The magic and the pain behind Method Man and Mary J. Blige’s ‘All I Need’ — Andscape
Drew Dixon has never truly gotten her flowers. The former music executive played a pivotal role in helping create one of rap’s greatest love songs, Method Man and Mary J. Blige’s “All I Need.”
Dixon, who served as director of A&R at Def Jam Records in the mid-1990s, recounted the abuse she allegedly experienced at the hands of Def Jam founder Russell Simmons in the documentary On the Record. Despite being pushed out of the industry after she was assaulted, she still loves hip-hop music. Dixon is animated when recounting her experiences in the 1990s: Marathon smoke sessions with The Notorious B.I.G. Her friendship with a young, relatively unknown Lauryn Hill. Hearing D’Angelo’s Brown Sugar long before he was heralded as “the next Marvin Gaye.” Dixon was part of the generation of hip-hop execs that helped take the genre to new heights. She wasn’t just listening to the music, she helped birth classics such as Deborah Cox’s “Nobody’s Supposed To Be Here,” Aretha Franklin’s “A Rose Is Still A Rose,” Brandy and Monica’s “The Boy Is Mine,” Whitney Houston’s “My Love Is Your Love,” and Santana’s “Maria, Maria.” When you love something — truly love something — it’s almost impossible to completely let it go.
In the summer of 1994, Simmons tapped Dixon to join Def Jam. Lyor Cohen became the label’s president on her first day, and she was like most young people working in the music industry at the time, wide-eyed and excited to just be in the building. She didn’t yet have the keys, but at least she was on the lot.
“Lyor really wanted nothing to do with me, so I was given A&R administration tasks,” she recalled.
Despite helping to bring one of rap’s most iconic love songs to life, Dixon’s contribution to the culture has been all but written out of history. Perhaps it’s because she was subjected to hell in an industry that cares more about hits than humans. Or perhaps it’s easier to think of a song as just a random cocktail of beats, rhymes and life and not an intricate process that takes more than just the artists to bring them to life. Hip-hop turns 50 this year. It changed the world and peeled back layers of nuance and complexities about race, discrimination and sociological differences like none before it. Nevertheless, to properly celebrate the genre we’ll also need to have honest — oftentimes harsh — conversations, too. Dixon is a living, breathing, surviving symbol of this.
I spoke with Dixon to get the story behind Method Man and Mary’s duet, her experience in the industry, and how her place in hip-hop history has been nearly erased.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Simple question: How does this story start?
I was just in my office [at Def Jam], no window, one working speaker. And I was told to essentially type up the credits for [Method Man’s] Tical album, and to send it over to Polygram, so they could press it up and put it up. That was all I was supposed to do.
I get the credits in all these sheets of papers and stuff, and I’m trying to compile everything. And I’m playing it on my one speaker while I’m typing everything up to make sure it matches up and the sequence is right, and make sure I know which order to put the credits in, and stuff.
And I hear [“All I Need”], ‘Shorty, I’m there for you any time you need me/For real, girl/It’s me in your world/Believe me/Nothing make a man feel better than a woman/Queen with a crown.’ Whatever. And I’m like, ‘Wait. What?’
This was not my job. Nobody asked me to do it. But, I started listening to this interlude on repeat. I’m like, ‘This is beautiful. This is so loving, so romantic, so selfless, but also, so hip-hop.’ The way he’s telling her that he loves her, and what he wants in the future he’s envisioning, is really romantic, if you listen to it. But it’s all in the vocabulary of hip-hop.
Because it was actually romantic in its own way.
I’ve never heard anything this romantic before. It’s not like an LL [Cool J] record, where it’s like a mac daddy record. He’s not trying to get her in bed. He’s already in a relationship with her. This is just love. I remember thinking it’s really a hip-hop sonnet.
At the time, I was dating D’Angelo. And I was living in his apartment at the Southgate Towers Hotel, which I actually forgot until he saw it on On The Record and called me, and was like, ‘Drew, I was there when you heard it. Don’t you remember? You kept playing it.’
So you kept playing it and you have this idea. What’s next? Did you take it to Russell Simmons?
Yep. I told him that this needed to be a record. And that I thought it should actually be a duet with a female artist singing to make it really a hit. And he was like, ‘Drew, that’s not possible. The record is done. We’re turning it in.’
‘Bring the Pain’ was already out as the single. It was already scheduled on the calendar. There was no time to add a track. So I turned it in, but I just … I couldn’t stop thinking about it. So, then I asked [Russell] again. I said, ‘Well, what if it’s a remix? We haven’t pressed up the single. So whatever the single is going to be, what if we just hurry up and get a singer on it, and put it in the can as a duet and make it a B side, as a remix of the interlude. And he was like, ‘OK. Maybe we could do that timingwise, but who would we even get to sing on it?’
And I said, ‘Well, my friend Lauryn Hill could probably sing on it.’ Because Lauryn was my friend, but The Fugees had only put out one album yet, at that point. One album so far, and it hadn’t really been a hit.
And he was like, ‘Who the f— is Lauryn Hill?’
I said, ‘The truth is, I think the perfect person for this is Mary J. Blige, but I don’t know Mary. And so I mentioned Lauryn, because I could personally just call her.’ So long story short: Russell was like, ‘Ask Puffy [Sean “Puffy” Combs, founder of Bad Boy Records]. If he’ll get Mary to do it, you can try it.’
