The hip-hop scene in North Texas is as vibrant as ever. In terms of skill and diversity, local artists can hold their own against any major market. Rappers are signing with major labels, producers are winning Grammys and are sought after by A-list figures in rap and R&B. It's no longer a question of "putting DFW on the map," like many are erroneously fond of saying. The area is already recognized nationally as a hotbed of hip-hop exports.
Media coverage of local hip-hop, or its lack, is a frequent topic of discussion among those within the music scene. One apparent flaw is that the volume of hip-hop coverage is not proportional to the considerable amount of quality talent produced in the North Texas area.
It's difficult to distinguish legitimate concerns from the disruptive complaints of disgruntled musicians and others who do not consume enough local media to pass judgment. Media outlets aren't able to keep up with the outpouring of hip-hop talent emerging locally. Whether they're trying hard enough is open to debate. For now, two related events are seeking to set up support for artists without the approval of major media: music festival G.U.M. Fest and its subsequent music conference.
G.U.M. is an acronym that stands for Great Underground Music, and the promoters couldn’t have come up with a more fitting name, because that’s exactly what was on display. The event was a four-round talent showcase that took place at Pink Lounge in Oak Cliff over the past few months. The winning contestants included Pleasant Grove rapper 2wice, rapper/singer Key Latrice, Xavier Choice, Corey Milon, Zyon Iman, Doe Cigapom and X.O. Other artists who stood out were Frank Rashad, Lythal, Floetic Desire, J Diggs and 3D Runway.
The concept for G.U.M. Fest came from music industry promoter Torrence Riff, who partnered with a newly formed company called Blexx Entertainment to create the event. Blexx consists of Brenda Rodriguez, Stephanie Joanette and hip-hop producer Camp Bond.
"We came together and formed Blexx because we all used to work for another (promotion) company," Camp Bond explains. "We decided to take the knowledge we learned there and branch off into our own situation."
The trio had formed their new venture three weeks before G.U.M. Fest's opening date. "We got to work pretty quick," Camp Bond says. "Torrence helped us get the company started. He gave us the vision, and we were the ones that put feet to the ground to make it happen."
G.U.M. Fest served as precursor to an event Riff and Blexx Entertainment hope will become a staple in the North Texas music community: a large-scale music conference that will take place July 27 at the Black Academy of Arts & Letters, called MIICS (pronounced mics), which stands for Music Industry Insider Conference & Showcase.
The winners from each round of G.U.M. Fest will perform in front of several representatives of major labels in the hopes of landing a recording deal. MIICS will be an all-day event that will include programming for producers as well as people who work, or aspire to work, behind the scenes in the music industry.
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"The goal of G.U.M. Fest was basically to find the best talent in DFW and kind of run them through the gamut, so to speak," Camp Bond says. "We wanted to hear their music, then see them perform and also take note of the size of their fan base.
"We're going to put them in front of people who could possibly change their lives. We want someone to leave the conference with a record deal. It may happen, it may not, but we're bringing the people who have the power to make those decisions."
The challenge at hand will be converting that recent success and notoriety into permanence, as an elite market within the music industry. In order to accomplish this, a proper infrastructure is necessary, with key components aside from talented artists, in the form of knowledgeable individuals with connections who work behind the scenes, along with events such as MIICS that aim to create opportunities for people who work in the music industry.
This will go a long way to solidifying North Texas as a major hub that musicians and aspiring moguls alike can view as a place they can utilize to further, and not just begin their careers.