Joel Salazar is well-known in Dallas hip-hop, from his early days MCing at the now-closed Royal Rack on Lower Greenville to his current role as co-producer of We From Dallas, the upcoming documentary about the history of Dallas hip-hop. And the founder of the newly formed Too Fresh Productions (he's formerly part of Poor Vida) still has more to offer to the local scene.
At 10 p.m. today at the Crown and Harp, Too Fresh Productions' first event, Fresh Beats, will bring battling back to Dallas. "For the longest times, I was doing shows where it was local MCs and acts, and I love it," Salazar told me. "But I'm looking to try and come up with live events that test the abilities and the craft of the producers, the DJs, the artists, the MCs, the b-boys. That's just bringing it back to the old battle mode. It's friendly competition, it's a good thing."
The new monthly producer beat battle and showcase, which is free for ages 21 and up, will be held on the last Thursday of every month. Eight producers will battle it out, hoping to advance through the bracket to victory. Each producer will get two songs, a minute each, to win over the crowd and the judges. The two judges will give points in three categories (originality, sound quality, creativity) on a scale of 1-10, and the producer with the highest point total from each judge gets the vote. The crowd's vote, judged old school style by noise level, counts for one-third of the overall vote.
"I've always felt that it was important to engage the audience and let them be a part of it," Salazar said. "Not only that, it encourages the participants that are competing to invite their people."
Guest judge Gensu Dean, who's produced for Large Professor, David Banner and Planet Asia, among many others, has lived in Dallas for about 10 years. The other guest judge is Oak Cliff's J. Rhodes, who's produced for The Game, Slim Thug, Talib Kweli, Ab-Soul and more. Rhodes is currently on Grammy-winning producer (and Waco native) S1's production team.
Slim Gravy of Dallas' own A.Dd+, whom Salazar has worked with over the years, will host the event. DJ Whiz T, long-time staple of Dallas hip-hop and the official DJ of the Dallas Mavericks and the Dallas Stars, is the house DJ.
Salazar handpicked all the artists, including the eight producers, who all live in the area. The winner will receive merchandise from the sponsoring brands and, of course, serious bragging rights.
LA-born and Dallas-raised Brain Gang Blue is an early favorite going into the event. He's already worked with artists such as Kendrick Lamar, Mac Miller, Brother Ali, ScHoolboy Q, as well as locals like Dorrough.
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The event will also feature an open mic for MCs to rap over local producers' beats. Not only will the event provide entertainment for the audience, it will offer local artists a chance to connect.
"One thing I hope, moving forward," Salazar explained, "is that the business is right, that the business becomes better, that some of these artists build more relationships outside of Dallas. I say it all the time that I don't understand why none of our artists here in the city have reached out to one of the largest cities in the United States, in Houston. I want to see more collaboration outside of Dallas and more relationships built outside of just here, even if it's just a blogger. Just start building those relationships where your voice has a larger audience than just what's here."
Salazar hopes the event will help the Dallas hip-hop scene unite together and grow. "What makes [Dallas hip-hop] special, it's almost like a double-edged sword. The diversity is awesome; it's great. But, at the same time, hip-hop kind of naturally divided ourselves because we all stood there, by ourselves, with our own sounds.
"Dallas does a good job of marriaging flavors from the South and the East and the West," Salazar said. "I think the biggest thing is that Dallas doesn't need to have its own sound. It can do whatever it wants and excel at it. History has shown that there's been different forms of music to come out of this city. Nemesis was totally bass music. The D.O.C. who is totally just more West Coast just rap-rap. Be it as it may, Vanilla Ice was dance music. And that's kind of where we are with the whole boogie movement. There's nothing wrong with any of that dance music, people love to dance. Dance music, rap music, it doesn't have to be one thing."