I knew Puffy. So I called Puff, and left a message. And he left a message back, saying, ‘Let me hear this interlude.’ I personally took it over to Bad Boy, and I left the DAT [digital audiotape] with Puffy’s assistant. When I got back to my desk, there was already a message on my answering machine: ‘Yo, this s— is crazy. I think you’re onto something. Hit me back. It’s Puff.’
I hit him back, and he was like, ‘Yo, Drew. Do you know the song You’re All I Need to Get By’ by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell?’ I’m like, ‘Of course.’ He said, “Well, OK. Can you sing the Tammi Terrell part?’ So I’m [singing]. And he’s like, ‘Shorty … ’ And then he was like, ‘Wait, Drew.’
‘Now, do you know the beat for ‘Children’s Story’? ‘And I was like, ‘Yeah.’ He was like, ‘OK, sing.’
So you and Puffy were basically creating the record over the phone? Almost like it’s Pro Tools before Pro Tools.
Yes! I was like, ‘Oh, my God. Yo, let’s do it.’ I was like, ‘Puffy, you need to call Russell. He’s not going to believe it if I say it.’ He called Russell. Puffy’s like, ‘Book the Hit Factory.’ I booked the Hit Factory. We go in. He gets Mary’s vocals. He’s like, you know, over the ‘Children’s Story’ track. He’s putting it all together. He puts in the Biggie sample, ‘Die together, cry together.’
The end result was an instant smash. To Dixon, to Russell Simmons, to Puffy. And even to Def Jam president Lyor Cohen — who, according to Dixon, wanted nothing to do with her up to that point. He loved the record, but there was a problem — a potentially big problem that could get in the way of the song seeing the light of day. Method Man was signed to RZA’s production company. And everything having to do with Method Man’s vocals needed RZA’s approval.
What happened next was a high stakes game of balancing RZA’s and Puffy’s egos. Each were working on their own remix of “All I Need,” but kept them under wraps. RZA worked on his during the day and Puffy at night, Dixon would run back and forth monitoring both until there were two versions of the song.
RZA agreed to shoot the video, but his version, the Razor’s Edge mix, had to be the one used.
This is nuts.
The Puffy version is an alternate mix, even though the Puffy version was first. And none of it would’ve happened if I hadn’t heard that interlude. As a Black woman who loves hip-hop — who’s, at the time, dating D’Angelo, whose Brown Sugar album wasn’t even out yet — this is the closest thing to Brown Sugar. It’s got love and romance, but expressed in the vernacular of real hip-hop. And to me, the interlude was almost like a companion to Brown Sugar.
To me, they lived in the same space of Black love circa 1994. And so, if I hadn’t heard that interlude, and if I hadn’t been a pain in the a– — blowing up Russell’s phone, not letting it go, calling Puff, running the DAT tape to him with the interlude, secretly shuffling the reels back and forth myself — this record wouldn’t exist.
How’d you manage to work with Russell Simmons to get this song across the finish line?
Managing around sexual assault. Trying to avoid being alone with him this whole time. The fouls I drew. I never got the calls. I never went to the line. And I still was hitting, and hitting, and hitting iconic joints.
The record comes out. The record is obviously an instant smash. It won a Grammy.
What was that moment of celebration like?
When Puffy finished his version, I went to the Hit Factory and it was like, it’s done. And he was like, ‘Yo, I got it.’ Mary was there. Puff was there. Biggie was there. I was there. I don’t know if Method Man was there, but my friend, Jayson Jackson, was there, he did marketing at Def Jam at the time. And that’s how I knew Lauryn. We danced to that version on a loop, because it was unedited. [Puffy] would just tell the engineer to run it back, for an hour.
We were like [singing] for a f—king hour. We were like, ‘Yo. We stepped in this f—king s—.’
Given all of your efforts, why weren’t you credited for the record then?
I wasn’t even in Wikipedia for this song until On The Record came out. I didn’t even get an A&R credit. Jeff Trotter, the head of A&R, who didn’t even talk to me, got the A&R credit. I should have a producer credit because it was my idea. I don’t have a producer credit. I don’t have an A&R credit. I didn’t even have a plaque.
So, April ’95 [the song drops]. I was working on The Show: The Soundtrack at that point. I was in the thick of mixing, and mastering, and sequencing, and cleaning up The Show. So I really don’t remember that much, what it felt like for it to come out.
Then, sadly, I mean if [Method Man and Mary’s song] came out in April, I was raped in October. I just went into a black hole, and I don’t remember much. The Show was the No. 1 R&B album in the country, I believe, when I was assaulted. If not, it had just dropped out of that. It was there for seven weeks, which is why I foolishly went up to get the CD, thinking [Simmons was] not going to f— with me now. I never got to really ride the wave. And that’s part of why I didn’t fight [to get credit].
In 2023, does Drew Dixon still enjoy this rap ballad she helped create?
It’s still a beautiful record. But I did not get the A&R credit. I did not get the producer credit. I didn’t get the flowers. I didn’t get the plaque. I didn’t get the check. I didn’t get nothing. So, honestly, I love it. But it’s sort of painful to listen to.