Drew Dixon Wasn’t Credited in “Hip-Hop’s Greatest Love Song.” Now She Tells Her Story.
Content warning: This article contains mentions of rape and sexual harassment.
On Aug. 13, 1995, The New York Times published an article about Method Man and Mary J. Blige’s iconic hip-hop and R&B duet “All I Need,” stamped the “No. 1 Summer Song of Love” at the time. The publication credited former Def Jam Recordings CEO Lyor Cohen for persuading the Wu-Tang Clan rapper to rerecord his original song (off his 1994 “Tical” album) with the queen of hip-hop soul, with Cohen giving a detailed account of how he allegedly did so.
Nowhere does the article mention former Def Jam A&R executive Drew Dixon, who says she’s the real brains behind “hip-hop’s greatest love song”; she was never officially credited for birthing the idea or for the literal groundwork she did to make it come to fruition.
At the height of Dixon’s burgeoning career in the ’90s, she oversaw the recording of several hit records from Whitney Houston (“My Love Is Your Love”), Aretha Franklin (“A Rose Is Still a Rose”), Brandy and Monica (“The Boy Is Mine”), Deborah Cox (“Nobody’s Supposed To Be Here”), Carlos Santana (“Maria Maria”), and, most of all, Method Man and Blige. Though the writer, producer, and activist briefly talked about her work on the “All I Need” remix in her revealing 2020 HBO Max documentary, “On the Record” – in which she and other sexual assault survivors recall the alleged abuse they faced from high-profile male bosses in the music industry – Dixon has rarely been given the opportunity to tell her full side of that story. Much of that, she says, has to do with her career being upended by the alleged abuse she endured.
In the documentary, Dixon – who was one of the first women of color to publicly accuse hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons of sexual misconduct in December 2017 (via The New York Times) – shares her heartbreaking account of being allegedly raped by Simmons in his downtown Manhattan apartment in late 1995, the same year she juggled the “All I Need” remix. In that same New York Times article, Simmons denied Dixon’s claims, saying in part, “These horrific accusations have shocked me to my core and all of my relations have been consensual.”
“All I Need” was released in April 1995, but Dixon hardly got to relish her accomplishment, she says, nor did she get to celebrate the legendary track’s 1996 Grammy win. To this day, she notes it’s painful to reflect on the details of that time, though she smiles when she speaks about her love for music, hip-hop, and the records she nurtured because of it.
Here, in her own words, Dixon speaks candidly about how she oversaw the making of the “All I Need” remix, how she was nearly erased from its history, and how the song makes her feel all these years later ahead of hip-hop’s 50th anniversary.
So I was a new A&R executive at Def Jam. I started in the summer of 1993, and it was sort of baptism by fire. I was hired by Russell directly because I knew him through a mutual friend, but then I was kind of ignored once I got there and given more administrative tasks to do, not really creative stuff. One of the administrative tasks I was given was to take “Tical,” which was done, and type up the credits. I was doing that and there were these interludes, and I heard one: “I’m there for you anytime you need / For real girl, it’s me in your world, believe me / Nothing make a man feel better than a woman.”
“People need to hear this because this is beautiful, and they need to know that hip-hop is capable of expressing love and tenderness and affection.”
I was blown away by what he was saying. I was like, that is so beautiful. That is really loving and it sort of elevates the relationship between a man and a woman to a peer relationship of mutual respect. “I got mad love for you. You my n*gga.” Not, “You my b*tch. You my n*gga.”
This was 1993. There weren’t many female rappers at all, and there weren’t a lot of rap songs at all expressing romantic love. I don’t think I’d ever heard anything before that was in the vocabulary of hip-hop that was really about love and a mutually respectful relationship with a woman, and clearly a Black woman. It was Black love. Young Black love in the vocabulary of hip-hop.
I was just so moved, and I kept playing it on repeat. I brought it home, and I was actually living with my then-boyfriend D’Angelo – who was making “Brown Sugar” at the time. I kept playing it again and again for him. I felt like it kind of reminded me of my relationship with him. I was like, if this is just an interlude, no one’s going to hear it. But if it’s a record, if it’s a hit, people will hear this. And people need to hear this, because this is beautiful and they need to know that hip-hop is capable of expressing love and tenderness and affection.
So then I called Russell – my whole entire job involved calling Russell on a cell phone. In order to do my job, I had to call him and get his attention but two minutes at a time and be like, “Money, listen, there’s an interlude and it needs to be a record.” He was like, “No, no, no, no, no. It’s too late. The album’s done. No.” He had given me a soundtrack to work on, but I couldn’t let it go.
So then we all got flown out to the Hamptons for an A&R meeting in a helicopter. I brought it up again, like, “Yo, I’m serious. I can’t let this go.” I just kept going and going and finally, [Russell] was like, “OK. If we do it, how would we do it?” What I said was, “OK, fine, I get that it’s too late to put it on the album, but what if we make it a remix and make it the B side of whatever the next single is?”
He was like, “OK, fine. Well, what do you envision?” I was like, “Well, what if it’s a duet?” He was like, “Fine, who do you think?” I was like, “What about Lauryn Hill?” And he was like, “Who the f*ck is Lauryn Hill?” OK. “Well honestly, if you really want to know who I think it should be, I think it should be Mary J. Blige. But I don’t know Mary and I don’t know how to get Mary.” He’s like, “OK, listen. If you can get Mary, I will let you do it. I will get Lyor to give you a budget and you can try it.”
“I really believe that this was like a hip-hop sonnet.”
