By Kelly Dearmore
By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
Months in advance, we knew. Dallas' own Symbolyc One — the man once known for his work in the local backpacker hip-hop outfit Strange Fruit Project, then in Erykah Badu's live DJ collective The Cannabinoids and, most recently, as a producer for Kanye West ("Power") and Beyoncé ("Best Thing I Never Had") — was booked to have his good fortune continue. Back in April, when the buzz on the humbly titled Watch The Throne was only just bubbling up, he confirmed it; he was going to have some sort of hand on the much-anticipated collaborative album from West and his mentor Jay-Z. It was a sure thing.
What we didn't know then — what we couldn't possibly have known — was that, amidst the flurry of equally positive and negative insta-reviews that came for the album, finally released last week, the sole thing that everyone could agree upon was that S1's effort on the opulent "Murder to Excellence" was going to be the best thing on the album. And not even the whole song — just his part, the switched-up second half of the song, heretofore referred to as just "Excellence." (Super-producer Swizz Beatz is to credit for the "Murder" opening.)
The adulation was uniform.
Exclaimed Rolling Stone, specifically, of the song's second half: "Jubilant."
Slobbered Spin of that same portion: "Oh, go on."
Praised a probably fake track-by-track review from Wu-Tang's Ghostface Killah: "Another ill joint."
Those are some notable clippings, for sure, because the role of a "producer" in the hip-hop world is vastly different from the producer's role in pretty much any other genre. A hip-hop "producer" isn't some geek posturing in a studio, holed up behind a wall of glass, huddled behind a massive soundboard, tweaking knobs and slides here and there to make everything sound pretty. In hip-hop, "producer" equates to "songwriter," if only from a musical standpoint. The rappers, generally, are still responsible for the rhymes and hooks, but as far as the actual music goes, everything falls on the shoulders of the producer. He supplies the backing sounds — all of them — and the rapper goes to town.
Kinda makes the praise being tossed the way of "Excellence" all the more impressive when you look at it that way. Actually, it just makes Dallas look all the more impressive.
As much as Dallas' hip-hop scene has improved in recent years, as much as Dorrough deserves a standing ovation for taking "Ice Cream Paint Job" to platinum, as much as Tum Tum and the rest of his DCC crew continues to toss out credible street anthem after credible street anthem like it's no big thing, as much as Big Chief should be congratulated on getting signed to Cash Money (which, despite the party he threw for himself to celebrate, we still can't confirm with the label), and as much as the hipster-adored likes of Sore Losers, A.Dd+ and Damaged Good$ deserve credit for their crossover appeal, Dallas is mostly making its reputation these days on the shoulders of its producers.
No, not studio guys, but legit beat-masters responsible for all the head-nodding we love in our hip-hop.
Symbolyc One may be Dallas' brightest star at the moment on that front, but he's hardly alone. Dallas producers are responsible for the beats from some of the biggest names in hip-hop. And that's not some homer cheerleading, either.
Just look at names — beyond Jay-Z, Beyoncé and Kanye West — that Dallas-area producers have been behind in the last few years alone: Lil Wayne, T-Pain, Nicki Minaj, Snoop Dogg, Paul Wall, Bun B, Nelly, Akon, Pitbull, Chamillionaire, Talib Kweli, Wiz Khalifa, Dom Kennedy, Big Sean, Curren$y, Mac Miller, Kid Cudi, Nipsey Hustle, Rhymefest, Smoke DZA and even international house music superstar David Guetta
The funny part: It's all being done by dudes named Larry, Juan, Oscar, Ronald and Richard.
Larry? That'd be Larry D. Griffin Jr., or S1.
Juan and Oscar? Oh, just two brothers from the Salinas clan who go by the name of Play-N-Skillz and who have won a couple of Grammys for Lil Wayne and T-Pain ("Got Money") and Chamillionaire ("Ridin'") in the process.
Ronald? That's Mr. La Tour, otherwise known as Cardo, the Fort Worth-based go-to man for Wiz Khalifa ("Proceed") and his Taylor Gang collective.
Richard? Don't worry too much about him; Escobedo, who like S1 works with Erykah Badu, goes by the name of Picnictyme. Oh, and he only single-handedly produced A.Dd+'s monster debut, When Pigs Fly, maybe the best front-to-back hip-hop album that Dallas has ever produced — a fact that pretty much blew Cardo's mind completely when we told him as much a couple weeks back.
You probably won't read too much about these dudes in the national press, but, more so than Dorrough, Treal Lee & Prince Rick ("Throwed Off"), Lil Wil ("My Dougie") and their contemporaries, it's these guys who are really putting Dallas on the map. It's pretty much the best, not-at-all-kept secret in hip-hop at the moment. You want a beat that'll blow minds? You want a fresh sound? You don't want to deal with the egos that come with New York-, Los Angeles-, Miami- and Atlanta-based producers and the same regurgitated crap they've been tossing out for years? Call up one of the dudes in Dallas. They'll hook you up. Hell, they probably already even have something in mind for ya. That's what happened with S1 and Beyoncé. It's what's happening with all these guys, really. Work for one big-name artist and another comes calling.
You might not hear about them, but you will hear them. You have been for years.
So, next time someone asks, don't say you didn't know.