We've seen the story about young and poor people trying desperately, and often violently, to make something out of nothing. We saw it in New York with Paid In Full and Belly. We saw it in Atlanta with Snow On Tha Bluff. The task for first-time director Juan Salas and Dallas rap mainstay Mista E took upon themselves with their upcoming film, The Triple D, was to take the story to Dallas and, in the process, create a story about the rise of a street soldier in the Big D. The film, which premiers tonight at the Magnolia Theater in Uptown, is a familiar subject with an unfamiliar setting and narration.
Like those other films, The Triple D draws heavily on the local hip-hop culture. Mista E, aside from his own career as a rapper, has also produced for scores of other artists. Salas is most familiar for his work with music videos. And the cast is a veritable who's-who of Dallas rap personalities: Don Chief, T Cash, Bay Bay, Pooca Leeroy and Mr. Lucci all play prominent roles in the film. The soundtrack is even completely comprised of Dallas rap. Local hip hop is the lifeblood of this film.
But the film is not, strictly, a film about Dallas hip hop, however much it helps to color the landscape. That's because the motivation to tell this particular story was that Mista E and Salas felt that Dallas is a criminally misunderstood city. It is a city, Mista E says, that many know by such epithets as "The Triple D" or "Dirty Dirty Dallas." "The Triple D is what we really are, as opposed to what people think," he explains. Salas adds that it was a logical progression for him: After years of working with much of Dallas' rap community and hearing the experiences of many of its participants, the question for him stopped being "Why should I make this movie?" and evolved into "Why shouldn't I make this movie?"
The Triple D is a gangster movie at its heart. Mista E shares an especially lively discussion about the classics and its influence on the film: "I'm a gangster movie connoisseur," he declares. "I've always been influenced by the boss, the middleman, and the janitor that makes manager." In turn, the bureaucracy of the streets, and the complications that stem from it, form a cornerstone of the film's story.
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The story of a boss who is in a moral or political quandary has been done to death. More recently, thanks in large part to programs like The Wire, the focus has shifted to the street soldier, the one struggling to survive as he rises to the position of a boss. Salas perks up at this notion and confirms that the journey of a person as they rise to power is what interests him most in the gangster genre. For him, the journey narrative was the focal point for the film's storytelling.
The star of the film, even more than the actors or the gangster genre, is the city of Dallas itself. Mista E and Salas make it very clear that Dallas is not simply a setting for this film, but the universe itself. The characters in this film live, fight and die in Dallas. In this regard, The Triple D's aesthetic is interconnected to Dallas, much in the way The Wire and Baltimore are. As such, Mista E explains, it was crucial that The Triple D's depiction of Dallas be as realistic as possible: Rather than present some kind of far-off ghetto setting, The Triple D takes place throughout the city of Dallas offering viewers a realistic perspective of what happens on the city's streets.
Of course, there's also a long history of cliches in such films, be it in the gangster genre or even in films that have featured prominent roles by rappers. For Mista E, it was important to ground the film in the code of the streets, and in his own experiences. Anything less would be too artificial of him and Salas.
"At the end of the day, no matter what you go through, whether you are a thief, whether you are rich, no matter you are, you have to operate by morals," Mista E says. "There's even honor among thieves. At the end of the day, you have to live by principles and morals."