OK, great. So I called Puff [Sean Combs] at Bad Boy and I left a voicemail message for him. He called back and was like, “OK, can I hear it?” So I ran over to Bad Boy, took a cab, and dropped it off on 19th Street with his assistant. By the time I got back to my desk, there was a voice message on my machine from Puffy. He was like, “Yo Drew, this is dope. I just listened and I hear what you’re saying. I’ll reach out to Mary and I have an idea. Hit me back.”
So I called him back and he was like, “OK, do you know the song, ‘You’re All I Need to Get By’ by Tammi Terrell and Marvin Gaye?” I’m like, “Of course.” He’s like, “OK. So can you sing the Tammi Terrell part? ‘You’re all I need to get by . . .’ I’m singing it and he’s like, “Now imagine the ‘Children’s Story’ beat.” Mind blown; this is crazy. I said it in the documentary but I’ll say it again because I really believe that this was like a hip-hop sonnet. This was going to bring it to the next level as a record where everyone would hear it.
So Puffy was like, “OK, I’ll get Mary booked at the Hit Factory.” So I go up there and I bring the reels, which I wasn’t even supposed to tell RZA that I had. Puff does the Mary vocals, I bring it back and played it for Lyor. He was like, “This is dope but we have a problem. RZA doesn’t know this is happening and we can’t release this without RZA’s permission because our deal with Meth is through RZA. So here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to tell RZA that we got Mary’s vocals to make this a remix for him to produce. So what you need to do is get the reels from the Hit Factory and move them to Chung King.” That’s where RZA worked.
So I get the reels there; I had Puffy’s engineers at the Hit Factory rewind it so it looked like it hadn’t been touched, and we set it up at Chung King. The RZA starts doing his remix but Puffy’s like, “Yo, I’m not finished.” He had all these ideas, but I couldn’t tell the engineers at Chung King what was happening, so I took the reels. I would just be like, “Yeah, I got to keep these in the office,” something crazy like that as a reason to take them every day after RZA finished. Then I would run them up to Hit Factory. Puff would keep working on it and then they would literally mark it, wind it back, and me personally, I’d transport them.
It wasn’t just my idea. It wasn’t just me fighting and fighting and fighting both Russell and Lyor to get it done. It wasn’t just me then calling Puffy and getting him to say yes to Mary and getting Mary on it. It was also this leg work where I was running it back and forth for like a week between old Hit Factory and old Chung King so that both of these remixes could get made without RZA knowing.
I was happy because I just wanted the record to get made because I believed women, Black women, women who are hip-hop heads, deserved to hear what Method Man had to say in a record. That was my mission. That’s what I did.
I did this also while being harassed and having to deal with Russell constantly, because he was the only person that was giving me the green light. But I also was becoming increasingly aware of how complicated and uncomfortable it was to be in rooms with him. So I was having to deal with him, having to get him to let me do this, and also not be alone in a room with him.
I’m jumping through those hoops, bringing the reels back and forth, all just to make this record happen that I believed in. I believed it was beautiful and I believed it was important. I believed we deserved it and I believed hip-hop deserved it. I believed Black women deserved it. I believed Black love deserved it.
“It never occurred to me in a million years that I wouldn’t get the credit.”
I also saw my career, my role, and my purpose as an A&R person in the ’90s as somebody who was going to tackle records that I thought represented the best of who we are as Black people, as hip-hop, as women, as men. And so I fought for that and in every record I made, I tried to put those kinds of fingerprints on it. I tried to use my energy, spirit, mind, body, not in the way they wanted me to, but in all the ways that were appropriate to bring those kinds of records into the world, and I’m really proud of that.
What’s heartbreaking is that I was so busy doing it for the love that I never stopped to make sure I was honored, respected, protected, acknowledged, paid, and credited. And that is something I’m processing to this day, at 52 years old. But I’m very proud of everything I did and I’m so grateful that record exists.
I was really naive. I thought everybody was doing it for the love. And when I turned the “All I Need” remix in and everyone was so excited about it, I was busy making the soundtrack for “The Show” at the same time. So that was becoming an increasingly demanding project as Lyor started to realize that I had value to add and I had ears and the capacity to really make a hit. Also, frankly, the harassment became more intense and difficult to avoid and escalated in terms of the degree. And so, I was so busy trying to deflect and navigate this obstacle course of avoiding Russell Simmons while making “The Show” soundtrack, while finishing up the remix, that I didn’t stop to think about typing up the credits.
Like obviously, I’m gonna get credited for this. It was literally my idea. I fought them to do this for a while. It was me rattling the cage for a really long time. It never occurred to me in a million years that I wouldn’t get the credit.
Those kinds of decisions getting made aren’t just a natural outflow of what really happens in the room and what really happens in the studio. Credits, producer credits, songwriting credits, royalties, points, those things do not naturally flow from who had the idea, who contributed a creative idea in the studio, or who necessarily did the work. That’s very much correlated to power and who makes the call.
As a young woman in the industry who was trying to be taken seriously, trying to make hits without a ton of support, and trying to avoid constant sexual harassment by the king of hip-hop, I didn’t have access to the conversations where points and credits and money gets chopped up and distributed. So that’s why I have very little to show for all the records I helped to make in my career. So, it’s painful.
It means the world to me that people now know that this was my idea. This song that many people believe is one of the best hip-hop songs ever made, maybe hip-hop’s greatest love song. It’s deeply gratifying to me after 25 years of walking around in a world where that would come on in taxis, in stores, waiting rooms at doctors’ offices, and would actually break my heart. I feel a little better now when it comes on because at least I’m not totally forgotten.
Editor’s note: POPSUGAR reached out to reps for Simmons, Combs, Method Man, Blige, and Universal Music Group (which owns Def Jam Recordings) for comment on this story but did not receive an immediate response. Reps for Cohen could not be reached.
– As told to Njera Perkins