Last year, according to our own Jeff Gage, "Dallas Hip-Hop Made The Important Local Music of 2015." Now that 2016 has kicked off, local artist -topic looks to continue that momentum — but he's planning on doing it with a rather more lighthearted approach. Specifically, -topic wants to celebrate his love for his sweater collection.
"The idea is to find a way to make everybody bounce, and keep everybody in good spirits, while still dropping knowledge," -topic says about his latest project, My Favorite Sweaters. And on the 18 tracks spanning about 43 minutes, -topic does just that. While My Favorite Sweaters has a significant amount of depth, -topic says, "It actually started out as a huge joke. I was just being an asshole." He used the new project as a creative outlet to contrast with his more serious music.
"I was working on the third album, These Things Will Happen, and that album is so serious that if I stay in that mode for too long, I'll start becoming a bitter person. I'll keep acknowledging all the bad shit in the world while trying to portray the good. That's a fucking human being, though, especially an artist. We're very sensitive and if we stay in this weird energy for too long, it messes us up. So I wanted to pull back and do something a lot more lighthearted, and I still had a bunch of rap energy that I wasn't using," -topic says. "That's why My Favorite Sweaters is pretty much bars. It started off as just, like, my release/therapy kind of thing."
But what started out as a "funny, silly mixtape" has since evolved into "a full friggin' campaign doused in lyrical greatness sauce," according to - topic. While largely lighthearted, -topic does "try to drop knowledge in everything to just make sure people learn something, even if they don't catch it at the moment, to come back to it a month later like, ‘Oh wow! That's what he was talking about! Shit! That song still jams!'"
The project's best example of this mix of upbeat, positive music that still packs a message is "Greatness," in which -topic drops a reference to the Three-Fifths Compromise while discussing some of the struggles that young black men too often face. "Of course, it's kind of tough to be great as an African-American boy in America, especially when you don't really know the rules of how to exist in America, you don't know exactly how the game is played," -topic says. "You just see the fucked-up rules being displayed. So the three-fifths a man [line] on a song called 'Greatness' was really prophetic for me. Even though you're quote-unquote 'three-fifths a man,' you can still be great and, at the end of it all, you can be like, ‘Hey, look, get a taste of this greatness.'"
For the first time, -topic only produced one of the tracks; for most of the tape, he raps over the production of others, including bsd.u, DeDunamis, Flying Lotus, IAMNOBODI, Kay Franklin, MNDSGN, MNDSTRMKK, Moonchild, S.F.T., ShunGu, SilentJay and Paul Bender, Taylor McFerrin, Tek.Lun and Weirddough. The project came together in less than a year, with most of the music completed by December — but the creative campaign has taken more time.
While the music is largely about the bars, the project as a whole "looks to be more of an experience than just a mixtape," with bundles which will include a physical CD, a booklet and a sweater. -topic worked with artist Joonbug for visuals, photographer Nic Harris, and Michael Felder for the "lookbook" of sweaters. The vision for the project came from -topic "having these wild ideas of '80s-like visuals, but with a modern day TeamFromNowhere [-topic's crew] twist on things."
Basically, -topic says, "My idea was simple: Have everybody in town singing My Favorite Sweaters, looking at My Favorite Sweaters and wearing My Favorite Sweaters." But, ideally, the success won't be limited to everybody "in town:" "The goal is to get this one worldwide. I'd really love to send some sweaters all over the world and have people take pictures in them. I really want to do a worldwide video where everybody's dancing in my favorite sweaters."
-topic hasn't made a lot of videos during his career, but after working on the "Peyton Manning" video with Bobby Sessions, he started taking the visual side more seriously. He's already completed six music videos so far, with the possibility of as many as 12 videos eventually. For one video, he's even working with an animator who depicts -topic as stuck in an old school video game.
The online release was Sunday, and -topic has a listening party planned from 7 to 10 p.m. Friday at Epocha in Deep Ellum, which will include tacos and drinks and a display of his lookbooks. He won't be performing on Friday, but he'll have the official release concert on the 20th — which is free for those who buy the box set — at RBC Dallas. There, while wearing all 10 sweaters from the project, he'll perform the album along with a special guest, and also show off some of the visuals.
At this point, -topic says he's got a lot of opportunities he hopes to pursue, but says he'll be in Dallas at least through the drop of his third album, These Things Will Happen, which is expected around November. In the mean time, while he doesn't "know exactly what the next level is," -topic says he wants to see MFS "go to the next level."
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Mac McCann is a writer from Dallas. His work, covering a variety of topics, has been published in more than a dozen publications around the country, including The Dallas Morning News, The Chicago Tribune, Newsday, Houston Chronicle, The Seattle Times, The Charlotte Observer, The Austin American-Statesman, Complex, Reason, Austin Chronicle, Hawaii Tribune-Herald, OC Weekly, Phoenix New Times and more.