Brad, right, and father Peter, center, visiting Brendan Dassey, left, in prison in 2011 / All photos courtesy of Brad Dassey unless otherwise noted
If you have any interest in documentary series or long-form investigative reporting or if you simply use the internet, odds are you’ve heard of Netflix’s new original ten part docuseries Making A Murderer. The show chronicles the gut-wrenching tale of a Steven Avery, a Wisconsin man who was exonerated and released from prison after serving 18 years for a rape he didn’t commit. Soon after, he was thrown back into the criminal justice system for murder, among many other charges. One of the standout real-life plot twists happened when his nephew and neighbor, Brendan Dassey, entered the picture and, as portrayed in the documentary, appeared to be coerced into what many believe was a completely fictional confession as an accomplice to the murder of Teresa Halbach. Super spoiler alert: They were both convicted and are still behind bars.
The media, internet, and social media have become obsessed with Making A Murderer, the perceived criminality of Manitowoc County Sherriff’s Department, and all of the lawyers and prosecution involved. Shortly after the series became a hit, a petition on Change.org spread like wildfire, garnering nearly 500,000 signatures and a response from President Obama himself.
Two days ago, Brendan Dassey’s half-brother Brad Dassey (they have the same father) posted a rap song online defending both Brendan Dassey and Steven Avery. Overnight, Brad Dassey has received a whirlwind of attention from strangers and the media. Although, according to him, his phone has been ringing off the hook from TMZ, Dr. Phil, and USA Today, Brad took the time to Skype with me late last night inside his home in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. A 32-year-old father of two, Dassey works on computers, but he’s also been rapping for 17 years. Previously, his music hasn’t gotten much attention. In fact, he’s only played some open mics and a show at a coffee house.
I spoke with Brad about how he’s been dealing with all of this overnight attention, Making A Murderer and the trials of Brendan Dassey and Steven Avery, and his biggest influences in hip-hop. We also talked in-depth about the “haters” who think he’s only using Brendan’s conviction and the success of the show to gain a following for his music.
Screenshot by the author, via Skype
Noisey: Hi Brad. How are you doing tonight?
Brad Dassey: Doing pretty good, just getting some ridicule from some people who out there who think I’m out there for my own publicity. It’s crazy: Some of these lunatics come out and just start accusing me.
Is it a weird thing for you? You make music, you release the song because you care about the issue, but I’d imagine you’re not trying to come across like you’re using this awful circumstance to gain fame—
I never even intended on doing a song until the other day when somebody on Facebook said how everybody is sticking up for Steven [Avery] all the time but someone should be sticking up for Brendan [Dassey] more. They said, “Yeah Brad, why don’t you write a song and use some of the letter that he wrote to the judge to put in a rap song?” Well, it’s not that easy. You can’t just take some meaningful letter that someone wrote and just write something out of it. It’s not really that easy because the whole song has got to tell a story from start to finish.
Why don’t we take it back real quick so I can frame this better for our readers. Can you tell me a bit about yourself?
I’m 32 right now. I’m a computer technician in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. I’ve been in customer service for about 15 years now. I’ve been doing music on the side for 17 years. Back then when I was a kid, I would always tap on desks and stuff. They thought I had attention deficit because of it. I was just keeping beats and minding my own business. That’s kind of how it all started out.
Were you always into rap?
That’s my biggest influence for sure. I love a good beat, dude. I love something that’s just out there and in a way you just can’t stop listening,.
Where did you actually grow up?
I grew up in Manitowoc, Wisconsin. I was born in Two Rivers.
How long did you live in Manitowoc?
I lived there for about 19 years of my life. I moved to the Fox Valley area [about an hour away] after that.
Was there a hip-hop scene in Manitowoc?
Not really. It’s a dead end thing. There are cover bands galore all of the place, everyone asks me to do cover songs but I think it’s more meaningful when you really do your own music. I write, I do the lyrics, engineer it all together. Cover songs are pretty cool, but as an artist, I really like to just do my own stuff.
What kind of rap did you listen to?
