Daks Atlanta Freight Train

Malpractice: Dr. Dax Covers Issue 57

Dr. Dax comes clean about doing dirt in the A.

Photos by Diwang Valdez

After growing accustomed to Manhattan’s grid, the winding roads of Atlanta appear to be tailor-made for folks who’ve been behind the steering wheel before they could see over it. An innate sense of direction is requisite. One wrong turn here can land you in the boondocks, for real. As you can imagine, trying to find a house you’ve never seen, owned by a man you’ve never met, becomes increasingly difficult as daylight wanes.

It’s damn near midnight. We can’t read any of the addresses we’re driving by. Luckily, we have an annoying-ass voice on a mobile device to guide us, and it assures us we’ve arrived at our destination. Gingerly stepping out of the rental car, the ground crackles beneath our feet as we’re greeted by the unfamiliar sound of crickets chirping.

A man emerges from the shadows. Rocking a black Slow Roast Records tank top, camo shorts (which appear to have been pants in a prior life), and tattoos from the neck down, Dr. Dax extends a warm Southern greeting: a firm handshake and invitation inside his place, “the goddamn Space Mountain.”

After assuring his dog Blanco—who actually belongs to an old girlfriend—that everything is okay, he turns toward the front porch, revealing an intricate tattoo that spans back of his head (comprised of a woman surrounded by flowers, a spider web, and an 8-ball). There’s a certain comfort in being welcomed into the home of the baddest motherfucker on the block.

Dax Young Black and White

Dax Rudnak earned his scars and stripes—and a shitload of tattoos—stomping through Atlanta, from the railways to the strip clubs. Born in Cleveland, Ohio, he grew up in Naples, Florida, before permanently relocating to ATL in 1985 at the age of nine. Compared to the swamps of South Florida, the city of Atlanta felt as grandiose as NYC.

It wasn’t long before he fell in with what some would call ‘the wrong crowd.’ It felt right to Dax, and he embraced the city’s ubiquitous hustler mentality. Known to his “customers” as Tyler, bestowed later with the degree of “Dirty Doctor” by Big Boi and André 3000 of OutKast for his proclivity to slang scripts (and also regarded as a “doctor” by his friends for his ceaseless study of graffiti history), Dax has acquired a lexicon of aliases throughout the course of his career. Ultimately, we’re here to meet Daks of Network Crew, whose name runs on rusting freight trains from coast to coast, and stands for “Destroying All Kinds of Shit.”

Mass Appeal: How did you get your start painting trains?

Dax: Well, Atlanta was pretty caveman cryptic-ish, as far as graffiti. A lot of the guys who wrote here, they didn’t really have any influence from anywhere else. Sir Leon, he was one of the first writers—who wrote from like ’83–’84 ’till like 2005. He’s probably like Iz the Wiz or Stay High 149 of Atlanta. I even asked him, “What made you start doing graffiti?” And he told me that he saw the end of Beat Street; he saw the last half hour or some shit. Whatever he saw in that last half hour built him into being the writer he was.

Daks Network Car

I got ahold of Subway Art by Martha Cooper and Henry Chalfant, which is like the Bible of graffiti books. Every writer has had that book. I just saw the subways, and being that so many trains are here…this used to be called “Terminus City,” which is the main hub connecting the South with the rest of the world. So, just by that nature, there were so many trains here that they were kind of like our subways for the South. Even when you’re sitting here, the house will rumble. There’s some of the biggest train yards in the world around here.

It was a natural progression for me to be like, “You know, I think I’ma start painting these things.” And in painting them, I met a guy named SB One—a subway dude and also a famous documenter of subways. He wanted to know who the hell was painting all the freight trains everywhere. He found me, and he already had pictures of all my shit. That really set me off right there. Meeting him and going through all his archives in New York, and him breaking down all of graffiti history: that fast-forwarded my life probably like 100 years.

He was one of the people who facilitated benching trains and photo trading. He cranked that whole culture up and really put an exciting light on it. A lot of kids started taking pictures—at least in the South—because of SB. People wanted to trade pictures with him, and if you’re gonna trade pictures, you gotta take pictures. So, that started a whole ‘nother culture.

