Real McCoy or decoy?

Dallas is hardly a town devoid of rap and hip-hop talent. Unfortunately, of the many groups trying to find a niche in the city's music scene, few seem to know how to go about doing it. This past year Dallas hip-hop talent finally got a dose of credibility by way of Erykah Badu's double-platinum success story Baduizm and the hit single "On and On." Baduizm exposed the previously unknown producers of D-Town--Madikwu, Rob Free, JaBorne Jamal, and Tyallen Macklin--who tweaked the sound and boosted the sass and spirituality that made the album such a success: so successful, in fact, that Badu could finish up the year by releasing a live album that included material from her first album along with five new tracks.

The group Mad Flava--DJ Baby G the cut selecta, Col' Chris the Sol' man, Kasaan, and Hype Dog on production--put out a maxi-single titled "Fatherless" last summer on former Dallas Maverick Tony Dumas' label. Good work came this year from Native Poet, an Arlington group composed of Tahiti on boards and Chuck Smooth on lyrics, as well as Epatomed, another two-man group who recently released the tape Liquid Brix, which contained the local hit "This is a Little Somethin.'" Also hailing from the 817 area code are the Starvyn Artists and producer Erotic D, both of whom are building up a talented roster of acts.

There's too much talent in Dallas to fully mention, but only a handful of MCs and groups are doing real damage. South Dallas' two-man Kinfolk Crew--Bilal and Shamir--had a top local hit on K-104 (104.5 FM). The D-Product production team is pushing out hits for Subflo, a three-man team made up of MC A.C. (whom some might remember from his early days with Nemesis), MC Aggressa, whose freestyle finesse has earned him props over the last few years, and Big VJ, whom you might see spinning records at local clubs and parties. Their CD release of last summer, Other People's Money, is still selling well at selected area record stores and fashion outlets. The rumor is that producer Johnny J (of Tupac fame) has expressed interest in signing the group to his new label.

Longtime East Dallas favorites Shabazz 3--whose members are Tyallen Macklin, Fatz, and on the mellow cut DJ Bobby Dee--on the heels of being voted one of Musician magazine's top unsigned bands of 1996, followed up with a creative 1997. Producer and frontman Macklin produced the song "Drama" on Baduizm and has a cut on the upcoming sophomore release from veteran Dallas songwriter and singer Sandra St. Victor. Formerly of the Family Stand, St. Victor has written songs for high-profile acts such as the Artist (formerly known as Prince). Last year Shabazz 3 garnered quite a bit of industry attention, being courted by major labels such as Epic, Elektra, and the now-defunct EMI.

Other acts to watch out for are the Boondox, the Bricklayer's Foundation, the Drunken Poets Society, Sol, Desire, and engineer/producers P-Nut and B-Swift. And don't forget Mental Chaos--DJ Rodney the Messiah, producer Enhance, and Poppie Lo, who is half-hypeman, half-solo act himself. Of all the local acts this year, Mental Chaos probably put on the hottest live performances.

The club situation remains fairly fluid. Club Reciprocity moved in 1996 from Deep Ellum to the Oak Cliff intersection of Tyler and Jefferson, where they've flourished, offering up a unique blend of freestyle rhymers, passage readers, and skit performers. Stop by on a weekend night and you might catch Wizdumrimer Von Lemonade giving out black-thought power poetics, or O.I.L., a two-man, one-woman tag-team performance group. Things went so well for Reciprocity in '97 that they had to open up another room to accommodate ever-expanding crowds. Arlington's Club Zodiac offers a hip-hop Friday, but lack of a decent sound system may be costing them a following. Daddy Rocks--also in Arlington--has a sports-bar feel, but features good acoustics and hip-hop performances every Saturday and Sunday. The Rehab Lounge catered to hip-hop consistently since its opening in 1995, but unfortunately closed late in the summer of '97. Popular reggae club Dread-N-Irie has not only supported Jah music--booking national-level talent like Israel Vibrations and local favorites (Austin's Killer Bees and our own Leroy Shakespeare)--but has also provided hip-hop with a stage, booking acts like East Oakland's Hieroglyphics and, more recently, from Queens, New York, Organized Konfusion.

As far as national touring acts go, Erykah Badu gave three killer shows in her old hometown in '97: her album-release party and concert at the Dallas Aquarium in February, returning to the intimate confines of the Caravan of Dreams in Fort Worth in April, and then, several months later, as part of the Smokin' Grooves tour at Starplex.

Although smaller venues had good shows--De La Soul returned to the Starck Club in April for the second time in six months--Starplex offered some of the biggest touring shows in hip-hop and rap: Bone Thugs N Harmony, Scarface, OutKast, Cypress Hill, and the Roots, who filled in for the Houdini-like Wu-Tang Clan, whose disappearing act on the Rage Against the Machine tour disappointed a lot of fans. Although many pointed to the alleged beating of a promotions man earlier in Chicago as the reason why the Clan fell apart and left the tour, the real cause was its constant bickering over song choices for shows. So much for group unity.

Also notable was Lead Source--a Dallas-based infomercial business--shooting urban-flavored promotional shots for Nike and Addidas at the Bomb Factory. These commercials featured the great Kid Capri and turntable trickmaster DJ Scratch (Queen Latifah, Naughty by Nature).

The new year holds many promises, but many feel that they will go unrealized unless there is greater cohesion among hip-hop groups and performers and enough consistent venues to support a scene. Radio plays too many wack groups at the expense of real talent, and there hasn't been enough support for real hip-hop shows like KNON DJ E-Z Eddie D's Saturday "Knowledge Dropped, Lessons Taught" show, which runs from 5 to 7 p.m. But there are some signs of change: Top-rated K104-FM DJ Reggie D is starting to play a better variety of hip-hop music, drawing on more of an old-school flavor, as does the Tight at Night Crew, with Boss, Cocoa Butta, and Nippy Jones, who broadcast from 6 to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday--prime listening time.

Area hip-hop and rap artists still have to learn how to function as a business if they truly want to succeed. There's more to it than just doing hip-hop shows to impress your friends and fans. Even though local shows have been getting tighter, this past year saw less turnout, artists dragging out their time on stage, and low audience participation. What's needed is a sustainable, reputable club scene that caters specifically to hip-hop, one with a reliable following that can stay in operation while attracting the best in local and national talent. With that base in place, the area rap scene should flourish and find a place for itself on the hip-hop map.