How Grand Theft Auto Cast an Enigmatic Dance Music Legend

During Game 5 of the NBA Finals in June, my commercial-break trip to the fridge screeched to a halt when a deep voice I’d heard before boomed out from the TV. In an ad for the new video game Grand Theft Auto Online: Los Santos Tuners, a mechanic peered inside the window of a muscle car, apparently recognizing the man in the passenger seat sporting diamond-encrusted sunglasses beneath an impeccably animated Afro.

“You look familiar, I know you from somewhere?” asked the mechanic.

“I just got one of them faces, don’t even worry about it,” came the mysterious stranger’s reply.

That face, I realized to my shock, belonged to Moodymann, the most consistently excellent dance music producer of the last quarter century. Fiercely independent and infamously media-shy, he’s the last person you’d expect to see as a main character in one of the best-selling video game series of all time.

It made more sense when I caught up with Kenny Dixon Jr., as his parents named him, in the offices of his Mahogani Music label in Detroit’s North End. After all, Dixon is a car aficionado, an ardent admirer of Detroit muscle, and the proud owner of a 1966 Chevrolet Impala. “I play [GTA], of course,” he told me. But “it’s not my regular thing. I don’t need no video game shit, we duckin’ and dodgin’ out here all the time. I’m riding around in it every goddamned day.” His eyes were hidden behind round white-framed shades, and his hair was blown-out and wavy like the cover of Prince’s 1979 self-titled second album; he wore a t-shirt with an illustration of the late Los Angeles hip-hop star Nipsey Hussle.

With 1966 Chevy Impala.

Kenny Dixon Jr. has always done things his own way, on his own terms. He’s released 14 albums since his 1997 debut Silentintroduction (which remains one of the best records of that decade) and a slew of dance floor classics like “I Can’t Kick This Feeling When It Hits,” “Shades of Jae,” and “Don’t You Want My Love.” His vinyl offerings are fervently sought by fellow DJs, record collectors, and 24-hour party people around the globe.

Not that those searches are necessarily successful: many of Moodymann’s physical releases are pressed in limited quantities. His 2019 album Sinner, for example, was basically only available at a BBQ held in Dixon’s backyard, while an untitled 2018 album, featuring contributions from Snoop Dogg and Jill Scott, never even made it out of Moodymann HQ; to get a copy, you need to be personally handed one by Dixon himself.

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