal government and that neighborhood. This has been going on since the late-'80s with the Romper Room Gang, so it's easier to tie-in and associate people with that. If that's the case, you have to understand Thizz Nation has put out 160 albums -- there has been probably 40 to 50 artists, and more if you include guest artists -- so that means every time someone's arrested in the Bay Area you could tie it to us, but that's just the volume of people involved.
What's the biggest misconception the DEA seems to have about the situation?
People don't realize that every artist had their own labels, and [Thizz Nation is] the distribution channel for that. Whether it's Mistah F.A.B. or Bathgate or Rydah J Clyde, all we are is the distribution hub for these artists to give them an opportunity they wouldn't have had. With indie music, a lot of people can make it, but it's hard to get it in the stores; we've seen the stores shrinking and the Best Buys coming in, so that's what Thizz Nation was there for -- to provide opportunities for artists in the Bay Area. Now the problem is people associated with the distribution channel are getting accused -- but how do you put the whole label on it?
What's the difference between Thizz Nation and Thizz Entertainment?
Basically, what happened was Curtis "Kilo" Nelson and Dre were partners in Thizz Entertainment along with Walter [Zelnick] from City Hall. Before Dre passed, we started Thizz Nation, which was basically the distribution arm of Thizz Entertainment. There were a lot of artists that we were trying to put out, but were getting cross-collateralized, which means that one person's album was selling a lot of records, but if someone else's record wasn't doing so well it would affect [the first artist] getting paid. So in 2003 we started Thizz Nation, which was the distribution arm, which was everything but Mac Dre, to protect his catalog from getting cross-collateralized. After Dre passed, Kilo just gave the company to [Dre's] mom. That's how the two got separated.
Do you think this case will affect Mac Dre's legacy?
I don't see how it will really affect his legacy 'cause you can't get affected for something someone else is doing. Mac Dre has been passed for eight years. It really had nothing to do with him and nothing to do with anyone who runs Thizz Entertainment or Thizz Nation.
Is there anything you'd like to say on behalf of Thizz Nation about the case?
[I'm] not necessarily saying it's the media's fault for sensationalizing it, but it makes it sound a lot more interesting if it's a story run by a record label, as opposed to a couple of people [who] are accused of doing some things who are associated with a label.
Like I said, if 34 people are arrested and four or five are associated with the label, firstly, that doesn't sound like a label-run drug ring at all; and secondly, it's obviously this is a Federal investigation and they've watched everything from the top to the bottom -- and Thizz Nation was not charged in that capacity. Even at this point though, it's America -- we still have to wait to see what happens with that.