Last week the news broke that Denton's Hailey's Club would be closing its doors on December 31, much to the dismay of the club's most loyal patrons, and, well, the rest of us. The uproar from artists and fans alike was hard to miss while scrolling through social media, with many of those comments predicting a quick, sudden death for the hip-hop/rap scene in Denton.
Amidst the disbelieving posts regarding the impending closure of Hailey's was a status posted by #Baconomic's Wesley Nusbaum aka Blaze Won. The status read, "With Hailey's closing ... the end of a lot of local rap careers is upon us Lol." The first few comments were nothing to bat an eye at, but the fourth one from the top, from Oaktopia's founder Matt Battaglia, sure was. Battaglia said simply, "Not once I open my venue." Sure, maybe Battaglia's comment was a knee-jerk reaction. But it certainly raised a few questions.
So, was Battaglia serious? (I asked. He is.) But really, it's not surprising, considering the 20-something has already established himself as a thrower of righteous shows and a pretty kick-ass festival. Oh, and then there's the fact that he has been saying he has big plans for Denton for awhile now. He's humble and totally owns up to the glitches he has encountered while throwing Oaktopia, as well as elsewhere along the road. And he's not so naive as to think that running a venue would be the same as masterminding one weekend out of the year.
"The thing about a venue that would be different than a music festival is that you could be tweaking it throughout the year until you get it right — instead of making a mistake and having to wait an entire year to try again," Battaglia says.
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But most important, Battaglia sees an opportunity to continue to provide a platform in Denton for some of the more underground, experimental and underrepresented music genres — like hip-hop. "Andy's quit doing hip-hop and now Hailey's, so there's literally nowhere for it in Denton," Battaglia explains. And he's not the only one who feels that way. DDFW Master of the Mic contender Ritchy Flo admits that the folks at Hailey's have always been supportive of everyone in the scene, and that with their departure, it may be difficult for some newer rap artists to gain traction.
"Andy’s always used to let us perform, and Rockin’ Rodeo now, but Hailey’s has been consistently throwing hip-hop shows for awhile," Flo says. Flo's biggest concern for the scene is the new generation and where they will be able to get their start. "When Hailey's closes, it's going to force these artists to look outside of their comfort zone for a venue in Denton, because there's not a lot of other choices."
However, not everyone feels as though the closing of Hailey's means that Denton's hip-hop will disappear. As AV the Great puts it, “It always sucks to lose a music venue in a city, regardless of what genre it is. But it doesn’t really effect the music scene as far as hip-hop goes." AV went on to say, "People have been doing hip-hop shows at Andy’s, Rubber Gloves, White House and all over during Hailey’s existence and even before it was allowed in Hailey’s.” And he should know: He has been around longer than most hip-hop aficionados in Denton.
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And speaking of Rubber Gloves, ask owner Josh Baish about his feelings on "the death of the hip-hop scene" and he'll tell you to stop being a whiny cry-baby. While Baish does admit that Rubber Gloves is not known for its vast hip-hop lineups, he says he's never been opposed to it. "We've had hip-hop and rap for a long time. We've always hosted hip-hop, we've always been open for it." But if you're going to take your rap game to Rubber Gloves, whatever you do, don't walk across the stage during someone else's set and don't take your beer to the wrong part of the house. More specifically, Baish says, "Just don't suck. Respect the venue and don't suck."
From AV's perspective, though, the breaking down of social barriers and the inclusiveness of Denton's ever-expanding artistic vibe is what's really starting to allow for more possibilities for new musicians and artists.
“The more that the locals and the college people start to mix and mingle, the more the tension in the city stopped," AV says. "And more people banded together and realized how much we could do together in this art scene." Furthermore, AV says the growth of performance spaces is not only inevitable, but may come sooner than we all think. “I know of about three situations brewing with new venues popping up here. As Denton grows, there’s going to be more development and more venues, so I wouldn’t even worry about it."
Any way you slice it, it sounds like a lot of new and exciting things are starting to heat up in Denton. For Battaglia though, his dream of owning a venue is still up in the air. He and his team are scouting out locations, getting their business plan prepped and continuing to look for investors. "Right now it's just in the very beginning stages of brainstorming on it and finding a good location," he says. "We've found some potential investors, but they won't invest until we have a good location and plan in place." But if anyone can handle a venture like this, it's the guy who gave Denton one of the best weekends of the year.