Were you taking photos before you started writing, or was it the other way around?

I did ’em both at the same time. My dad used to kinda push me to take photos. He’d give me a bunch of film for my birthday. But in it not being digital, I’d be so picky. Every picture had to be very strategic. I only took pictures of stuff from the ’80s. It was old and really blew my mind, and I knew would prolly not be around forever. Probably in like ’89, ’90, I started taking pictures of the mid-’80s graffiti that was disappearing.

“A lot of people painted trains throughout the years, but we were the first guys to be considered freight train writers.”

 

Do you remember your first mission going to paint a train?

I don’t remember the exact first mission, but I remember the first place I used to go. There was a place called Whitehall Street—all the buildings are burnt down over there now; it’s redeveloped, kind of—and all the trains used to lay up there. I used to go up there to write on them. Sometimes I’d go during the day to scope it out and get a feel for it. I used to see all the monikers on them, which was like a lot of hobos and rail workers. And when I started seeing that stuff, I started being really intrigued, like, “Oh wow, there’s some people fuckin’ writing their names.” It’s almost like a graffiti subway thing, but it’s more like country or blue collar type, or some sort of folk art. And I started seeing this one guy—The Solo Artist—and I would see the date and I’m like, “Oh, that’s right now.” So I thought he lived in Atlanta. And then a year later, SB was telling me, “Nah, that guy lives in Maine, but he was a subway writer in New York that moved to Texas in the early ‘80s and didn’t feel like New York subway graffiti fit on freight trains, so he just became a moniker dude.” That right there intrigued me to paint them, so I just started going off on them.

Solo Artist Daks

We started the Network Crew, which was Pre in Philly; Porn out in L.A.; Baser, who was a Miami guy; Smash 74; all the people… A lot of people painted trains throughout the years, but we were the first guys to be considered freight train writers. Not subway writers, or street bombers, or spray can artists, or whatever…we were freight people. We were also the first ones to have a coast-to-coast crew. We had a major player in every city in our crew. And it was a real crew; everybody was friends, everyone stayed at each other’s houses. It was a good network in that sense that we were resourceful. ‘Cause if I go to Philly, I could hook up with Pre; he could tell me where to get paint, how to paint the trains, how to get in and out. To be able to be a child and be worldwide like that—catch a Greyhound somewhere and have the same access to a place that you have at home—that shit was everything. When people come to your city, we used to take care of them the same way. So that’s why it was a network—a true network.

When did you guys come up with the name?

SB came up with it in January of ‘92 on Whitehall Street. It was him, Brayne, Chase, and this guy named Hens. Brayne, Hens, and SB were all subway bombers in New York; they all came here to go to The A.U. They came with a lot of knowledge and technique and everything. They were advanced—they had been in New York. Chase was a gangbanger dude from Rockwood Street in L.A., and he was a graffiti writer too. And L.A. had their own kind of advances, technically, so when he came here, they brought the West Coast and East Coast shit. They came here in the ‘80s to go to school, and that was a pivotal point and a change in Atlanta graffiti.

I was just blessed to be in the right place at the right time, meeting these people. They’re probably some of the best people I met, as far as what I do. Growing up in Atlanta, I know a lot of great people as well, but graffiti was my thing. I don’t really care about the rappers and the dope boys as much.

How did you transition from getting involved with photography and graffiti into the music industry that was bubbling in Atlanta?

The music industry happened for me on accident. Just being around. I never wanted to be involved in any of it, but I then I met Khujo and Gipp from Goodie Mob, and I met Sleepy Brown another time, so I started becoming friends with some of these guys who were—to me, they weren’t your typical guys. They didn’t dress like everybody else. They didn’t have the same outfit. They weren’t a bunch of spoons—which was cool. It was the whole dope boy thing. It wasn’t really like a B-boy thing, but it was still that whole thing with fur Kangols; just the style of the time.

