Just before launching into the final song at his album release performance on Saturday night, Oak Cliff rapper/producer Dustin Cavazos stood alone onstage at Maximedia Studios in Farmers Branch, appearing on the verge of tears. Sentimental and a little flustered, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a list—a rather long one—of people he wished to thank for helping him reach this night.
He didn't want to forget anyone, he explained to the crowd, bracing them for a few minutes of chatter rather than show. It's tough to see how he could've forgotten anyone, though; the length of his thank-you speech outlasted the runtimes of most of his songs.
To be fair, his gratitude was merited: Some 250 friends and fans had turned out on this night to help Cavazos celebrate the completion and release of his debut full-length, I Think In The Shower, I Dream On My Bike.
"Man, I was really, really surprised," Cavazos says a few days removed from the event. "I wasn't expecting that big of a turnout at all."
But perhaps he should have anticipated the crowds: The latest in a long line of impressive releases from members of the area underground hip-hop community, I Think In The Shower, I Dream On My Bike is a provocative collection of revealing, honest rhymes about Cavazos' upbringing as the son of a pastor who moved his family wherever work was available, highlighted by songs about overcoming adversity such as "Everything Everybody Told Us" and "Fresh," and bolstered by slick beats that hark back to the simpler production styles of the early '90s while still managing to sound relevant in today's cluttered hip-hop landscape.
But it's also somewhat stylistically different from many of the other local releases of late: Unlike the more frenetic fare of, say, Damaged Good$ and galleryCat, or the laid-back lean of newcomers A.Dd+, Cavazos' release finds itself reveling in a pace somewhere in between, a middle ground that might make the disc the most accessible of the worthy bunch.
That much might explain why he's had so much support from each of those aforementioned artists, all of whom stood in the crowd at Maximedia Studios on Saturday night, loudly cheering on Cavazos as he performed with a live three-piece backing band, which at times was further bolstered by an eight-piece string orchestra of students from Dallas arts magnet high school Booker T. Washington, as well as a nine-piece youth choir.
It was ambitious display, and it paid off: At the conclusion of Cavazos' free performance, the crowds, almost without hesitation, immediately shifted their attention to the back of the room, where Cavazos' family and friends manned his merch table, which was covered with copies of the new disc. The ever-modest Cavazos, who prior to this full-length released two EPs but spent most of his time producing for area hip-hop artist Moses Uvere and working on beats for his hip-hop-meets-hardcore duo Scuba Team Go, says that reaction surprised him. So, too, did the diversity of the crowd he saw when the house lights came on: "Wow, there are a lot of Mexicans in here!" he said with a laugh into the microphone as the night came to a close.
"I always just thought my music was just for white girls, but when I looked around, I saw a diverse crowd," Cavazos, himself of Hispanic descent, says. As for his white-girl joke, the affable and humble artist explains: "I just thought all my songs were cheesy and that I'm just this guy rapping these cheesy lines over cheesy beats. I guess I just didn't think my stuff was amazing or great or anything. But I guess there's just stuff in there that connects with people."
There's plenty to connect with in the refreshing lyrical honesty he offers up on the disc. "Fresh," which is set to a sample of the Chi-Lites' "Have You Seen Her?" serves as a fine example, telling the tale of the first time, as a second-grader, that Cavazos realized there were class divides. Rhymes Cavazos in the opening verse: "I always hated shopping malls/middle of the spring, I'm still rocking clothes from the fall/and I never understood why we'd walk in every store/'Mom, you ain't buying nothing. Mom, you know that we're poor.'/'No, we're not,' she replied, ''cause we're rich in love'/knelt down to my level, kissed my cheek, gave me a hug/and I've never been the same since that day/I can wear the same shirt, same jeans and they're still gonna say/that I'm fresh."
"All of a sudden, I realized that we were poor, and I credit my parents for doing a good job of not letting us know that," the 23-year-old Cavazos says of his boyhood realization. "It's not like were we dirt-poor or anything, but we definitely weren't as well off as my white friends."
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What makes the lyrical reveal so endearing, though, isn't the admission of his family's well-being—that much is as tried and true a cliché in hip-hop as bitches and hos—but rather that it's offered up from the perspective of a child who realizes it and acknowledges and appreciates it. It's a show of restraint so rarely displayed in the often gaudy world of hip-hop, finding Cavazos content enough to share an important moment in his upbringing and leave it at that—rather than, say, to follow it up with a boastful lie about how good the life he's currently living is in comparison.
Maybe that's because Cavazos' situation, for the most part, remains the same. Over the course of the year and a half he spent crafting his new disc, Cavazos says he had to rely on the kindness of his friends and newfound supporters to help him find meals from day to day. So maybe the laundry list of thank yous he offered up from the stage on Saturday night wasn't all that surprising.
As ever, he might not have everything he could possibly want, but he's thankful for what he does have.
"It all meant so much to me," he says of the crowds showing him support at his album release show. "And I've never been one to take that stuff lightly."