Former Def Jam executive Drew Dixon fears that “there may be no bottom” as the music industry slowly comes to terms with long-term issues of sexual misconduct.
Dixon, who in December accused music mogul Russell Simmons of rape, said she was initially reluctant to come forward because she was “worried about adding fodder to the myth of the predatory black man.”
She added, “In addition, I didn’t want to be Desiree Washington, who was torn down by the black community, I felt, when she came out years and years ago about Mike Tyson.”
Dixon was a rising 24-year-old music executive at Simmons’ Def Jam label working with the likes of Aretha Franklin, Lauryn Hill, Carlos Santana and The Notorious B.I.G., when she said Simmons raped her at his New York apartment in 1995. The incident, she said, came after months of sexual harassment by Simmons.
Through his lawyer, Simmons acknowledged that he engaged in “inappropriate conduct” with Dixon while she worked at Def Jam but denied accusations “of forced sex or sexual violence of any kind.” At least 18 women have accused him of sexual misconduct, including rape.
Dixon, who was one of the first to accuse Simmons in a New York Times article in December, told TheWrap she did not want to discuss the incident with Simmons or even mention his name.
“The decision to come forward has nothing to do with him,” Dixon, now 47, said. “I’m not thinking about him. This is about letting go of tremendous pain that has really crippled me in ways that I don’t think I even realized.”
She left the music business, she said, after she said she was verbally harassed by another boss, Epic Records head L.A. Reid (who was ousted from his job in May 2017 over sexual harassment claims by another employee; he did not address Dixon’s accusation but has apologized for any “uncomfortable workplace environment” he might have created).
Coming forward has allowed Dixon to pick up where she left off almost a quarter of a century ago. She’s relaunching her career as a music executive and recently signed up a 17-year-old music artist named Ella. “I feel like I am in a position to navigate her path in a way that I can protect her so she can be an empowered artist and avoid so many of the bear traps that I stepped in,” Dixon said.
When we first discussed doing this interview you said you didn’t want to talk about the incident or Simmons. Why?
It’s about me letting go of the pain, letting go of the burden of carrying his secret, of being an accomplice to his crime after the fact in some ways by covering it up for him… I’m not thinking about him. In some ways, I pity him. I don’t even know what it must be like to live with so much violence and dishonesty.
What was it like coming forward?
It’s sort of walking out of a burning building. It’s trying to build something new and not exactly sure what you can salvage from before because the version of me for 22 years that tolerated it is gone. I’ve retired that version of myself, and so what I will tolerate now is just very different from what I tolerated before from myself.
Why do you think the music industry hasn’t gone through the same reckoning as other industries?
I think there may be no bottom. I’m really not sure what the bottom is. It’s really entrenched in the music industry culture… It’s a cousin of club culture, nightlife culture… I think there may be this inclination to hunker down and hope this category-5 hurricane just passes over the island.
What were your biggest challenges?
Every time there’s a new disclosure, a new accuser, to get 40 texts from people. I’m in the middle of my life and then suddenly someone I know barely… will forward me a new article or forwards me a sentence with some salacious, horrible new detail.
I was talking to a friend… a woman who came forward the other night and she said that whenever there’s a new allegation against him, she just wants to go home and go to sleep for the rest of the day for like 24 hours, which is exactly how I feel… I really just want to curl up in a ball.
You’ve said that being an African-American woman put an extra burden on you. Why?
[I was] worried about adding fodder to the myth of the predatory black man, which I know to be a myth. I’ve been a black woman my whole life, and the overwhelming number of black men I know are lovely…. and we fight this uphill battle as a community every day… with life and death consequences for Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown… I would say that was the single greatest reason I did not come forward. I didn’t want to be Desiree Washington, who was torn down by the black community, I felt, when she came out years and years ago about Mike Tyson.
And was there a backlash?
No. I’ve heard from many black women in particular that I admire with whom I’d lost touch over the years who made a point of tracking me down and thanking me and supporting me. And that has been huge.
What are your thoughts on the movement almost a year later?
I continue to have hope that #MeToo movement will not be fleeting and that it will really turn out to be a watershed moment for the culture. I do think that there is some uncertainly on all sides about that comes next.
I’m frustrated about the [recent talk of] comebacks for Louis C.K. and Kevin Spacey on social media. The abusers are celebrities and the victims are unknown. We’re invisible. Nobody retained our names but everyone remembers the celebrities. We have been derailed, erased from the story and no one is navigating our comebacks. But they are sitting around talking about how to navigate a comeback for the abusers from a punishment that has consisted of taking a few months off from their job.
How has your life changed since coming forward?
I discovered an amazing artist, a 17-year-old young woman named Ella, really incredible. An artist I hoped would walk through my door my entire career, and I’m so glad she walked through my door now because I wasn’t ready… Now I feel like I am in a position to navigate her path in a way that I can protect her intentionally and clearly and explicitly so she can be an empowered artist and avoid so many of the bear traps that I stepped in.