Jeff Dixon always wanted to be a businessman. As co-CEO of Disturbing Tha Peace Records with Ludacris, currently under Def Jam, Dixon has several decades of experience in the music industry. Hailing from Mount Vernon, New York, Dixon grew into the game running with the legendary Heavy D and Grand Puba, soaking up knowledge everywhere he went. Even today, in 2020, Dixon remains a lifelong student, driven like it’s still his first day in the game. From a young party promoter to a full-fledged music executive, Dixon’s journey is one of always wanting—and securing—more.
Jeff Dixon was kind enough to break down his career highs and lows for me. Our conversation, lightly edited for content and clarity, follows below.
DJBooth: When did you realize you wanted to work in the music industry?
Jeff Dixon: Realistically, when I was doing parties. I used to be a party promoter. I always wanted to [have] my own business. Coming from Mount Vernon, I used to see other artists, and that made me wanna be in the industry. I started running around with Heavy D, and before then, it was Grand Puba. [Puba] was my first cousin, and he was in a group called Masters Of Ceremony. When I [saw the industry], I was like, “I wanna be in music, and I can make some changes.”
What were your early days like in the music business?
The first thing was party promoting. If you notice, good managers [were] probably party promoters first. Puff was a party promoter. Me and Ryan Glover... I remember managing Puba and doing his first party. I was the first person to get him money and get him a show with Mary J. Blige. Ryan is doing a lot of big things out here in Atlanta now. He always makes it a point to be like, “You’re the first one for me to do business with.” One of my biggest parties ever was Jeff Redd and Heavy D. Heavy was big, but he would do anything for me. “I’ll come to your party,” so he gave me the boost I needed, coming up to be a great promoter.
Talk to me about the first time you met Ludacris, before founding the Disturbing Tha Peace label with him and Chaka Zulu.
Chaka is my younger brother. He worked at the radio station, and he was managing Luda first. Luda was an intern for him—he was smart enough to know to intern at the radio station. Let me be at the radio station and get my records played. Also, by him doing all the drops and the announcements, he made it easier for people to recognize his voice. Every time I think about it, it was a well-laid-out plan. One day, Chak was like, “We’re gonna go to dinner.” Luda always had this idea; we’re gonna start this label called Disturbing Tha Peace, and [I was] gonna be running the day-to-day.
I can’t imagine it was easy to just up and start a label.
It wasn’t, but I was learning a lot behind the scenes through Def Jam, Lyor Cohen, and Rush Management. I was sitting back and watching how things move. At first, Lyor was managing my cousin, Grand Puba, and he was like, “You need to be managing me,” [so] I ended up doing it. I watched everything Lyor did, and that’s how I learned how to do management. I just put my spin on it, because they didn’t give it the individual care. I learned a lot through Def Jam and Rush because you didn’t know who was on the label and who was under management. Some people [were] with Def Jam, and some people [were] with Rush. I ended up modeling our [company] as Disturbing Tha Peace, DTP Records, and Ebony Son Management.
It wasn’t rough because we started with Luda, who is the perfect person to start a label with. He was one of those dudes [who] didn’t give you problems. If you told Luda we got a show at eight, he’d be there at 7:45. So we were spoiled at first, then we learned the difficult part of trying to manage artists. It’s like having kids, and everyone wants attention. That’s what happened to us—it started getting to the point where everyone wasn’t getting their [right] amount of attention, and that caused friction.
What was your first real career-high?
When we came out with the first album [Back for the First Time]—not the independent album [Incognegro]—on Def Jam. My brother and I were like, “Let’s figure out what these numbers gonna be.” The record kept growing. We [were] gonna be happy if we went Gold. Next thing you know, we at a million! Something we never imagined. Next thing: 1.5 million. Next thing: 2 million. We getting scared because, where can we go from there? That’s when we knew we got a monster on our hands. And we with Def Jam, the best label. We ended up doing 2 million so quickly, I was like, “Please stop,” because we [wouldn’t] have nowhere to grow.
With several decades in the music industry, what’s been the most significant change you’ve noted from your early days to the present? Especially with social media being the powerhouse it is.
That’s what it is. It’s not even the label no more. What do you need a label for? Because they stay making you do all the work. Even when you sign, it’s like, “What’s next?” What I see now, you can do everything. You weren’t supposed to do management and collect on the executive side, but now you can do that. Labels don’t do anything, you gotta do everything—that’s where I see a lot of the change.
How important is it to stay a student of the game, even when you’ve got all this experience?
Even me doing this interview with you is staying connected with the culture and never feeling like you’re bigger than the game. I admit to everybody, anything successful in Atlanta, me and my brother probably got a part in. Anybody from Atlanta, we’ve probably mentored or sat down with—that’s our job and our mission. I love to give game to everybody because I want there to be a music industry [for] my grandkids. So we have to give back, just as much as we take out. I’m always a student of the game. I love talking to young people and talking with them, letting them know I learn just as much from [them] as they learn from me. Everybody got something to say.
What’s the last lesson you soaked up?
Wow… Just being fluid, putting stuff out, and not overthinking. You gotta be able to move on the fly with certain things. Before, everything was well-oiled, and you knew exactly what to do. Nowadays, with algorithms, I gotta stay on top of this tech stuff. I’m big into tech [and] people learning tech. I want people to have an education. You gotta be smart enough to get to the next level. You gon’ get this quick money, but if you don’t know what to do, you won’t be able to keep it. I was a financial analyst for Xerox for 10 years—I know a lot. My worst fear is to go back to where I started; I always want to progress. I still feel like I wanna make $300,000,000. When you first say it to people, they look at you like you crazy, but with the right [idea], you can be a billionaire tomorrow. I want to dream big. I don’t think people dream big enough.
It’s also about execution. Whatever you in, you gotta give 110 percent and shoot your shot. I want to make sure everything I’m doing is in perfect balance. I’m at the point in my life where I’m aging gracefully. You gotta know who you are and what [the] spotlight brings to you. As long as the business is done right, I don’t want people to know me. I hear everything. I let the room come to me; I don’t walk the room. I see people’s energy as they walk in the room, and that tells me the whole story.
Energy is everything.
It’s so phony in this industry. [People] act like they love you, but don’t. As soon as you walk by, they’re [saying] some other craziness. I’m just paranoid like that.
I’m the same; I like to stay in and work.
You gotta find out where your comfort is. I have those days where sometimes I wonder why people don’t know me. But I always say this to people: You know who you are when you look in the mirror. A lot of these people have shields on. When they look in the mirror, they [don’t] know who they are. People so busy putting on these fronts, they [are] never [themselves]. This music industry [will] have you so drunk [that] when you get sober, you realize you have nothing. When nobody’s calling it’s, “Oh, my god! What am I gonna do with the rest of my life?” So I always tell people to have a Plan A, B, and C.
TuneCore helps you out a lot. To me, it’s a facet where you can build and get your own money. I’ve been on TuneCore for years. Way before people were even thinking about TuneCore because it helped me out label-wise. With a lot of things, I didn’t have to go through a label [to do it], with [their] 20 percent distribution fees. [TuneCore] was so transparent, and it was a disruptor, which is great.
How does TuneCore make your life—and artists’ lives—easier?
When I need certain things, I have that money in the bank. There are things I own rights to that we would usually give to the record company. These labels aren’t gonna work your catalogs. Now, with the digital age, once you get hot, people get back to all the old stuff, and [with TuneCore] you still get paid for it.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten?
I’ll probably go with Clarence Avant: It’s all about the money; it’s all about the numbers. Realistically, always being myself. Don’t be afraid to try. Always try.