This past Friday, Dallas rap fans got to experience a moment in pop culture together. In crowds upwards of 300, they took to the streets to watch Kanye West's latest experiment in new media marketing: guerilla public screenings of the video for his single "New Slaves."
Deb Doing Dallas & Vanessa Quilantan
The Dallas outing came almost a month after the initial worldwide screenings, when West performed on the season finale of Saturday Night Live. It also lacked a second video that debuted in various markets this weekend- a strange homage to the screen adaptation of Brett Easton Ellis' American Psycho starring Keeping Up With The Kardashians regulars, Scott Disick & Jonathan Cheban. None of that seemed to tarnish the moment, however. Dallas' "New Slaves" debut would prove to be a memorable experience for the fact that it took place on the day West's sixth studio album, Yeezus, leaked onto the internet- and would carry over into the next day, as Kim Kardashian gave birth to the rapper's first child.
The white multi-passenger van turned mobile projection room commissioned by Def Jam to spread the word of Yeezus would make it to four out of the five scheduled screenings of the night. DC9 At Night's Deb Doing Dallas & Vanessa Quilantan were there every step of the way.
While there was some anticipation that Friday's album leak might lead to new screening material, let's be clear, we were all signing up to watch a commercial. And we knew it. Criticism of the projections themselves may vary but in the world of advertisements they stand out as stark and somewhat alienating with just the date reminder and West's face intensely mouthing the lyrics to "New Slaves" in repetition. (DDD)
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The first screening of the night would prove to be the most romantic. The fountain at Ferris Park Plaza glowed just after dusk as a flock of teens began to grow larger by the minute. The anticipation was as palpable as the young crowd's raging hormones- the girls in their best sundresses, the boys popping their skateboards on the curb as they approached. The van pulled up, and was immediately swarmed by the turnout as it's side doors opened, revealing a projector. As the playback began to run, the crowd rushed into the street towards West's face. At least 300 teenagers would stand awestruck and oblivious to a honking DART bus and the rest of Houston Street's oncoming traffic stalled in front of them. As the crowd dissipated, helicopters circled the area. (VQ)
Approaching the Majestic I saw a young girl sitting on the curb on Elm Street. Vicki, 7 years old, there with her mother and an auntie. With about 15 minutes until the next scheduled projection, I sat down to join her.
"So have you heard a lot of Kanye West?" I asked her. She blinked up at me from her phone, "What's a Kanye West?" After a quick image search she assured me she knew who he was but admitted she mostly listened to Radio Disney. I explained to her what we were there to see, and what we had just seen at Union Station. While we were talking, she was scanning through Kanye West Google search results, and pulled up the Beverly Hills projections on Rodeo Drive's Chanel exterior. "Oh," she says watching, "I thought it was going to be a movie. And maybe fireworks." (DDD)
The crowd at the Majestic would wait almost 40 minutes in vain. Isaiah & Tremaine, driver and projectionist (respectively) had been given no instructions by Def Jam as to how to communicate with Dallas Police, but described the goings-on to law enforcement as "a video performance art piece". They had spent three days of the previous week in a Dallas hotel room, advised to wait on a call from the label with further instructions. When it never came, they returned home to Houston, only to be beckoned right back for the leak day screenings. After three DPD squad cars and a paddy wagon reared their heads, Isaiah & Tremaine were issued a written warning. Though officers on the scene were pretty reasonable, they advised that their Sargeant was en route, and he planned to make arrests if another downtown screening was attempted. (VQ)
Now I find myself convincing Isaiah that the Double Wide is not in downtown. An undoubtedly suburban teenager insisted that it was, but thanks to Kim Finch and the remarkable Double Wide staff it wouldn't ultimately matter.
A quick call to Ms. Finch to apprise her of the previous paddy wagon run-in and the hesitancies moving forward was all it took for her to await their arrival at the front door and work to find a quick solution. Within minutes Kim and her staff made room on the temporary patio for the white van to roll in to screen the whole thing within her property line and onto that sainted silver airstream. Teens unable to get in swarmed the patio exterior, attendees inside made a projector sized lane for the image, and some kids were caught trying to jump the back fence.
Kim zipped and unzipped the fence, moved a table and stood guard on the rear of the van, likely watching for both minors and Fire Marshals. There was something really lovely about the Double Wide's hospitality interacting with the chaos of the whole affair. West and Def Jam sent their representatives into the night with just their wits. Only in the South can your guerilla marketing campaign go from illegal to legal with a round of cold ones. (DDD)
First & Ash
After it was decided that the Union Bank building across the street from Prophet Bar was too close to downtown for comfort, a call was put in to Def Jam to cancel its scheduled screening. We arrived there to act as town criers, advising a crowd of at least 150 toward the Fair Park location, which would be the last of the night. We knew this would be a tricky one. As Isaiah & Tremaine followed us, each threshold into Fair Park was gated shut. As we came up on the main entrance, there were a line of security guard vehicles waiting for us, lights flashing. I knew of a parking lot a few blocks up behind Amsterdam Bar, and it was our last shot at another screening. As we u-turned back up Robert B. Cullum Blvd, we noticed our tail for the first time. A caravan of cars reaching all the way back to Exposition Ave shifted into the turning lane. There was a collective gulp as we hoped for the best, realizing we were now haphazardly leading a mob of people through the city. (VQ)
The final projection was undoubtedly the best in quality, an attentive crowd meant you could stop to consider what this effort meant for Dallas, or hip hop fans or future marketing executives. It was all a rather Brecht-ian house of mirrors as the gathered crowd at First and Ash rapped along clearly, "I know that we the new slaves." Who was really in control of Friday's entire exchange was a complicated exercise to consider. I was an eager participant but the irony of following around this symbolic Yeezus van all night like some kind of disciple is not lost on me. And while the projections were what we there to supposedly see, the ephemera surrounding each individual experience stands out now as the more important takeaway. I am uncertain if we got totally punked by West or if it was a truly unique moment of pop cultural participation, but the evening was distinctive in an era when so much is not.
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At the end of the night Isaiah and Tremaine admitted to us they had been too busy to properly listen to West's leaked album, we knew there was only one way to end the night. The after-party ended at roughly 4 a.m., which was just enough time to get through the album twice and escape the coming storm. (DDD)
Join Deb & Vanessa tomorrow night at Sundown at Granada at 10 PM for The Overserved's Yeezus listening party.