The biggest one that came out was Eminem for sure. But I’m a Christian Rap artist. I do music with positive messages and strong feelings. Some of the biggest influences were Tupac and Timbaland, too. On the Christian music side: TobyMac, KJ-52, I’d say for sure John Reuben. There’s a band called ApologetiX. They do some rap too. They do basically parody stuff like Weird Al Yankovic, but only in Christian form.
So you moved away from Manitowoc at 19 and you’re half-brothers with Brendan Dassey.
We have the same father [Peter Dassey] and different mothers.
What’s the age difference with your brother?
He’s going on 27 right now.
Did you grow up together? Did you ever live in the same house?
Separate houses. We were never too close. I’d see him on birthdays and holidays. Today my brothers aren’t really close, but we’re friends on Facebook. It’s like having a million friends and you’re only close to two or three of them. Tonight someone was coming at me saying that I’ve never been close to him. It’s just like, dude, you can still care about somebody but not be close to them. I write him letters in prison all the time.
Do you hear back from him?
I’ve heard back from him a couple of times, but I don’t know if he knows what to write back. A lot of the times I just tell him how things are going in my life and what’s been happening. I guess there’s no room for open-ended answers for him to just write back. I’m sure he’s just kind of veg’ing out and relaxing.
So you moved away while this was all in motion?
It was about the time I moved away. I didn’t move away because of it; I moved away because of a girl I was dating at the time.
Were you engaged as it was all happening or did you take a step back?
I was kind of afraid back then. People would ridicule me just because I was a Dassey. I just kind of backed off and didn’t really say anything because the news, the news was just like, “Oh yeah, these guys are so guilty!” I was a radio DJ as well, and I lost my job when all this stuff was coming out.
Have you done a lot of interviews?
I’ve actually only done three. All these media outlets are just sharing each other’s stuff. The local newspaper caught on, then all of a sudden 95.9 KISS FM was gonna air some of my tracks. Now I just saw Rolling Stone just threw something out there. It’s almost got 50,000 plays already man, just today. This morning it was only at 4,500.
Historically hip-hop music has been a strong form of protest. Do you think your song will be a useful tool in that way?
I really don’t know. I think it’s more of a victory song with a real good message. It talks about what’s going on and how I feel about the whole thing. I never really intended this to blow up over the past two days. I only shared it in a few spots.
Did you know Making a Murderer was being made?
I knew it was in the makes for years and years. My dad said it was being made, and all I heard was that all these moviemakers were making a movie about Brendan.
So no one ever tried to contact you to be in it?
Nobody ever really tried to contact me for the film. Only FOX 11 over here, but they twisted my story and made it look like I was against my family. I was kind of neutral about the whole thing. I said I don’t know if they did it but if they did then I thought that Steven made my half-brother do it. But that was in 2005.
What did you think about the series?
I think it was done right and in the eyes of Brendan and Steven, the way that it went down. The news totally missed all this stuff in the beginning; they just wanted to blame them say “These killers are guilty!” They wanted to make a story. The news wasn’t very balanced back then.
It didn’t seem like the courtroom was either.
No it wasn’t, and for the judge to say Steven Avery is the most dangerous individual in the world, or whatever he said, that doesn’t even make any sense. The guy didn’t even know Steven Avery. Apparently one of the jurors called him “F-ing guilty as hell.”
There has been this petition going around online, and your song is blowing up. Do you think things like this can help get them out of prison?
It’s definitely going to turn some heads. There are people already looking into it saying, “There’s something fishy about this whole thing.” I’m not sure about the whole legal system, but I’m sure that something is going to surface to take this to a federal level. Obama already said that it was a state conviction and that he can’t pardon or do anything with it. He ignored it and passed it off. Scott Walker, the governor over here, I’ve heard a lot of negative things about the dude, I don’t really follow politics myself. Apparently he’s just brushing it off too.
Are you in an uncomfortable position now?
I’m just trying to stay positive man. I’ve been answering questions galore for the past few weeks. People are just coming out of the shadows and old friends that I’ve chummed with back then and all these doubters who never really cared about my music.
