Photo by Karlo Ramos
By now it’s safe to say that Texas’s place in the hip-hop canon is well understood, and Houston stands as one of the genre’s most important musical hubs. As a state, we love that, but ignoring the remainder of the state is a little like talking about West Coast hip-hop and only mentioning Los Angeles. Dallas has always existed as Texas's Bay Area: a diverse, cultured, ratchet festival of Badus, Boosies, and Bilals. Yet for a variety of reasons—our criminal culture, a lack of music business infrastructure, the absence of a nationally-known hip-hop superstar to help curate, a lack of scene cohesion—our fate is akin to that of other southern cities whose antique hip-hop story is missing from our new digital society's history books. That’s a shame. Not only do we have a rich and varied local hip-hop tradition, we have also, in the last few years, developed a lively, varied scene with some of the best energy of any place in the country. So why do folks still sleep on The Triple D? Let’s rewind the tape for a second.
In the beginning, also known as the 90s, God created Pimpsta, Mr. Pookie, Mr.Lucci, The DOC, Erykah Badu, Kottonmouth, and a handful of other Dallas hip-hop legends. It was in the mid-2000s, though, that Dallas had its first real rap movement that resonated outside of the city, driven by consistent mixtapes from regional legends Dirty South Rydaz and their contemporaries. Songs like DSR member Big Tuck’s “Purple Hulk” and fellow DSR member Tum Tum’s “Caprice Music” spread locally and regionally, with the latter briefly becoming a mainstay on BET’s 106 & Park countdown. Young Nino and Hotboy Star’s “Oak Cliff That’s My Hood” soundtracked countless club/party fights, while the Oak Cliff Hard Hittaz’ (duo O2 and Lil Richard) “Straight Hood” mixtape series provided the partygoers with even more good Dallas gangsta music to listen to on their way home.
G.U.N. at 16Bars.xxx / Photo by Karlo Ramos
Around 2007, a number of Dallas artists began to soundtrack a sort of inner-city war dance—residents of various Dallas neighborhoods would hit their respective variations of the dance before or after brawling—that became the Dallas Boogie. Artists such as Fat Pimp, Lil Wil, B Hamp, Treal Lee & Prince Rick, The Paper Chaserz, Young Black, GS Boyz, and others assisted in creating a cultural contagion built around a minimal but drum-heavy “boogie” sound that dominated every high school, club, and college in the region. DJs like DJ Drop, his Dallas-area DJ coalition introduced artists like Dorrough and The Party Boyz, helping the now-regional phenomenon springboard onto the Billboard charts. And then there was YouTube. Thousands of kids in the region uploaded videos of themselves hitting the boogie to the new hot Dallas tracks, and some of these reached millions of views in a couple of months’ time.
Then, in 2009, right as this two-year-old movement seemed on the cusp of going national, the LA rap group Cali Swag District made an homage to the movement, influenced in particular by North Dallas rapper Lil Wil’s “My Dougie.” Their song, “Teach Me How to Dougie,” became a global phenomenon, and Dallas’s distinctive style and music—everything from the crazy, dyed haircuts to secondary dances to songs like “Ricky Bobby” and “Cat Daddy” to usage of the long-time Dallas-area familial term “bro”—became rebranded as a California thing, a setback for Dallas that still smarts.
Devy $tonez at 16Bars.xxx / Photo by Karlo Ramos
In the aftermath of boogie, a hipster renaissance began to take form, birthed in large part by the initial efforts of rap duo Sore Losers and scene visionary Rosalinda Ruiz (full disclosure: Ruiz is now the manager of my group, The Outfit, TX). Driven by Ruiz and her think tank, which included DJ Sober and notable artists like A.Dd+ (whom she managed at the time), Dustin Cavazos, and Brain Gang, the Dallas hipster scene began to take shape and rival that of any other major city by 2012, showing that Dallas could have and maintain a viable, avant-garde hip-hop scene after all.
