By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
It started, just like so many of his ideas, in a moment of drug-induced inspiration.
A staple in these parts since the release of his 2006 ode to not-quite-classic cars, "Caprice Muzik," which put both him and, effectively, the entire Dallas hip-hop movement onto the national map, Tum Tum wanted to release a mixtape, as is protocol these days in the hip-hop world. So he started brainstorming while he was smoking a joint, as is protocol in his personal life pretty much every waking minute.
What would he call the release? Where would he find his inspiration?
He lit up and he looked down. Quite suddenly, he found what he was looking for.
"Real talk?" he asks.
"Purp Kobain? That's my weed nickname," he offers with a hearty laugh, while, admittedly, stoned again. "That's my marijuana nickname. I just thought it was a sly name."
For music fans—and marijuana connoisseurs familiar with the fact that "purp" refers to a specific strain—it's an easy connection to the name of Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain. And, without a doubt, it elicits a chuckle or two.
So Tum Tum kept stewing on it.
Why not call his new mixtape Purp Kobain as well?
"I know all about the Nirvana movement," he says. "And, when I was doing some research, I found out that Nevermind, the album that they dropped, it came out on my birthday, September 24."
So he committed to it—if only as a starting point—and he asked an artist friend of his, Daniel Got Skillz, to come up with a visual concept to work with.
"We were going to try to re-do the real baby at first," he explains, referencing Nevermind's iconic imagery of a nude infant submerged in water, swimming after a dollar bill. "It just didn't come out right. Then he sent me a cartoon picture of me as a naked baby, and I was just like, 'Aw, shit. We've got it.'"
Indeed, just like the idea, the image is good for a few laughs. But it was just an idea and an image—that's all.
Turns out, though, it's all he needed. Tum Tum released the artwork to his friends. He posted the image online. And, with minimal effort on his part, he immediately found himself surrounded by producers clamoring to take part in the project.
"I really didn't even pitch the idea to people," he says. "People were just like, 'Man, I gotta be a part of that.'"
Not just regular people, mind you, but actual movers and shakers in the hip-hop community. Local Grammy-winning production duo Play-N-Skillz signed on board to supply Tum Tum with a beat. So did producer Cardo, whose beats have helped propel Pittsburgh rap prodigy Wiz Kahlifa into the limelight. Even hip-hop heavyweight Rick Ross' producers, The Transformerz, asked to get in on the action.
"They just liked the idea of it," Tum Tum says, clearly proud of this fact.
But they weren't alone: Music bloggers of all shapes, sizes and genre preferences caught wind of the image too. Tum Tum suddenly not only had beats, but he also had buzz. The idea had become a reality—even if, at the time, there was little else behind it.
Last week, though, when Purp Kobain leaked as a free download, it proved itself far more than just a clever novelty borderline concept release. The real funny thing about Purp Kobain—go figure—is that it's also arguably the best local hip-hop release of the year. And not just because everything about it—from the Nirvana-referencing rhymes to the futuristic-but-still-grimey beats—scores as an impressive streets-inspired release.
And here's how: Tum Tum, initial inspiration be damned, eventually got truly inspired.
"The idea of Purp Kobain was really like what Kurt always said when they released their stuff," he offers in a moment of clarity. "They were trying to get away from, like, all the long-haired bands. And, if you've been paying attention to Dallas music, you know what it's going toward. I wanted to drop something that was totally different from what people are dropping in Dallas."
In other words: He didn't want to release another D-Town Boogie record into the world.
To his credit, that's never been Tum Tum's problem. Tum Tum, with "Caprice Muzik," broke into the national limelight well before the D-Town Boogie scene—with its incessant dance instruction and simple beats—started blowing up. And though he always voiced his support of that movement and even hopped on some remixes to help garner the scene further attention, Tum Tum wasn't ever really a part of it. He backed it—out of local loyalty, he said in a 2008 interview—but, if anything, his efforts were overshadowed by it.
These days, though, things are different. Everyone from The GS Boyz, who blew up with perhaps the biggest set of Boogie records with "Stanky Legg," to Lil Wil, whose song "My Dougie" became the inspiration for Cali Swag District's D-Town Boogie ode "Teach me How to Dougie," are worried about their scene. The beacon of the local hip-hop movement, Dorrough, whose sophomore album, Get Big, came out just this week, similarly speaks at length about Dallas' need to move past the D-Town Boogie. They're trying—hard, too—to branch out, to leave behind the scene they begrudgingly admit they helped create. Sure, the Boogie put Dallas hip-hop on the map; but, finally—and almost mercifully—it's coming to an end. Local hip-hop acts are finally grasping what outsiders said from the start: It's too gimmicky; it can't last.
The backpacker hip-hop set, meanwhile, try as it might—and with great efforts to boast of, thanks to Damaged Good$, Sore Losers, Dustin Cavazos and others—has had trouble gaining traction of its own.
For Tum Tum, that isn't a problem. He's in between. Always has been. He's a rapper from the streets, for the streets.
Up until now, at least.
"Hopefully," he says, "this will reach a broader audience. That's all I'm about now. I've been with the street crowds a whole lot. Now I'm trying to do House of Blues, know what I'm saying? I'm trying to do something different."
Purp Kobain should afford Tum Tum that opportunity. The Play-N-Skillz-produced "Smoke Something," which, unlike the rest of the mixtape, actually features a Nirvana sample (in the form of the recognizable "Smells Like Teen Spirit" guitar riff), practically begs for incessant radio play—even if its subject matter inherently will prevent it. Tum Tum's OK with that, though: Mixtapes aren't meant to earn money; they're meant to draw attention from labels and booking agents. Besides, profiting off a Nirvana sample would mean, without question, legal battles.
As always, Tum Tum's staying patient. He's confident that his time, which came once with "Caprice Muzik," will come again. And, besides, just two weeks after Purp Kobain's leak, it looks like his efforts are actually starting to pay off.
"The shows increased when Purp came out," Tum Tum says. "No lie. I'm booked till, like, the end of October so far. I've gotta do some frat parties like next week."
"I love it."
And why not? It's not quite the House of Blues, no. But corporate venues like that one tend to have stringent anti-drug policies anyway.