By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
A little girl in a black and white polka-dotted leotard with a pretty, frilly skirt practices her turns on the practically empty ice rink at the Downtown Dallas Westin Hotel. Her skates are bulky, like cinderblocks on the ends of her skinny legs, but she doesn't mind. She twirls on. The shopping area around the rink is nearly deserted but for a few folks eating greasy Chinese food and soggy burgers at unbalanced patio tables. The McDonald's and Taco Bell are closed; there are only three restaurants open to serve the hundreds of people who are trickling down from upstairs.
Up there, not-so-little girls in sexy, ripped and pinned modified T-shirts have been strategically placed around the ballroom and lobby. These hired models wear false eyelashes that cling heavily to their eyelids, smeared over with black eyeliner to cover the glue. Inside the ballroom, a row of guys in oversized T-shirts and sunglasses sit behind microphones. There's a song playing over the loudspeaker, and everyone's bobbing their heads to the beat.
"I love it when I'm tastin' it," the smooth voice of Dallas rapper Steve Austin half-raps, half-sings. "So let me put my face in it." The song is called "Pussy Is a Wonderful Thing," and it is a somewhat charming, if explicit, ode to the various states, stages and conditions of the female anatomy.
This is the Texas Summer Music Conference, a three-day hip-hop convention meant to bolster the Southern urban music scene. The place is plastered with sponsorship banners from Cadillac, beer companies and an unfortunately named Deep Ellum bar called the "Daiquiri Dump," which sounds like a nice way to describe what happened to me two summers ago after a particularly wild evening in Cancun.
But there's no time to be concerned about drinking establishments named for gastrointestinal difficulties. There are songs to be sung about sexual organs and arguments to have about whose fault it is that Dallas rap hasn't yet made a name for itself. This is the Texas Summer Music Conference's purpose.
The conference is a pocket of noisy vibration in an otherwise quiet hotel that caters to business travelers and little girls on skates. The third floor of the Westin is teeming with voluptuous women in booty-friendly Apple Bottoms jeans, wannabe rappers passing out fliers to upcoming showcases, and prominent DJs and record execs who've been called in from all over the country to talk about how to put Dallas rap on the map.
But around them, the Westin quietly goes about its business, oblivious to the highly concentrated talent in its midst. That's pretty much what the national music industry is doing with Dallas, if the packed panels of industry guys in flashy ball caps and dark shades are to be believed. New York City, Los Angeles and Houston have all had their time in the spotlight. Can Dallas pull it off next? Maybe, maybe not. Taking turns at the mikes, shooting off critiques like a heavily armed firing squad, promoters, agents and artists tell the gathered crowd why Dallas isn't representing in the national scene.
"If we don't work together, we ain't goin nowhere," says one.
"This is my problem with Dallas," another begins, "everybody's gotta be the man first."
Still another suggests combining different artists on shared tracks, saying, "We gotta reach out and do collabo." Apparently it's a major faux pas for a Pleasant Grove rapper to appear on an Oak Cliff rapper's song. That would just be tacky. I mean, who wants to be famous if it means driving five miles and talking to some other dude, right?
But if Dallas can get over that difficult hump, the panel concludes, "We can all eat." That's all hypothetical, of course. There are more pressing, more real gastronomical needs at hand for these fame-hungry locals.
The elderly couple trying to get a bowl of sweet and sour chicken downstairs at the Chinese food stand is unaware that, as they sprinkle their dish with a mildly congealed soy sauce, they are mere feet from a Dallas rapper named Big Chief who is widely considered to be one of Dallas' potential next big things. Big Chief is neither particularly big nor chief-like. Barely taller than I am, he blends easily into the restaurant wall behind him and doesn't seem very interested in talking. I ask him if he's the Big Chief I just saw perform up in the ballroom and introduce myself as a reporter.
"I liked your performance back there," I tell him. He nods.
"Do you have a record out or anything like that?" Big Chief wobbles his head in four or five different directions, staring over my shoulder.
"Are you on MySpace?" Yes, he says, he is.
"What's the address?" He looks puzzled.
"Like, the address for your MySpace page," I clarify.
He shifts his weight and mumbles the answer, then tells me his e-mail address before shuffling off toward the seating area. This is the nonstop, always-on, super-fly hustle of the poor, underrated Dallas rap scene? No wonder Houston kicks our collective ass.
Other high-potential stars are in attendance, like Steve Austin—not the buff wrestler of the "Stone Cold" variety, but the big, big fan of the lady parts—and Cuntri Boi, who will presumably be releasing the clean version of his album under the more Wal-Mart friendly spelling, "Countri Boi." Posters and T-shirts around the ballroom use both spellings.
Austin tells me there's no real beef between the Pleasant Grove guys and the rappers from Arlington—better known among local rappers as "Ag-town"—or the folks in Oak Cliff. And Cuntri/Countri Boi backs him up, saying, "It's folks over-exaggerating the situation," dispelling the rumor in the long Texas drawl that earned him his name. But does Dallas "got next," as some of the conference panelists hope?
Austin thinks so. "It's already in motion," he says. The buzz at the conference is heavy: along with Austin, Big Chief and Cuntri/Countri Boi, there's Big Tuck, Tum Tum, the Grifters and, hopefully, a bunch of other locals who'll have a Paul Wall-level of name recognition in the coming years.
Despite the TSMC's emphasis on big-name locals, however, the place is mostly populated with a whole lot of small-name out-of-towners. I'm inundated with fliers and demo tapes from Oklahoma rappers, repping the Sooner state. A guy named "Dangerous Rob" gives me a flier, a bio and an album before I have a chance to ask him if it's even possible for a guy named "Rob" to be mildly intimidating, let alone dangerous. My purse overflows with blocky, cluttered fliers, each one given to me by another one of Tulsa's or Oklahoma City's or Norman's masters of flow, telling me all about how tight their scene is.
If their hustle is any indication, they're on the verge of the big time up in Oklahoma, and Dallas better look out. Big Chief, you have been warned. Please don't let Lawton get a shout-out on 106 & Park before we do.