When local rapper Nick Whitener was asked to open for three dates of a tour by internet sensation Cupcakke, he thought about declining. He reasoned that Cupcakke and Whitener, who performs under the name Raw Elementz, have styles that are too different.
But the 25-year-old, who made himself integral to the Dallas rap scene by organizing the monthly showcase Lyricist Lounge and annual Power 4 the Locals — reconsidered when he realized how collaborations with national acts have helped other Dallas rappers.
Dallas favorite -topic has developed a fun-to-watch relationship with Flying Lotus’ label Brainfeeder and its bassist-extraordinaire Thundercat, while G.U.N. has thrived from regular link-ups with Rae Sremmurd’s Slim Jxmmi and Atlanta rapper OG Maco. “It’s important for artists to make connections for the city,” Whitener says. “Although I’m controlling a majority of the shows and open mics in the city, I’m also traveling and doing shows.”
He fondly recalls the time he opened for SZA, describing it as “surreal." He hung out with the songstress and Top Dawg Entertainment (TDE) CEO Terrence Henderson (aka Punch) during SZA's meet-and-greet with fans. Along with SZA, Kendrick Lamar is also signed to TDE.
“[It was] one of my favorite experiences as an artist, to be honest," Whitener says.
He'll continue to expand his network and audience when he opens for Chicago rapper Cupcakke at RBC tomorrow, August 30, and then continue on with her to Houston and Atlanta.
Whitener’s passion for Dallas started at 14, when he moved here from his native Baltimore. In Dallas, he found a culture where booty fades and small backpacks were all the rage, and his ears perked up when he followed his friends' recommendations to check out local rap legends TumTum, Big Tuck and Mr. Pookie.
He became dismayed when he saw how much effort it took for up-and-coming local artist to get stage time. He was motivated to create his own showcase after he attended a Playboy Carti show where a lineup of 15 or so Dallas rappers were required to sell their own tickets in exchange for the chance to perform a couple of songs each.
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“Dallas has all the talent in the world,” Whitener says. But until a few years ago, Dallas' hip-hop scene didn't get much attention from national media. Now influential blogs and publications such as Pigeons and Planes, Noisey, and Forbes are all spilling ink on artists like Grand Prairie native Post Malone.
Whitener is trying to help that process along by only hiring local artists such as Bobby Sessions and DandiiSun for his Power 4 the Locals showcase, which will host its third edition in the winter.
“I’m trying to make a statement that a local artist could fill a venue like Trees.”
RawElementz will open for Cupcakke 8 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 31, RBC, 2617 Commerce St. Tickets are $12-$35 at ticketfly.com.