Best After-Parties 2015 | | Best of Dallas® 2020 | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Dallas | Dallas Observer

Hip-hop is booming right now in Dallas (just ask Noisey), but if you really want to know what makes the scene tick you have to go underground. No one in North Texas has a finger on the pulse of hip-hop, both local and touring, like the folks behind, who specialize in late-night, DIY after-parties. They set up camp at places like Ash Studios or random Airbnbs, and it's not uncommon to catch rappers such as Vic Mensa and Travi$ Scott mingling with the Outfit, TX or Blue, the Misfit at these packed parties. You might even catch a world premiere, such as when Scott debuted "Antidote" this summer.

Theatrical set designer Rodney Dobbs regularly makes something out of nothing. Starting with a bare stage, with some plywood, paint and lots of imagination, he can re-create 1960s Southern suburbia, as he did for the play Mississippi Goddamn, or go multilevel with fancy staircases and video screens for Uptown Players' glossy musical Catch Me If You Can. As a founder of low-budget Pocket Sandwich Theatre, Dobbs learned how to stretch a dollar while making visual magic. And he's used to backstage hazards. "It's not a finished set," he says, "until I've bled on it."

This should be a two-horse race. Where else in Dallas would you want to BYOB (or technically speaking, BYOL) other than Ships Lounge or R.L.'s Blues Palace? The answer is, "Nowhere, you idiot." Sadly, Ships' recent (though, God willing, temporary) closure means there can only be one, Highlander-style. R.L.'s is an utterly unique experience in Dallas. The club is only open for a few hours a week, and it's a slice of life that hearkens back to the juke joints and blues clubs of yore. So bring along some liquor, grab a bucket of ice and sit back and enjoy the Hen Dance.

The four-week summer round-up of one-hour shows by small local companies bounced back in a big way this year. Producing presenter David Meglino chose eight diverse productions filled with energetic talent eager to introduce audiences to fresh pieces of live theater. Top draws were The In-Laws' dreamlike new mini-musical Decline of Ballooning, DGDG's all-male dances-with-text Show about Men and WingSpan's lovely Shoe Confessions. Sold-out houses and big crowds at the after-show cabarets mean FIT has a following that'll keep it flying for years to come.

Best Moment on Dallas Before It Got Canceled Again

Judith Light Does a Line

Dallas the cable reboot got the boot this year after just two seasons, but dang, it had some dandy moments, even if the scripts about Alaskan fracking contracts and Mexican drug cartels were dumb. The addition of Emmy and Tony-winning actress Judith Light gave the TNT series a temporary boost of high drama. Playing evil brothel owner Judith Ryland, Light found the creamy nougat center of every scene she chewed up. The best single moment of the new Dallas had her sidling up to a handsome cowboy, sniffing a fat line of coke off his meaty hand and pausing to let it burn down her throat before she growled, "Mama like." Oh, Judith, you were the new J.R. and we liked you, Mama.

Say this much for Mark Cuban: He has a sense of humor. Or maybe he just doesn't give a damn. When the Free Loaders perform each week at the Standard Pour, band leader John Jay Myers makes the same joke: "If you like what you heard, put $100 in the tip jar," he says. "Unless you're Mark Cuban. Then put in $1,000." Lo and behold, one night last winter, Cuban — of Dancing With the Stars fame — was there, swing dancing his ass off for all the world to see. It may not have been a cash contribution, but it sure was priceless.

Three Links is punk to the core. Having an owner who's a world-class tattoo artist is a good start, as are the one-of-a-kind, hand-drawn show posters. But everything about this club smacks of a no-bullshit approach that places the emphasis on the music, man. More important, Three Links is a venue that consistently punches above its weight, bringing in punk icons such as Sham 69 and Cheetah Chrome on such a regular basis you'd think they have a non-compete clause with the rest of North Texas. Maybe they do, because even though everyone is welcome, there's no one who can hang.

Every once in awhile, a concert winds up being more notable as an event than as a pure live-music experience. Case in point: J. Cole's secret concert at House of Blues. The North Carolina rapper announced the latest round of his ongoing Dollar and a Dream tour would kick off in Dallas at a location to be disclosed the day of the show. Sure enough, on Sunday, June 21, about 4,000 people converged on downtown in hopes of getting in. Police showed up, unaware of what was happening, and social media was flooded with photos and videos. How's that for inspired promotion?

Dallas Medianale is the experimental film festival you didn't know you wanted to go to until you did. In February, the Video Association of Dallas took over The McKinney Avenue Contemporary to curate a month of film screenings, video art installations and intermedia performances, which included internationally renowned video artists such as Bruce Nauman. Chicago-based duo Cracked Ray Tube gave a performance in which they manipulated video and audio on stacks of old TVs and computer monitors. We're all so accustomed to screens these days that video art seems more accessible than ever, and the diversity and enthusiasm of attendees throughout the festival confirmed it. Dallas Medianale will return biennially, so put it on your calendar for Spring 2017.

Local rappers have gotten their fair share of shine in 2015, thanks to collaborations with Dr. Dre and shout-outs in Noisey. But the most unexpected success story was that of unknown Grapevine ex-pat Post Malone, whose clever song "White Iverson" had Complex and XXL singing his praises. An ode to Allen Iverson's notoriously careless spending habits ($40,000 at a strip club was no big deal), the track was a left-field hit and an inadvertently perfect anthem for Dallas, the city of $30,000 millionaires.

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