"Land Before Rhyme," the last track on Matt Dixon's new solo album, Leaf Tag (self-released, 2016), suggests he may give up rapping. According to the local MC, who is half of hip-hop duo Dedicated Servers, he honestly felt that way when he wrote it.
"I wrote that last song on the album pretty early on," Dixon said. "I was just kind of overwhelmed with work and we were doing a lot of stuff for Dedicated Servers. And I definitely had that feeling that I was holding Dave [Boutdy] back because he was waiting on me for a lot of stuff."
If Dixon did stop after Leaf Tag, at least he'd have gone out on a high note. With steady flows and funny, tough-minded rhymes, he tackles hip-hop, childhood games, political conflict, having a kid, and struggling with diabetes with equal skill and insight. He gets support from his Dedicated Servers partner Boutdy, aka Dave the Fave, as well as local rappers Oso Negro and Clev Speech. The album also features spare, catchy beats from Pat Benolkin, Noah Hyde, Weighn Beats and others.
Leaf Tag will be released Sunday, May 29 on Bandcamp, and Dixon will perform an album release show, which will be streamed live at 8 p.m. MST that night on the online video game streaming platform Twitch. The show will include sets by Boutdy, Clev Speech and Arthur Maddox. Viewers can watch the show on thededicatedservers.com, Dedicated Servers' Twitch channel (twitch.tv/hofworldwide) or Arthur Maddox's Twitch channel (twitch.tv/hexafreshimal).
Leaf Tag's songs serve as a kind of musical memoir, balancing recollections of Dixon's childhood with reflections on his life today as an artist, husband and parent. Some sound clips from home movies filmed by Dixon's father add to the album's autobiographical feel.
"My father was very obsessed with videotaping us when we were kids," Dixon said. "I think a lot of people of his generation were because home recorders were new. Shortly after we moved out, he made a compilation of all these home movies [on DVD]. So I actually had those, and I was looking for samples and was like, 'I should just use that stuff.'"
Given Leaf Tag's autobiographical slant, it's appropriate that Dixon's friend and collaborator Boutdy appears on two tracks. Boutdy persuaded Dixon to start rapping when they were both Borah High students in 2004. Ironically, Boutdy was at first reluctant to rap on Leaf Tag.
"I wanted it to be Matt's album," he said. "I didn't want it to feel like another Dedicated Servers album. I insisted and I insisted, but Matt wanted me on there."
Boutdy and Dixon have performed as Dedicated Servers for 12 years. In that time, they have played the Boise Music Festival and every Treefort Music Fest to date. They have also opened for such renowned hip-hop artists as Dessa and Bone Thugs N Harmony. Their rapping career hasn't been easy or glamorous, though.
"It's just hard," Dixon said. "When you [tour], you make some money, but then you also have to get a hotel room or you sleep in some dingy place that other rappers live in. We slept in a place one time where there were rats jumping around between garbage piles."
Still, the Servers' dedication has paid off. They got good feedback for their set at Knitting Factory during Treefort 2016, particularly from fans of nerdcore rapper Mega Ran.
"A lot of Mega Ran's fans bought stuff from us, which we really appreciate," Dixon said. "It made me second guess—like, 'Man, maybe we should've leaned harder into the nerdcore scene.' We always kind of tried to not give into that too much. We didn't want to be pigeonholed or be like a character."
Streaming the album release show on Twitch could be a way for Dixon and Boutdy—who put out a Street Fighter-themed solo EP, Street Writer, in 2015—to reach out without compromising themselves.
"I try to get on once a week to play Mario Maker and just stream it," Boutdy said. "It's not like we feel like we need to do it. We do it because it's fun and we just enjoy it. And it's really cool to connect with people over video games."
Although Leaf Tag is still new, Boutdy wants to start working on more material with Dixon.
"Even now, I have a few future projects in mind that I'm already hounding Matt on," he said. "He's trying to push this, and I'm like, 'Alright, man, next game.'"
Dixon's ready to go another round with Dedicated Servers, too.
"I felt like I should do a solo album and just be done," he said. "And then working through it and then doing some more stuff with Dave, it's like, 'Nah, I really like it. I like doing music.'"