Dallas's Bay Area-like presence has never been more evident than now. A refreshing fervor permeates the city’s new wave. Folks seem pretty excited about what we, The Outfit, TX, have been able to do inside and outside of the state, but we’re just the beginning of what’s going on here. We have a bubbling, eclectic, youth-driven scene that runs the gamut from street-oriented artists to avant-garde experimentalists to those in between, all orbiting around monthly BYOB parties at an abandoned airplane hangar in South Dallas, a consistently lit monthly house party series with a porn domain for a name, a solid strip club scene, and a gentrifying, venue-filled, historical arts district known as Deep Ellum. As we would say in Dallas, “bro we WIDE UP, you hear me?!” Some of the many acts changing the city’s tone include:
The IRAS ( Devy $tonez, Danny Cainco, Terrence Spectacle, K Vation, Brandon Fxrd)
The IRAS are young, hungry, talented, and dangerous. A collective of individual artists from surrounding Dallas suburbs who met via Soundcloud, they have their own in-house producers, an in-house videographer, and a site to distribute their content. Each artist has a unique sound, with their commonality lying in the contagious energy they all exude within what they do. For example, Devy $tonez is the well-rounded rap star, his delivery seemingly effortless, while Terrence Spectacle exists as a future pop star, ready for any local pop radio station’s Jingle Jam. Having recently put on a show entirely manned by them, the IRAS’ future looks quite promising.
Mo3 is a spitta, man. He keeps it gangsta, as Nawf Dallas only knows how to do.
Kissed Killed is an enigma. His appearances seem calculated, his music dark, compelling, and beautiful. He is definitely one of the best at what he does.
Hailing from Oak Cliff, one of the most infamous neighborhoods in Dallas, Yella Beezy is one of the last Country Rap Tune mohicans, switching from laid back flow to melodic harmony at a whim.
Crit Life (Crit Morris, Crit Cap, Crit Ace)
Crit Morris is the face of the larger Crit Life collective, another young, fresh, and dangerous group. They have the likes of OG Maco and Cardo checking for them, and they seem to be picking up steam. The Crit Life boys are definitely wavy as fuck. They own the youth, and their “Free Wifi” parties damn near riotous. Their vibrant, “rap-and-roll” music—shit, their entire vibrant, “rap-and-roll” movement—has played a large part in the new life breathing through the metro area’s lungs.
Best. Name. Ever. Trapboy Freddy is exactly what his name says: straight to the point, authentic drug dealing music. He’s another Oak Cliff hardhead, as well.
Sam has all the right tools to be a superstar. She is also quite the talented visual artist. Her music personifies her paintings, with lyricism and wordplay purposefully stroked over a more alternative soundscape. It’s delicate at times, rugged and fearless at others.
Slick’s existence is heartwarming. From his slow, country drawl to his intoxicated singing to his song content, he embodies all the things that have made not only Dallas rap but Texas rap beautiful. Another Oak Cliff boy, Slick’s verses are prophecy, full of honest, relatable quotables. His singing talents are reminiscent of the late, great Big Moe or the legendary Devin The Dude. With all the “rap-n-b” going on, Slick reminds us all of how effortless and normal it has always been for Texas rappers to sing, and he does it beautifully. He’s got it.
-topic is an oddball, a self-proclaimed nerd, and that is what makes him tight. He actually throws out variety bags of chips at his shows. Shit’s appetizing and hilarious at the same time. He produces his own music, and although his sampled, lyrical sound is rooted in more conventional hip-hop tenets, it has drifted off toward more experimental peninsulas with subsequent releases.
Uno Loso is an OG in the Goonside section of Oak Cliff. He’s another artist whose street raps are genuine and accountable. His demeanor is palpable; his delivery is full of anger. This is the type of shit to make you feel like a gang member when you listen to it.
Blue the Misfit
Blue actually used to be a TDE producer (he has a recent track featuring Kendrick Lamar floating around YouTube somewhere). He is an ex-member of the Sore Losers duo, who can be credited with helping to originate the more hipster Dallas scene.
Ace Boogie B
If it were 2006, Ace Boogie would already be signed. He is the quintessential authentic street rap star. No worries, though: It’s right around the corner for bro. Hailing from Sunny South Dallas, a.k.a. the home of the gorillas, his authentic, laidback, confidently fluid flow can make damn near any beat sound good.
Representing bloody East Dallas, Lil Ralo has that good ol' vintage Dallas twang and sound. One of the aspects that has always made hip-hop’s distinct narratives so dope is distinct geographic disparities: The Hot Boys, for instance, inundated the listener in the New Orleans experience. Dallas’s individual experience appears blatantly in artists like Lil Ralo. Thirty seconds into his songs will tell the listener what real Dallasites sound like and how real Dallas hustlers operate.
