Catching Up With Dallas' Open Mic Emcee Jesse Porter: "When You Create Different Lanes, Everybody Eats."
Over the course of the past year, Jesse Porter, with the help of CoffeeMusicHub, has been an instrumental part of the local hip-hop scene, providing a platform for talented up-and-comers to flex their skills and gain the notoriety they need. We covered the scene back in September, but these days the open mic, which takes place on the last Tuesday of the month at 2826 Arnetic, has grown into a regular networking hub and often sees club with patrons spilling out onto Elm Street for hours on those Tuesday nights.
We got the chance to catch up with Porter recently, and discussed how he was thrust into a position of power in the local scene, the Cool Beings movement and how that incorporates into the projects Porter's involved in. We also got a chance to discuss one of Porter's upcoming events, Higher Learning, a definitive Dallas rap music showcase happening tonight at The Loft.
Tell me a little bit about how you got involved in the Dallas rap community. It was a fortunate circumstance. In 2010, I went to a Def Jam Play-N-Skillz party. Bun B was there, Amber Rose was there. On the way out this guy was having some issues with the door guy. I went over to smooth things out and the guy said he appreciated my efforts; it saved him from getting kicked out. And he turned out to be the CEO and founder of AllHipHop.com. He told me to take his number down so I did. I did my research and realized he was a very important man. So I started calling him, for like three months straight. And when he finally picked up he hooked me up with Jake Crates, who's the AllHipHop editor here in Dallas. And that's how I got into the hip-hop scene, period. Through AllHipHop I had the opportunity to see other cities and how they've grown and see other artists and how big they are. And I noticed that, by comparison, our city was quite lacking. I wanted to do something about it.
What was your involvement in the Dallas hip-hop scene up until that point? I didn't know who was who. I was a fan. I lived in North Dallas. I went to UNT. I listened to DSR [Dallas rap crew Dirty South Rydaz]. I listened to Master P. I just listened to anything that was bumpin' at that time. UGK. Young Money. Cash Money. I was just a true fan of that [dirty South] sound. The influence of hip-hop didn't come until later.
What cities did you notice were doing things you wanted to see happen in Dallas? Well, Atlanta, of course. They run a circle over there. New York is the capital of hip-hop. New York is still a business. Even when I was in DC, I felt that about Baltimore. And I realized that Dallas was on the path and we were better than all of those scenes, from what I was hearing anyways. So I was like, "Let's see what we can do." Me and my partner Sanjay [Raj from CoffeeMusicHub] just threw a hip-hop [open] mic. That's how we got involved with the Dallas scene. People started coming to something new and fresh, and it built a mass of artists, which led to a fan base. I started bringing special guests, people who could really help some of these artists get from one level to another.
Explain what the Cool Beings movement is. Cool Beings is where music and fashion lives. It's a cool network where everybody can benefit from each other. Everybody's a leader in their own right. I have a visual artist, Lady Cool Beings. I have dancers from TWU. There's a group called Work In Progress. I have a beautiful model by the name of Saxon Wilson who landed in the Dorrough video for "M.I.A." We have Benny Hundreds. He's our guy at UNT, he's got reach out there with this organization called UNT Live that just launched in spring. We have a pirate, a Russian pirate. His name is Stephon and he just moved out here like a year ago and his fiancée runs a big part of this radio station in Germany.
The open mics have come a long way over the past year. It's really become a staple of Dallas hip-hop. What are your goals for the future? I just want people to understand how beneficial that it is. Come express yourself. Don't be shy. Don't be shy to freestyle in front of a crowd. Just because you did shows in front of thousands of people don't mean you can't come down and do a little freestyle. That's the hobby part. It's a business, but you still like it. It used to be a hobby. Come out and do your thing, if you're a real emcee. And that's all - I'm just trying to get people to realize that this is a place of comfort, not stardom.