And a lot of folks didn’t really appreciate my graffiti shit. You tell people, “Yo, I did that graffiti writing,” they would frown on you, girls especially. But when I met some of these Dungeon Family guys they were like, “Ah man. That’s so crazy you do that.” Ray Murray, who’s Organized Noize, he was Raz 69 the 5 Kings, and I was like, “Oh man, that’s like the guy I idolize.” So I met Ray Murray and I was a big-time fan clubber of him—not because of the OutKast music. It was just like he was the first writer. He was fresh as hell. And he inspired a lot of my style and what I do today, before SB and them came along.

That kinda changed the whole game between me and the Dungeon Family hooking up. And then, just naturally over the years—with my visual touch—they started having me involved with visual things, whether it be art or making videos or whatever. And they’ve also been the biggest support in what I do. As far as Atlanta, everybody else just didn’t see it.

And it’s funny: Now it comes full circle. Now, all the rappers…they wanna get paintings, they want you to do their covers. They wouldn’t even give me the time of day before. They loved the fact that I was down with OutKast, but that would always overshadow what I did. They be like, “Oh, that’s Dax; he’s down with OutKast.” Well, that doesn’t really pertain to my greatness. But yeah, I know those guys. I kinda fell into the shadow of them for a little while, but that’s cool. I’m glad things come full circle.

Dr Dax Paiting Train

Dax invites us outside for a quick cigarette break, where we discuss his extensive photo collection. After stepping back inside, he sifts through a few of his old Dungeon Family photos, reminiscing about his days hustling with Rico Wade’s little cousin, Meathead.

Actually, Future used to work for me when he was a kid. We used to sell dope together. Yeah, that was Rico’s cousin. And I don’t think anybody took him too seriously ’cause he was just a kid. He was alright when he first started, but Gee Rock really just started training that dude. I don’t know if you remember Gee Rock; he was in that group Chamdon, and Da Connect, and all that shit.

That’s who developed Future pretty much into what he is today, at least as far as I know. Future’s the shit. But he used to just be our little fuckin’ buddy. Meathead from fuckin’ Kirkwood.

What do you make of the term ‘trap music’?

Well, trap music started out like that: it was music made by drug dealers. You think of people like Cool Breeze. Cool Breeze was a trap rapper to me, but that wasn’t even something you called it back then. But when Jeezy and all that shit came out, that was the label it got. And I think it was true: It was real drug dealers making real drug dealer music.

I think what was weird about it was when people considered trap music a sound. It wasn’t lyrical content or who the artist was. You might have a kid who was a raver making trap music now but has never been to a trap. That’s kind of weird to me. I’m like, How you can say anything’s “trap” ’cause you ain’t never even been to a trap? But, that’s just me being around where the word “trap” remains true to what it really is. You go to a trap, it’s a drug spot. Trappers are people who run those spots. But now it’s a sound [Laughs]. You know, that’s how things evolve. And you’re just an old man if you don’t fuckin’ accept it or adapt to it. I don’t wanna be that [Laughs].

Dr Dax Black and White Tattoos

You know why I thought things were traps? Just ’cause when people say, “Let’s go to the trap,” it always felt like a trap, ’cause you’d always go to the courtyard of a place. There was a place called The Horseshoe here back in the day. You know, a lot of projects—like Techwood and stuff like that—had places you would go in, and once you were in there, you could easily be trapped. It’s just a matter of people not letting you leave. So you gotta go in there and not play around. You can get out the trap: You better go in there and handle your business properly. So traps felt like a trap. I think that was the perfect word for it. But then they say, you know, you get trapped in that life.

Even when you go into The Bluff, you’re in that neighborhood, and it’s like you’re in the middle of their shit. Horseshoe was the epitome of a trap because it was actually a horseshoe. Even if you go into Bowen Homes, there’s one way in and one way out, so you’re in there. And that shit’s gated in. That wasn’t no little shit; you could prolly drive a mile or so through there.

But now, people will call anything a trap. Hair salons say their shit’s a hair trap. It’s funny. It’s just like how Scarface was a big thing. People love a goddamn-good crime story.

“I’ve always just thought of drug dealing as an honorable sport.”

How did BMF change the drug game in Atlanta?

