Dallas R&B is Bursting with Talent, So Why Aren't More People Listening?

Local singer Kirk Thurmond sees a racial divide holding back the R&B scene
Local singer Kirk Thurmond sees a racial divide holding back the R&B scene
Ashley Upham

Everybody loves to see somebody from their city or town "make it." That's more or less a subjective thing, "making it." Essentially, whenever an artist manages to get the attention of the New York and Los Angeles tastemakers, they wear this vicarious success like a badge of honor. At The Prophet Bar's weekly Wednesday night jam session and open mic night I hear a story that has the makings of local lore, its details battered by years of being retold over and over and over again.

The story goes that in 1995 (or '96 or even '97) Erykah Badu opened for Naughty By Nature (or maybe it was Outkast) at the Bomb Factory and got booed off the stage. A few months later, after catching some steam in the major markets, she started to become the hometown legend she is today.

Jah Born, a member of The Cannabinoids and producer of Badu's Grammy Award-winning song "On & On," says this attitude persists because that's where all the entertainment businesses operate. Thus, despite Dallas' music scene being ripe with talent, if you can't make it in New York, you might not make it here. And even more so with R&B and soul.

Born suggests the people in the crowds are "hardworking people," so "[the music] has to be dope." Translation: they don't have the rhyme or reason to spend time on something that hasn't already been vetted as legitimately good.

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Other scenes in Dallas don't seem to have this issue, at least not on a pervasive level. The rap scene has a fervent and rabid following that grows each day. I'm pretty sure punk and metal fans just check out a show to be there and wild the fuck out. And, well, country and roots rock are country and roots rock.

The sentiment that Dallas' lack of an identity contributes to a lack of focus on R&B is a sentiment shared by both Born and Kurtis "K.G." Graham, founder and CEO of Cosign magazine. This can explain a dearth of national attention, because people generally gravitate towards familiar music.

But, Graham hits something more prescient on its head: "I don't think they promote their projects. That's half the battle," he says of local R&B artists. We live in an age where rappers incessantly release and promote music in order to foster a grassroots movement. Rock bands trudge around the city and secure a wealth of gigs. Some of the R&B and soul singers around the city have little to no recordings available online. This is 2014, remember.

Like pretty much everything else on the planet, R&B in Dallas has a large racial divide. Yes, it is largely a "black genre," but another "black genre" called hip hop has more or less diluted racial divides since its inception. Go to a Kanye West concert and the crowd is so diverse you'd think McDonald's casted the people to star in a commercial of some sort.

"I think R&B in the city may need to come down from its horse a little bit. We don't try to seek success with other demos," says soul singer and songwriter, Kirk Thurmond. Thurmond suspects that fans won't go to certain venues if they aren't familiar. "Those lines are very racial, let's be serious."

Ultimately, there isn't a dedicated R&B spot for fans and artists to rally around, a focal point for the scene. "One thing we're lacking in the industry is smart business people that own venues," Thurmond says. That lack of vision leaves the scene to splinter and dilute itself, spread out into pockets throughout the city.

BeMyFiasco, a Dallas-based singer, left the area to attend school at Stephen F. Austin state University in Nacogdoches and has returned after graduating from the school. She says that if she just came here out of the blue, she wouldn't know where to be in order to perform and get her name out there. One thing that's certain is most people take a liking to Prophet Bar's jam session and open mic night.

Jam sessions and open mic nights are more or less like playing the odds on a dice. You don't particularly know what's coming. One outcome is basically a pot of gold sitting beneath a double rainbow. Another is an experience that makes you wonder if it's all a conspiracy, an attempt to force you to never listen to music ever again in your life.

The Prophet Bar on Wednesday nights is closer to the former. The jam band is R.C. and The Gritz: a keyboardist, three saxophonists, a bass guitarist, a drummer, a percussionist and an electric guitarist. They fuse hip-hop, jazz and soul into a steady rhythmic groove that forces you to move (at the very least you nod your head), but there's no shame in dancing. No shame at all.

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