Musician and artist Isaac "IZK" Davies has been going to Deep Ellum since he was a teenager. He's seen the neighborhood change and evolve for more than two decades. Then, someone opened a Patagonia down there.
It wasn't the final straw for him, but it feels like a clear sign of a massive swing for the historic music community's priorities and landscape that's existed in some form for 150 years.
"I'm not one way or the other about it," Davies says from his art studio in Mexico City. "As an artist, when new businesses come to the neighborhood, it means I get work and meet someone new. I've always been open about including new establishments to the neighborhood and welcoming them. I don't have personal opinions of the businesses there, but when you zoom out, you get a perspective on what an artistic neighborhood looks like and how it affects the artists there."
Davies says he's been thinking about Deep Ellum a lot, not just because of the never-ending changes it undergoes with each new generation. He also realized there hasn't been a song written about the neighborhood in a long time. So, last year he wrote and recorded "If I Die in Deep Ellum" and released a video on YouTube and social media that's getting a lot of shares and eyeballs.
The song explores Deep Ellum's recent rise in violent crime, gentrification and the proliferation of noise complaints and policing that's started affecting some of its most popular music venues.
"It's like living in the French Quarter and calling in a noise complaint," Davies says. "Why move to an entertainment district and complain about the noise?"
The video for the song is covered in a vibrant, colorful pastel filter resembling the kind of chalk art you used to see in Deep Ellum before businesses moved in that care a little too much about the sidewalk outside their doors. The video is interspersed with images of some of the neighborhood's darker moments of violence, including footage of former bartender Austin Shuffield assaulting L’Daijohnique Lee in 2019 and the aftermath of shootings outside of Deep Ellum's remaining music venues.
"They said it's all good / in the neighborhood / but I just saw a power washer cleaning up the blood / I came to rock mics / not fear for my life."
It even includes some of the dumber moments, such as when talking head Steven Crowder threatened to call police on a street artist painting murals on disposable boards. The boards covered the windows of Deep Ellum businesses after the 2020 protests against police violence following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
"When I watch that [Steven Crowder video], man, it's just like it was a perfect example of someone coming to the neighborhood and just not knowing who or what our neighborhood is," Davies says. "When I was piecing together visuals for the video, I was just trying to remember all the things that stood out to me about the neighborhood and the media portrayal that's out there."
Issues of crime and gentrification might seem disparate, but Davies says it's all interconnected when a neighborhood's main identity is provided by the artists who flavor it.
"It's a domino effect," Davies says. "When you lose one thing you're used to having that's providing a positive attribute to the neighborhood, it affects another thing. It goes all the way down until people stop coming to the neighborhood and people come to the neighborhood who don't understand it."
The true final straw for Deep Ellum's survival as a hub for music and art will break when those very same artists don't have the space to perform or share their work or can't afford to live there.
"Here's the part / where you recognize the arts / are the centralized spark / to the part of the city that's uniquely set aside to provide for the greedy and grimy / not the pretty and the shiny."
The video for "If I Die in Deep Ellum" has been shared more than 140 times in just 48 hours and racked up 5,300 views. It's clearly hit a nerve.
"The video, as soon as I dropped it, people kept sharing it and I got a lot of responses," Davies says. "I'm really overwhelmed because I don't think I've ever released a video with that much of a response that quick. So far, it's been really good, and I have to do a radio edit for Deep Ellum Radio."
The song and video are also available for free, an ethos that Davies has carried with him for his entire musical career.
"The goal has always been to put music out for free and let people enjoy it," he says. "It's good that the momentum is there and that people are enjoying the writing and visuals attached to it."