What are your memories of Brendan?
He was a quiet and shy kid. We would joke around and stuff. He was always very meaningful. I honestly don’t think that this kid could’ve done what he said he did. So many theories have surfaced. Even that I did it, that I framed my brother! I don’t know if they have me confused with my brother Bobby [Dassey]. Some people are saying that my family is against me doing the song. But I just looked on Brendan Dassey’s mom’s Facebook [Barb Tadych] and she shared the song and liked the post two days ago. What does that tell you right? My family is supportive, and all these haters are coming out of the woodwork. I really think people are jealous.
Have you talked to any members of your family about this?
I talked to Barb [Brendan’s mother] a few days ago, and I told her that if she hears anything negative that it’s just lies. She said that there were people out there spreading rumors that I’m going to appear on the Dr. Phil show after they’d told me not to. But I have every good intention. I only shared this, and there’s no stopping it. There’s no shutting it off. Now the media is coming to me saying, “I love your song!”
How long did it take you to write the song?
I wrote it from start to finish in ten hours straight. I didn’t even eat that day.
How are you feeling about this newfound exposure?
All I want to say is I really have good intentions for everything man. I never thought it was possible for it to blow up like this. People need to understand that there’s certain timing in peoples’ lives for things to happen. I’ve been doing music for 17 years. I share it all the time, all over the place. One of the biggest things is man you just gotta never stop. If it’s one of your passions you just keep going. That’s one of the things I want to tell people, if you have a passion to do something whether it’s making music or painting, you should absolutely stick with it, even if you get negative comments. All that matters is what you think.
It’s cool that you’re getting this attention for a song that is meaningful to you. Are you going to keep doing interviews and talking to people?
I think so. My music lawyer said to just jump the wave and do it. Check to see if the media outlets are on our side first: We don’t want anybody twisting words.
And what about Dr. Phil?
I’m not going on because I don’t know his intentions. I think he could sway it one way or another.
Once again, to the people who say that you’re piggybacking off your half-brother’s misfortune for fame, what would you say to them?
I’m not really trying to get famous. It’s all in God’s hands. But whatever is going to happen is going to happen. But people are sharing it, and that’s the power of the whole thing. People must believe in what I said in the song. They must believe in the beat. There must be something very alive about the song, otherwise it’s not just gonna blow up like this overnight. I’m very hopeful for the future.
Have you received nasty messages too?
Some people are asking why I declined being in the documentary; these assholes that know nothing are just making stuff up. Yesterday someone came out and told me I was scum and that I framed my brother. That was the funniest message I’ve ever received. One said I was “pathetic human waste.”
Do you think that there’s a chance that they’re going to get out of jail someday?
I think so. The sky is the limit. Everyone is talking about it. It’s absolutely crazy. Once the media gets a hold of it, it’s like a monster. Everyone is trying to solve the puzzle of what happened. Whatever happens, happens, I’m just sitting back and riding the waves. I never intended on any of this but there’s no way to stop it. The haters are gonna hate. And that’s fine.
Let’s end on a rap question. Who is the best rapper in the game right now?
The best rapper in the game? I don’t know. I’m leaning more towards Lecrae, who is getting really big for a Christian rapper in the mainstream. Eminem has been quiet. I don’t really care for more of his more recent albums talking about being raped in a toolshed by his stepdad or whatever. I know he’s trying to really get his message and his anger out there, but, to me, I didn’t really care to hear that stuff. There’s people that get raped by their stepfather all the time I’m sure, but by hearing that in the songs that kind of opens up wounds and it just opens up a can of bullcrap. People honestly just wanna, they just really want to move forward from the bullcrap in their life and have a positive thing.
Do you like Future or Drake or Kendrick Lamar?
Drake is cool, but I really lean more towards Tupac. I listen to Coldplay, Collective Soul. I love the Twenty One Pilots. I’m listening to them nonstop.
Derek Scancarelli was chosen over Nancy Grace and Dr. Phil. He’s on Twitter.