Big Meech had been around, but when he formed BMF…I don’t know how the hell they were, they were just somehow mega organized. Bringing shit in—any amount of shit, anytime—and having the means and the money, or the connects, to do it. That changed everything and pissed people off, ’cause kilos went from like $22,000 to $15,000 at one time. On average, you could get a kilo for 16 to 18 grand. So a lot of people, I think, liked it. But then there was a lotta people that were like, “Hold on man, I was the dude bringing in all that shit.” So they shut down a lot of key player motherfuckers that are locals here. And a lot of people jumped right on board with it ’cause it’s just business.

I think they changed the whole infrastructure of Atlanta though, because Atlanta never had gangs; it never was very accepting of gangs. Even people from projects: those were their projects. They didn’t want Crips or anyone taking over the organization of their shit. And now, Crips and Bloods run all that shit. So where Meech left off, they just slid right in and took the organization of all these people.

It’s just like letting Wal-Mart come in and shut down all the fuckin’ mom-and-pop shit. It’s the same shit in the drug game; it’s kinda like a corporate drug game with the Crips and the Bloods now. But they’re so organized I think shit runs smoothly, because it seems like a lot of fuckin’ people have a lot of fuckin’ drug money here.

I think BMF brought that to a whole ‘nother level. There’s always been hustlers here. I think another thing they changed here too: I’ve always just thought of drug dealing as an honorable sport. You don’t steal from people. You don’t rob. You don’t fuckin’ do shit like that: You sell drugs, that’s an honorable thing, and you keep low-key. I think BMF really started the whole showing off thing.

Back in the ’80s and ’90s, I feel like it was a little more low-key, and everybody was just trying to make money and take care of their lives. Now it’s become something you do so you can buy a Bentley, or whatever. Even the strip clubs changed. I don’t go to the strip club no more. When I run into strippers, and even like Little Magic and Charles and them from Magic City, they’re like, “You don’t come through no more.” I’m like, “I don’t got no place here, dude. I can’t compete with these motherfuckers.”

And even now, the girls aren’t even sexy to me. I see ’em doing all sorts of tricks—hangin’ off each other and slammin’ their pussies on stage. That didn’t even used to be the culture of strip clubs. Girls used to be sexy, you know. Just bounce an ass cheek real slow or something. We used to call it butt-nastics. But now it’s all about some sort of fuckin’ stunt fuckin’ strippers and gymnastic weird shit. Pussy stompin’ [Laughs].

I’m just part of an old-school culture. I’d just be like, “Throwing money away ain’t cool. Stack that shit.”

What was the most iconic club during those years?

Gentleman’s Club. That was the most iconic one. Gentleman’s Club was the shit. That was Mike Childs’ club. It might have been ’cause it was so centrally located and it just had, like, all the baddest girls.

They had different levels to it. The main level was general population. And then you could go upstairs, but you had to be somebody to go up there, and they had pool tables and couches. And then there was VIP beyond that. That place was just…I don’t know. I guess that was like our version of Rome or something [Laughs]. Especially ‘cause that’s when X pills came into play. When X pills came to Atlanta, that changed the whole mood of everything.

How so?

I don’t know. I guess a lot of people just sold drugs and that got people to start doing them. And that’s when the partying went to a whole ’nother level, which also is a part of what I think a big attraction to Atlanta is. You know, being able to go to 112 and leave at 7:30 in the morning. Go to clubs, last call on average was 4:30 a.m., and that wasn’t even a strict thing.

That’s when BMF came into play, because when BMF started fuckin’ having violent things go down over and over—it became shootings and stabbings, and there were people getting killed even—that’s when they were like, “See, we told you we should shut these black folks down.”

It all really started with Ray Lewis. The whole Ray Lewis thing in Buckhead started the whole “we gotta shut the people down. There’s too many black people acting crazy after 2 in the morning. We gotta put a curfew on everything.” And then everybody fought it; it never would happen. BMF came around; the shooting with Wolf, P. Diddy’s dude who got killed, that was the final straw for the city for this shit. They were like, “That’s it.” And it’s never changed since.

