New York has DJ Kool Herc and KRS One. California has N.W.A. and Ice T. In Dallas, the fathers of hip-hop were a band called Nemesis. The original members of Nemesis were MC Azim, Bhumble Bee, Eazy Roque, Big Al and DJ Snake. The latter two, Big Al and DJ Snake, both were from Oak Cliff. They attended Roosevelt and South Oak Cliff High School respectively, and they first met around 1983 at a club called Pizzazz on Camp Wisdom at Polk. In 1987, they recorded and pressed their first single, “Oak Cliff,” on their own label, Get Off Me Records. As the song says: “Oak Cliff, only in Oak Cliff/You’ll never find another place like this.” We sat down with DJ Snake, who’s had a long career as a DJ and producer, to talk about the track “Oak Cliff” and the early days of Dallas hip-hop.
How did Nemesis get started?
DJ Ushay was my mentor, and at the same time, he was mentoring Big Al. Big Al actually gave me my nickname because I guess he thought I was slithering around there. But we became best friends. We got our own show on KNON with Nipsy Jones, and that’s how we hooked up with Something Fresh (the three MCs of Nemesis).
Tell us about the radio show.
Big Al would fly to New York and buy records that no one had heard. Rakim, LL Cool J, all this early stuff, MC Shan, Roxanne Shante. This was all underground, and you couldn’t find it here. Our parties were packed everywhere we went. All these schools all over this area had us at their dances. We were doing all the high school parties and proms. Eventually, we got into a conflict with the radio station, and we quit. Then we were strictly deejaying parties and making records.
How did you make the track “Oak Cliff”?
A lot of our parties were in Oak Cliff, so we were like, “Let’s make a song about Oak Cliff.” I made the beat for “Oak Cliff” on an SP 1200 drum machine. The side B was called “Snake Beats,” and I did that on a different drum machine, a Sequential drum machine. I got that idea from this New York producer called Mantronix who used to play at Starck Club. But “Last Night” was our first real hit. That song killed it.
And then you put out an album?
We recorded “To Hell and Back” in 1989. And then we did our own little chitlin’ circuit around Texas in a 15-passenger van. We went to all the little momand- pop record stores. We did our own distribution, and we sold about 15,000 copies on our own. There was no Internet back then, so everybody was making tapes, and they knew who we were. We were big in Waco, San Antonio, Lubbock. We did Houston a million times; they bought a ton of our records. We went to Ohio, California, Atlanta.
How did Nemesis become so popular?
A lot of it was Big Al. He was so creative. I know we were supposed to meet at that time and place because I needed what he had, and he needed what I had. I showed him how to mix. He showed me there’s more art to it. What the stage looks like. How can the crowd see us best? What should the logo be? He wanted to make a brand. We didn’t know it was called a brand back then, but we had a brand.
How did you get signed to Profile Records?
We had a few deals out there. But they were an up-and-coming label, so we went with them. They treated us with much respect. They did research on us; they knew about the radio show. They had artists on their label that hadn’t even sold as many records as we had. We recorded “Munchies For Your Bass,” and it did like sixty or seventy thousand in the first week. The record label couldn’t believe it. Then the “Munchies For Your Bass” video shot us to the stratosphere. We played all the Deep Ellum clubs. People we’d never seen before, and they were going nuts.
What are you proud of?
We made music that will be timeless, and I take that to heart. When The D.O.C. got signed, he always had some Los Angeles gear on; everybody thought he was from L.A., and he’s from here, West Dallas. It’s amazing that he went all the way all over the country without one Dallas thing on. We were proud of where we were from. We said it all the time. We’re the first crew from this town to actually represent. From day one we were representing D-town.
What happened to Nemesis?
We went to work on the follow-up to “Munchies For Your Bass,” and that was “Temple of Boom.” But we had creative differences. I was stopping the session like every verse. I’m a perfectionist, and sometimes I don’t know when to stop, but that’s how I mix records. That’s what I do. Anyway, me and Al got into it, and I left. That was the beginning of the end. To this day, it was the biggest mistake musically and friend-wise in my life. We never made music again after that. That record was made without me. I was in Atlanta, and I didn’t even know that record was out.
What happened to Big Al?
He was doing a lot of shows in Louisiana. They were driving back from Louisiana, and he started having shortness of breath. They were in the middle of nowhere, and he had a massive heart attack, and they couldn’t help him.
How old was he?
He was in his early 30s.
Did y’all ever reconcile?
No, I never got a chance to, and that shit just drives me nuts to this day. It kills me. Out of all the stuff I did, I feel like I could’ve done something about that. I could’ve made it right, but I didn’t. I’ll be thinking about that until the day I’m dead. What would’ve happened with this guy if we had stayed together? He was creative, creative as hell. He was my best friend.