Fat Pimp has been a regional powerhouse for some time now. He's charted on Billboard with "Rack Daddy," and "Maserati" and had a few other hits as well. He's had numerous, subsequent club hits. He is basically the Dallas Nelly: certifiable in the streets but capable of making a hit radio record in 24 hours if he has to.
JT is another Brain Gang affiliate who exists enigmatically within the city limits at this point. Reason being? He pretty much had all his music wiped off the internet after popping up in the studio with Dr. Dre, where he's been for months, maybe even a year now. You can now catch this talented son-of-a-gun in pictures with T.I., Gwen Stefani, The D.O.C., and yes, Dr. Dre, frequently. He definitely has something up his sleeve.
Lil Ronny MothaF
Similar to Fat Pimp, Lil Ronny has been running the clubs for a while now. He also boasts one of the most solid internet fanbases around. His regional—shit, national—club smash “Circle” garnered him a multitude of attention from major labels. To put it simply, Lil Ronny makes fun, Dallas party music, his charismatic and comedic personality jumping out of every punch line.
Dustin Cavazos's fan base is for real. Latino Oak Cliff rides for bro, for real, Oak Cliff is one of the biggest ‘hoods in Dallas (it was, actually, its own city at one point in time). Cavazos hand delivers his merch to his fans, and his merch sells out pretty damn quickly. Dustin is a classic lyricist, his content ranging from surface-level riding records about getting to the money to deeper, more introspective records contemplating the meaning of life.
Raw Elementz will rap for you anywhere, upon request. Like literally anywhere. Definitely a lyricist, Raw flips words and syllables with definite malicious intent. He’s hellbent on leading the “purge of the wack rapper.”
Boo Boo Blastmen
Second. Best. Name. Ever. Boo Boo bottles up that Dallas energy and attitude and delivers it in an unorthodox freestyle flow.
G.U.N. has that energy for real, for real. His new single, “Johnny Cage,” is the hottest song in the city right now. Remember how Beavis and Butthead would react to a video to a Metallica song they liked coming on television, banging their heads in unison?? That is how G.U.N.’s shows look when “Johnny Cage” drops. Rock on.
Diego is so Dallas it’s not funny. His cool, laidback Dallas flow spread on top of his in-house producers’ slow-tempo, bass-heavy production makes for a perfect Crown Victoria ride through any southern city.
Pooca Leroy damn near owns the streets. He’s put in respectable ground work for years now, and the physical mixtapes he has circulating around the entire city hearken to a more romantic time full of real gangsta rappers and real hometown support. He has also collaborated with the likes of Rich Homie Quan and Boosie Badazz to name a few.
Hailing from Nawf Dallas, Que P is one of the most seasoned rappers in the city. He’s been grinding for a while now and is poised to be one of the leaders of a new wave of street-oriented rap in the city. He is a damn good rapper, with an intelligently hood, charismatic swagger and delivery reminiscent of T.I. Many Dallas hip-hop fans are curious to see what Que P does from this point onward.
Yung Nation have been soundtracking Dallas for a while now. Their minimal, bass-heavy, high-energy sound existed as a wave that flooded every high-school and college in the state from 2009 to 2013. They boast one of the most impressive digital fan bases around, for any city. Their youth-driven culture comes complete with its own language, style of dance, and several other components of an actual culture. They don’t go stupid; they “go nupid.” They don’t boogie or jig; their fans “skitz”—the more secular, fooly equivalent of praise-dancing—to their records on YouTube. They don’t get normal haircuts like bald fades; they get “fooly fades” (Dallas has been known for its black male residents’ unique hairstyles and imagery for decades now). They have, honestly, been off the scene for a second, though, possibly due to a management change, and one of the duo (YN is comprised of rappers B. Reed & Fooly Faime) seems to be currently living in LA. There are also rumors of a name change in the works. This may largely be due to their recent label affiliation, as they have been seen quite a bit with Lil Twist, Lil Wayne, and the rest of Young Money.
Rap duo A.Dd+ is another Dallas rap act who have been grinding for a while now. Both members can rap with the best of them. Picnictyme, a talented producer/artist and a member of Erykah Badu’s Cannabanoids band, produced most of their available music up to this point. However, they are currently exploring new production and soundscapes.
Honorable Mentions: Jayson Lyric, Fat Boogie, Yung Street, Star, Tunk, BeeFeral, $kaduf, and many, many more.
Mel Kyles is a member of The Outfit, TX. Follow them on Twitter.
Karlo Ramos is a photographer living in Dallas. Follow him on Twitter.