They’re always looking for something to shut down the partygoers. House music used to be huge here. You could stay up on X pills all night and house music your ass to death. You could go to a punk show. Atlanta was a great place for any kind of music you could be into. I’m into everything, so I like hitting my rounds on all this shit.

I heard East Atlanta had a pretty good hardcore scene?

I think it did in the past. East Atlanta has been the home of that shit for the past 10 years maybe. But it used to be the Metroplex, the Wreck Room, The White Dot, The Pit; those were all punk clubs of the ‘80s and ‘90s. And the most famous one was 688. That’s where all the early-’80s punk shows happened.

Do you remember any iconic punk shows you were into?

Yeah, I seen The Ramones, Bad Brains—that was pretty iconic stuff. There was like Agnostic Front and Cro Mags, all that New York hardcore. Then there was also English shit like The Business, The Adicts. Everybody came through here. If you came to do an American tour, Atlanta was one city you hit. The first American show the Sex Pistols ever did was in Atlanta, Georgia. I think that’s the part in that Sid and Nancy movie where Sid gets beat up on the train tracks or whatever.

Dr Dax Freight Train Cars

What was the diversity like? You’re talking about the house scene and people doing molly and shit. In the Bay Area, Mac Dre is probably the most famous rapper that has glorified ecstasy: Were there black people in the community doing ecstasy at that time?

It was a hush hush thing for black folks here. I tell you, the first people that started doing ecstasy were the strippers; they wanted them. It would just make their job easier. And then after a while, I think a lotta dudes started being like, “Where’d you get those X pills from? ‘Cause the girls love ‘em!” And they started giving them to girls, and I think the girls started [getting dudes] into eating them, and then that shit became a whole industry here. I don’t remember people really talking about it until…maybe Three 6 Mafia, I think, were the first dudes. But, Memphis dudes and New Orleans dudes are totally different. I hung out with Soulja Slim, and me and him…I won’t get too deep into it, but he’s… into doing drugs. Snorting shit, you know?

And I’m not used to that. I remember, I was good friends with JT Money, and we went down to the “Dro In Da Wind” video with CeeLo and them back in Miami, and I remember Big Boi and everybody being like, “Dude, you’re smoking cocaine on the bus. What the fuck? You’re embarrassing us.” And I was like, “Nah, Trick Daddy and these dudes are smoking it with me,” and they were like, “No way.” I was like, “Yeah, JT Money smokes it with me,” and they were like, “Dude, shut the fuck up.” They thought I was just doing drugs in front of all their peers, but it was the other way around. I don’t know how every other city was, but Atlanta culture, people were just into selling drugs. It was always really frowned upon to snort anything or eat pills. The culture’s changed so much from back then.

But, the Dungeon Family culture, they were not into me doing drugs. They thought it was awesome I sold them. And they could never understand how I was involved in partying and also being about my business. They were also so shocked, ’cause I don’t think they ever seen anybody in their lives who did drugs recreationally and also went to work every day.

“The Dungeon Family, to me, was the first collective of super open-minded and creative people here.”

When did lean take over?

As far as I remember, lean was some shit white kids always did. I remember suburban kids used to bust out cough syrup they’d find in their cabinets. I used to always think it was so ridiculous, until I drank the yellow shit, that Tussionex shit. I was like, “Oh this shit’s pretty cool,” but I never really got into it ’cause it was cough syrup at the end of the day.

My generation specifically, we don’t have anyone that has overdosed on it that I can think of that are cultural icons.

It’s going to happen. Well, Pimp C, but people don’t talk about the drugs. Pimp C dying was tragic. We were all really good friends with him, and I used to drive around with him doing all sorts of shit, unspoken things.

There’s a couple people I knew, like graffiti writers and stuff, that had died like that. And when Pimp C died like that, it hit me the hardest ‘cause that was the person I dabbled with most with that shit. And that’s when it was like, “Wow. That motherfucker died and he was like a monster; he was like a machine.” When NEKST the graffiti writer died, that really hit me hard. That was somebody I had been kickin’ it with for a long time doing the same kind of shit. He’s been in this room right here on that shit…It’s just like, “Okay, wow. You know you gotta chill out.” Mixing uppers and downers is playing with fire; there’s no doubt about it.

