Hailey's Makes a Surprise Reinvention as Denton's Hip-Hop Haven

Two concepts, both alike in dignity. Denton: A bubbling melting pot for DIY punks, garage rock and metal. Juxtaposing it, hip-hop has long been at odds with the city, attempting to stake a claim at one of its venues. Though it isn't exactly Montagues and Capulets, it's a standoff in which neither side has yet to blink. But in the past two months, unmistakable hip-hop hype has been circulating throughout Denton, and Hailey's Club has been playing town crier.

See also: What 35 Denton Could Learn From Oaktopia Thin Line Fest Might Be Denton's Best Music Festival

The word "institution" gets thrown around with fair flippancy, but it feels accurate considering the 12 years Hailey's has spent carving out a place in Denton -- both in sickness and in health. After the fifth (and most recent) time ownership changed hands, it seemed the club could only be a shadow of its former self following a turbulent history. Then in February, the venue appointed Blake McDaniel as the new general manager, which turned out to be the direction the club craved. Now, McDaniel looks to be the city's leading advocate for the reprisal of hip-hop -- and it's been a long time coming.

Though McDaniel has made great strides and continues to do so, he's quick to admit his burgeoning success comes from standing on the shoulders of others. He cites Oaktopia, which featured a hip-hop-heavy line-up, as laying some of the groundwork. "They took hip-hop acts and put them in every Denton venue," McDaniel says. "And that's the first step to putting it in people's minds that there's no reason this couldn't be a regular thing."

And although frequent hip-hop shows are becoming an entirely real possibility, there are still obstacles to scale. McDaniel says club owners rationalize their hesitancy to book hip-hop by claiming to fear managing an "unruly" crowd. He says though this logic is largely unfounded, it's still at the venue's discretion to not book certain shows. "It's a weak excuse, because there's just as much a chance people will get into fights at a rock show," he says.

Luckily, McDaniel says this exclusionary thinking is rapidly becoming history as venues show increasing support for the hip-hop community. In addition to Hailey's, Rockin' Rodeo of all places has been championing the cause, booking acts like Deltron 3030, Waka Flocka Flame and -- Lord help us -- our good pal Riff Raff.

"When a place like that books hip-hop, it shows that venues don't have to be trapped by one genre," he says. "If you can book hip-hop at Rockin Rodeo, it'd be hard to find an excuse why it can't be booked anywhere."

Although to be fair, one of those lingering excuses has further contributed to Denton's hip-hop stagnation: Show bookers often claim to have difficulty building line-ups with hip-hop acts. But McDaniel debunks that myth as well, citing his personal experience mixing hip-hop with punk or even metal bands. One of his favorite shows he's ever booked put the Wee-Beasties, a punk act, alongside rap duo Baconomics.

What resulted was a heterogeneous crowd that was united by the genre crossover rather than split. Though most people came to see one act or the other, there was no grand exodus by one group when their artist closed their set. Over time, events like that help genres and fans to branch out.

However, that galvanizing moment -- when McDaniel knew this was all entirely possible -- came during Thin Line Fest, just two months back. While Dan's Silverleaf was hosting the rock, Hailey's was going thermonuclear with a pyroclastic hip-hop line-up: Blue, the Misfit, Devin the Dude, Fab Deuce and AV the Great. The latter in particular made it clear to McDaniel that Denton was ready to embrace hip-hop.

"It was an absolutely packed house, and AV was playing to a crowd where 75 percent of them didn't know who he was," McDaniel recalls. "But by the end of the set, he'd worked the crowd and gotten everyone so into it that you wouldn't have even known."

Denton's reciprocity was all the affirmation McDaniel needed to proceed with his plans, and since then he's been hunting down the next hip-hop acts to get people filling Hailey's dance floor. The club just landed Paul Wall to play in May, which means you'll only be one degree away from being in the same room as Yeezy himself. Beyond that, though, McDaniel is reticent to play his hand too early -- he's got a few acts in the chamber, but the paperwork is still clearing. "We've got big things coming," he assures me. "This is hip-hop's time in Denton."


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