By Kelly Dearmore
By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
Forget Kobe Bryant. Forget LeBron James. Forget Dwyane Wade.
Yeah, this weekend is about those names as the National Basketball Association brings its annual All-Star Game to Cowboys Stadium, along with a string of events in and around downtown Dallas. Yet it's also about another prominent roster that's coming to town, one that boasts the likes of Jay-Z, Diddy and Snoop Dogg—in short, the biggest names in hip-hop.
No surprise there: Over the past 20-plus years, the cultures of hip-hop and the NBA have increasingly bled into one another. In 2004, when the league approved Jay-Z's bid to become a part owner of the New Jersey Nets, these two distinctly American entities were formally wed. So when hip-hop luminaries from Diddy and Jay-Z to the near-forgotten Busta Rhymes and the fast-rising Drake first announced the parties they'd be hosting throughout the city, no one was really caught off-guard. It was simply expected.
For better or worse, that's just how the NBA All-Star Game works.
"I just hope people aren't stunned when they see all these big stars getting on stage right in front of them," says Skillz, half of the Dallas-based, Grammy-winning production team of Play-N-Skillz. He sits in the pair's studio after wrapping up a rehearsal DJ set in his brother's Las Colinas McMansion, mulling it over. "I hope Dallas doesn't do that."
It seems an odd concern, what with all the preparations being made by city officials to gear up for the weekend. Last month, the Dallas Police Department released a plan that covers everything from extra medical care centers to traffic control and all that lies in between. There's plenty to fret about, and Play-N-Skillz are worried about star-struck fans? Really?
Yep. Because for Skillz, born Oscar Salinas, and his brother Play, born Juan, these next few days mean everything. Far as Play-N-Skillz—and everyone else in the Dallas hip-hop scene—are concerned, this is as important a weekend as Dallas has ever seen. For this subset of Dallas culture, it's the weekend when the city gets its moment in the sun. It's the weekend when Dallas, by far the largest city in America without an economically viable hip-hop market, gets its chance to reveal itself to the industry's biggest names as a city worth investing in.
A stroll down Main Street reveals Play-N-Skillz's own investment. For two weeks, their faces have been plastered all over the downtown entertainment district. Traditional billboards bear their images; the front façade of downtown ultralounge Plush, which will serve as the brothers' home base for the weekend, showcases their visages and, alongside theirs, those of the celebrities they'll be bringing in to join their party-filled weekend. They've even printed 3,000 pamphlets to be placed in cabs and hotels throughout the city in hopes of further promoting their schedule of events this weekend.
"Five years ago, when we found out that the All-Star Game was coming to Dallas, we said we've got to position ourselves to be Dallas," Play says. "We've got five years to position ourselves to be ambassadors for the city, to get to the point where the clubs would wanna cut deals with us, and position ourselves as young businessmen where we can somewhat control the market and monopolize the area. And I feel like we've done a great job of doing that. I mean, look at all the events we've got going on."
Between their events at Plush and their appearances as part of the NBA-sanctioned, convention center-hosted NBA All-Star Jam Session, Play-N-Skillz will serve as hosts for a whopping 10 events over the course of four days.
"I just hope we can handle all we've got," Skillz says. "It might sound crazy, but we even had to turn down a ton of events."
The goal, Play says while a crew of DJs, artists and associates mill about the duo's rehearsal space, is simple: "Branding."
For themselves. For Dallas hip-hop as a whole. For the whole damn city, even.
A big task, to be sure.
"We knew it was gonna be work," the ever-animated Play continues. "But we didn't know it'd be this much work. Our whole staff—all of us are working. None of us are even working on music. It's just that. But I'm excited. This is big for the city."
So, there's some pressure.
"Yeah," Play concedes. "I haven't slept for days."
Historically speaking, there's reason for excitement. It's hardly an exact science, but, looking back on the NBA All-Star Game host cities of recent memory—namely Atlanta in 2003, Houston in 2006 and New Orleans in 2008—a correlation exists between the pinnacle of a city's hip-hop successes and the year in which that town hosted the game.
Trick is—unlike, say, Denver, which hosted the event in 2005, or Phoenix, which hosted the game last year—Atlanta, Houston and New Orleans were all primed to blow. In Atlanta, acts such as T.I. and Ludacris were waiting to be discovered. In Houston, Paul Wall, Chamillionaire and Slim Thug were already starting to make names for themselves. Meanwhile, New Orleans' hosting responsibility helped Lil Wayne and his then-newly minted Young Money imprint bust out.