It’s good to have fun, but wait ’til you get your check, then go party; get some rest and get back to work. But don’t mix drugs and work; that’s the worst. Drugs are only good for celebrating your check. It shouldn’t be something you have to do to be in the studio or get your creative juices going, because that’s going to be the end of you.

In closing, what does the Dungeon Family mean to Atlanta culture?

The Dungeon Family, to me, was the first collective of super open-minded and creative people here. It was just a bunch of people who talked to each other because we needed each other.  It was a creative community, which for me was so hard to find. When I met all those guys, they were people I could completely fuckin’ hang out with. We had the creative process in common. This has been my family, as far as Atlanta goes.

The only other family I could relate to being family is [Mass Appeal founders] Adrian and Sire, people I wrote graffiti with. It was good to meet other writers and hook up with in town because we all had a common interest. In Atlanta at the time, it was hard to find anybody. [At that time] music wasn’t even a big thing for people to make; it wasn’t something that you could do and blow up. That was like the opposite: People who made music here, they had it in their minds that we would never blow up. They’re like, “You can’t be an Atlanta artist and blow up.”

Dallas Austin was the first one to change that game. Dallas was someone I first-hand saw go from nothing to something. And then, of course, everybody in the Dungeon Family. And I didn’t know Kilo Ali really well, but it seemed like Kilo was another person where it was like, “Oh wow, this motherfucker’s making money right here.” But then he instantly went to jail for burning his house down. [Laughs] Classic Atlanta tragic story of a fuckin’ lost talent.

Daks Hoodie Train

Didn’t he sign to Organized Noize for a second?

Yeah, he was Organized Noize and Dungeon Family.  I believe he got kicked out of the Dungeon Family because he started fights with CeeLo, and CeeLo had to whoop his ass a couple times at The Dungeon.

It’s a classic Atlanta thing: You got a bunch of wild-ass people from wild-ass places here and they just happened to be some of the most talented motherfuckers in the world. But, they can’t ever get a grip on their fuckin’ emotions and personalities. The personalities are too big to step into a record label.

You got to have Rico Wades. People like him and people like Jermaine Dupri… If it wasn’t for them none of this shit would have happened. There’s got to be a barrier between the talent. Some talent think they can handle themselves, but some of these people that came out of Atlanta, they are fuckin’, some wild individuals.

Even like Jagged Edge, those guys make some beautiful fuckin’ ballads, but those guys are scary to hang out with sometimes. I mean, I’ve been intimidated by Kyle. You’d never expect it, but these motherfuckers are no joke in person.

Really? “Let’s Get Married”?

Yeah [Laughs]. Some of these R&B cats, and their friends too that were supposed to blow up but didn’t, were real street-ass motherfuckers. Dude, Jagged Edge is hood.

Kyle—I remember going to his mansion and that dude was fuckin’ like, “Hey man, who are you?” His girl had brought me there, and I was like, “Oh, I’m Dax.” This dude Lil Will was there, and Lil Will was like, “Oh no, Dax is cool.” And [Kyle] was like, “Nah, nah. I’ll see if he’s cool.” He was like, “Come out back. Can’t no pussies hang out here. Come out back and let’s fight. Let’s see if you’re a pussy or not, because if you’re a pussy, you can’t hang out here.” And I was like, “Let’s go. Let’s go outside right now and fight.” And he was like, “Oh shit.”

And then he pulled me in the bathroom and we did drugs. He started twisting the water [makes water swishing sounds*], and beating on the thing, and slamming the cabinet door, and making a beat out of his bathroom and singing songs. I was just like, “What the fuck is wrong with theses guys, man?” It’s so wild that he can make beautiful music in the bathroom while doing drugs and also challenge you to a fight in the backyard.

That kinda sums up an Atlanta dude.

Mass Appeal Issue 57 is available for purchase here.

Dr Dax Issue 57 Cover

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