I see you guys started doing open mics out in Ft. Worth too. How is that going? It's going really good. Sanjay is a freaking genius, he's the one orchestrating it. I'm just really going with his read and making sure I impact on the hosting. When I host, I'm the one that gravitates to the audience. Sanjay found a great location right by TCU and we haven't even started penetrating that yet. I mean there's only two of us so it's kinda hard. But as we grow we're going to start looking into marketing at TCU, because that'll be a great base for them.
As a host, you're a pretty high energy person and you really keep things moving. A knock on a lot of hip-hop shows is that there tends to be a lull between artists. What's your motivation whenever you go up on stage? The whole goal is to interact with the audience and keep them entertained. I make sure that people realize this is a hip-hop show, this is a cultural event. Be happy. Exert positive energy to the artist, and let's all have a good time. And I make sure that everybody's getting marketed and getting advertised. Get the business done but also keep the crowd entertained. I still make sure I keep it comical every once in a while, just in case anything gets tense up there.
What kind of big projects have you guys been working on? On 4/20, we got Dallas' finest show. We got a special guest performance coming from Houston, from The Nice Guys. All the dopest Dallas artists will be there that actually have greater substance and some type of fan base. A lot of the booking comes from the hip-hop mic.
Tell me more about the lineup of the 4/20 show. We got Lil Tony. We got Trae D. I got Dustin Cavazos, who just signed to Paco. He's been making moves. Brain Gang Blue is playing, one of the artists around here making some moves and he's doing his own thing out here being creative. We got the Billie Gang, a new movement. We just wanna show people out here in Dallas that even though we have big artists, we still got the underground scene and we wanna make sure they share the same stage as well.
Dallas is a hotbed for hip-hop these days. What do you think allows for so much creativity? I just think creativity in Dallas is like a melting pot. The artists in town really get the chance to express themselves and they have a passion to do so. We're just fortunate that this is something we've created here in town. For example, Brain Gang Blue, when he started with Sore Losers, they were some of the first locals to have that different sound. I mean, the Free Loaders mixtape was hot for two years. But with more local shows and the hip-hop mics, a lot of these new artists can really build a fan base. And the success of these artists fuels and motivates the new artists that want to express themselves. I'm not trying to shun any styles of music, 'cause I like it. But we gotta create different lanes. When you create different lanes, everybody eats.
Do you think it's possible for these different lanes to coexist in Dallas? I think it's possible and I think it's happening right now. I just think the element of hip-hop has to pop of though. But once they can do that the [D-Town] Boogie element is just like 1-2-3 to them. The two markets are intertwining, which is cool. If you want to make a Boogie song, make a Boogie song and go perform at the club. If you want the hip-hop side, you got it over here. We've got two platforms, ya know?
How important is it for you as a promoter to intertwine the two different platforms here? It's very important. I did it with a previous show of mine, "The Calling," and I'm doing it with the [4/20] Higher Learning show. Lil Tony, for example. He's not exactly a Boogie rapper, but he's also not a typical real hip-hop dude. The Calling was one of the first local hip-hop shows we did for Dallas. There we about 950 people at the Palladium. Donnie Nelson was there. KiKi J was there. [Grammy-winning producer] S1 was there. It was a great scene to see local rappers go hard. It was hosted by Drop from the Definition DJs and myself. The hip-hop mics actually got bigger off that show. Sore Losers and A.Dd+ were the headliners. Everything is organic right now.
Are there any little-known acts you have your eye on right now? Yeah, I like Matthew Clay. I like -topic. The Billie Gang Boys, they grind so hard so I think they'll make some type of noise. There's this little crew, they're not really there, but they're so humble. They're everywhere - they support, they promote. People don't want to mess with you or affiliate with you until you make some type of moves. Right now Billie Gang is collaborating with people, so I can see them getting their network on before they really make noise.
Based on your experiences seeing how other cities did their thing during your time at AllHipHop, how long before Dallas makes a lot of noise on the national level, as far as our underground scene goes? I think we're almost there. I think this year we'll make some noise, especially with A.Dd+ doing what they're doing. Sore Losers have got some things up their sleeve. I think it's right now, really. And I'm pressing for it, too. It's not about when, it's now. I think the attention is here so let's see what we can do with it.
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