Justin Mohrle Could Be the Game Changer Dallas Hip Hop Needs
Justin Mohrle is helping shine the spotlight on Dallas hip hop
Ant Blue Jr
Contrary to what the blog HipHopDX has reported, Justin Mohrle is not signed to Aftermath Records. Last week D Magazine ran an extensive profile of the 23-year-old rapper from Garland, and in it the name Aftermath is nowhere to be found. But that hasn't stopped the aggregated blogosphere from running with the rumor anyway.
This isn't the type of thing that normally happens to Dallas musicians, rappers or otherwise. People don't swoop in from out of town, clambering for details, seeking out gossip and misreporting facts. The facts are few and simple in the case of Mohrle: He's in Los Angeles working with Dr. Dre. But the upshot is that he may well be the game-changer that Dallas hip-hop has been waiting for.
For months it's been an open secret in local circles that Mohrle is out in L.A., where he and his work are being carefully guarded from all but a select few. But he hasn't signed to any label. Rather, Mohrle has signed a 360 management deal with Silverback and he's recording with Dr. Dre. Some of the tracks will end up on a long-awaited project from Dr. Dre, tentatively titled Detox.
Since we can't predict the future, it's more fruitful to examine Mohrle's past. As a teenager he attended Garland High School, where he was offered a partial scholarship to play baseball at Abilene Christian University. He turned the opportunity down to focus on a career in music. It seems the choice has paid off, but do you know how much money baseball players make? Rappers only make as much as top ballplayers when they sell headphones to a wealthy computer company. But alas, it's for the love of the art, as it should be.
In Dallas, Mohrle was notably a member of the Brain Gang collective, which blazed through the city with energetic live shows. They were like a multi-headed schizophrenic beast. I'm already setting aside money for their 2035 reunion show at The Bomb Factory. When that group fizzled out, Mohrle began recording music under the name Love, JT. Those plugged into the rap scene have long known Mohrle is talented, but he's flown mostly under the radar compared to fellow Brain Gang alums like Blue, the Misfit and Sam Lao.
Mohrle's solo music made its way to the D.O.C. -- a longtime collaborator of Dr. Dre's, co-founder of Silverback and Dallas native -- and it was in turn passed to Dr. Dre, who no doubt admired its highly emotive spirit and melodic structure. By the end of last summer, Mohrle was posting videos of himself and Dr. Dre playing ping pong on Instagram. Then pictures with Gwen Stefani. Now the buzz is echoing nicely.
Last week the rest of the world learned of the new kid in the studio with Dre and most major music publications ran with an aggregated news post about Mohrle. It was a speculative circus. The wave of interest in Mohrle is curious at best and stranded-in-the-Sahara thirsty at worst. There's even a YouTube video of a European man offering his take on Mohrle's music. Considering that most of his back catalog has been snatched from the Internet, the interest is understandable, if a bit extreme. Dallas stands to gain a lot from Mohrle's surge in popularity.
To the indoctrinated, it's no secret that Dallas' music scene is robust with talent, especially where rap is concerned. There are plenty of reasons why artists struggle to gain broad attention within their own city, but one surefire way to do it is to catch the eye of national outlets. In the wake of Leon Bridges' Columbia Records deal at the end of 2014 -- one of the biggest achievements for a local artist in quite some time -- Mohrle is also suddenly the center of national interest. This interest is all the more remarkable because he has basically no songs available to the public.
So, here we are. One of our own is working with one of the greatest producers in any genre and he'll possibly have a record out in the next year or two. Mohrle's kept in touch with his old Brain Gang cohorts like Blue, the Misfit, who has worked with Aftermath signee and rising superstar Kendrick Lamar, and Slim Gravy of A.Dd+. As bloggers and other curious fans hunt down bits of information and critique guest verses from old songs, they'll be exposed to these other artists. Suddenly people outside the bubble of regular listeners will want to know what's happening here, and the scene's cred will grow.
Mohrle will likely continue to work with some Dallas artists, directing ears and eyeballs here from around the country. Dallas has produced brilliant rap music for half a decade, some of it by Mohrle. All it took for us to get the attention of MTV, Complex and their denizens was word that he's working with Dr. Dre. When his music comes out and there's tangible evidence of his gift, people will wonder if there's more gold beneath the surface of an untapped city. The good news is that there is. This turn of events may be just what Dallas needs to break out of old patterns and raise its ceiling on the possibilities.
This is admittedly a lot of weight to place on Mohrle's shoulders, but the evidence suggests he's more than capable of handling it. He can and possibly will be a conduit for Dallas rap to take over the country, through some sort of magical transitive property.
Plus, let's not forget that Mohrle's a ballplayer. He'll relish the chance to bring a trophy back home when the time comes. Every ballplayer dreams of that moment: bottom of the ninth, two on, two out, tie game, meat right down the middle of the plate. All it takes is a hit.
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