Feature Stories

16Bars.XXX Leads the Way for Dallas' DIY Hip-Hop Scene

Player’s ball is a hell of a theme for a party. Imagine a room full of hundreds of young people — we’re talking early 20s, even teenagers — dressed in fur coats, suits so loud they could light up a winter’s sky and stilettos that defy the laws of physics. It’s a great idea in theory, but in execution it’s laughable.

Last November, 16Bars.XXX, the leading light of Dallas’ DIY hip-hop scene, hosted just such a “Playaz Ball” at a house in the Cedars. They asked people to dress to the nines and what they got was a bunch of people in snapbacks, Supreme and Jordans. At best, there was an ill-fitting suit from somebody’s father or an old prom dress. But it was also one killer party.

Thanks to people like Rico Slice and Sanjay Shrestha, who run 16Bars.XXX, the DIY hip-hop scene in Dallas is thriving. It doesn’t get the recognition other local DIY communities do, in particular the noise scene in Dallas and the punk scene in Denton, but it’s increasingly robust: Folks like We Are Dallas and Crit Life’s Free Wifi host wall-to-wall parties, and Cashaveli acts as a grassroots promoter. The voice whispering to Ray Kinsella was right all along: If you build it, they will come.

Which is why the Playaz Ball was such a perfect snapshot of the 16Bars.XXX spirit. The music was provided by DJ Sober and bemyfriend and the night was hosted by Mel Kyle from the Outfit, TX, who went by the name Stankie Beverly in honor of the ceremony’s theme. It was an awfully nice house, too — a little too nice, in fact, which makes sense: In true millennial spirit, it was booked on Airbnb. Naturally, the place wound up being so trashed that the hired maid quit in the middle of the job. It’s safe to say the folks behind 16Bars.XXX will not be welcomed back.

But no matter. 16Bars.XXX is about more than putting on a party. Dallas lacks venues where those invested in the rap genre can congregate. Instead they fashion their own posts or act as nomads, moving from one venue to the next. Shrestha says there simply aren’t enough venues in the city to supply the demand of talented acts. “There’s so much talent in this city. It’s hard for an artist to find a spot,” he says. “We just wanna make it easy for the artists to have a platform.”

If 16Bars.XXX’s mission is to be an outlet for up and coming acts, it makes sense that they’ve also dabbled in tours for national artists. They just teamed up with Top Shelf to book Atlanta’s Father for a Texas tour, and the goal is to give Dallas artists a platform that goes beyond being one of a thousand opening acts for the big star coming to town. This is all true to the roots of 16Bars.XXX, which started as an open mic.

The groundwork for it all — and, really, for all of contemporary hip-hop in Dallas — was laid several years ago at 2826 Arnetic. That’s where Slice and Shrestha got their first taste of working together during the venue’s low-key but legendary monthly open mic nights, called 16 Bars and Breakbeat.

“I remember one night in particular. Yung Nation, JT [Justin Mohrle, who’s recently been recording with Dr. Dre], Dorrough, Tum Tum, B-Hamp...” Slice pauses, wearing a wistful expression as he racks his brain, “and there was one more. I think it was the Sore Losers. They all performed there in one night.”

After the venue shut down in 2012, Shrestha disappeared from the scene because of family troubles. Then last year, out of the blue, he called his old partner in crime to say he was ready to get back into action. And thus 16Bars.XXX was born — the “XXX” being a somewhat conspicuous addition. “It adds an unconscious sex appeal to it because there’s sex involved,” Slice says slyly, before explaining more clearly: “It’s a porn domain.”

In June of last year, 16Bars.XXX essentially rebranded itself from the old Arnetic days and had its first party with an older and wiser duo calling the shots. 16Bars.XXX has held performances by Blue, the Misfit, Kissed Killed, Buffalo Black, the Mohicans, Crit Life, Brandon Fxrd, Dustin Cavazos, Devy $tonez and more, along with DJ sets from DJ Sober, Datahowler, Yung Wave and a few others.
They threw a party with performances each month last summer and capped it all off with a back-to-school soirée that required a donation of school supplies at the door, which were delivered to Mount Auburn Elementary School. Slice says they collected enough school supplies to equip an entire third grade class for a year.

But the main focus is to put on a great and lively party centered around artists who don’t otherwise get the attention they deserve. 16Bars.XXX rented a warehouse four times last year, but the owners pulled the plug because the parties were too raucous. “People were climbing on the rafters, throwing shit — nothing dangerous, they were just fucking live,” says Slice. “Four hundred kids in a space that fits 200 and they were just live.”

This weekend, 16Bars.XXX is hosting a show with famed New York City hypebeast designer 40oz Van. His hats have been seen on celebrities as wide ranging as Jonah Hill and Kendrick Lamar. “We know who our crowd is,” Slice insists. “If they’re not coming to 16Bars.XXX parties in 40oz Van’s hats, they’re coming in something similar.”

The rest of the lineup is classic 16Bars.XXX, and includes performers who have appeared at previous parties: The Outfit, TX will be there to rap, beymyfriend will provide the house music and Kissed Killed will DJ. “There’s nothing he can’t do,” Slice says of Kissed Killed. “I’m working day in, day out to empower people like Kissed Killed. I’m not overly artistic; I’m not gonna change the world with my art. But people like Kissed Killed can. I’m working every day to give them a platform to change the world.”

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H. Drew Blackburn