Secret Society

Quick question: Who is the rapper pictured above (twice)? If you don't know, that's no surprise. Dallas' hip-hop scene has become a kind of tragically secret society, a group of talented artists too often performing for each other and the same select fans, popping up in odd venues around town with hardly a blip on the radar. But why? While Houston rap has every A&R suit armed with a hefty contract and a bottle of cough syrup, Dallas rap has gone curiously unnoticed. The reason is multi-tiered, more befitting a feature story than this column: Hip-hop and rap radio, while dominating the ratings, rarely (if ever) feature local artists; promotion often isn't strong enough, or organized enough, to get media coverage or bodies in the clubs; there is no designated hip-hop venue; with their pirated samples, mix tapes necessarily have to stay under the radar; we could keep going. But don't think Dallas hip-hop/rap isn't well-known because it isn't good. It is good. If you didn't know that, now you do.

By the way, the rapper pictured above is Tahiti, whose Birth of Whack is an entirely unique combination of positive old-school rhymes and neo-soul with nary a trace of misogyny or street tough: "I'd rather be whack than carry a MAC-10/And be rappin' about murdering black men/I'd rather be whack than turn my back/On my black people while we under attack." Tahiti is the anti-bling rapper, whose press photo is a woman throwing a martini in his face and whose "Loser" details his misadventures with the opposite sex: "If looks could kill, I would have murdered back in the '80s." It's a breath of fresh air in a genre whose biggest stars feel the need to remind us, repeatedly, that their art somehow demands bullet wounds, Cristal and generous ass-slapping.

Tahiti is only one of the many Dallas rappers who will be performing at the Gypsy Ballroom on Friday, May 27, as part of the second annual 2005 Conspiracy Radio Music Awards, presented in collaboration with Final Friday, the monthly local hip-hop show at the Gypsy. Conspiracy Radio is a hip-hop/rap Internet station,, whose awards are a combination of readers' choices and panel-selected winners. Since voting started, more than 1,200 ballots have been cast for such categories as Best Emcee (Steve Austin, Bavu Blakes, Al Lyric, Knesecary, Headkrack) and Best Album (The Coffee Nod's The Hardcore Casual, Tahiti's The Birth of Whack, Knesecary's Grey Goose, Al Lyric's Above Ground, Massive's Massive Lyfe).

"The primary reason for these awards is to showcase the brightest hip-hop/rap talent in the area," says Jason DiLeo (aka JJ Chianese), owner of Conspiracy Entertainment, which includes a record label in addition to their Internet station. Other performers at this year's show include Bavu Blakes, Money Waters, Steve Austin, Hydroponic Sound System and Massive. This is a chance to see not only the best in local hip-hop but a wide range in the genre: Bavu Blakes is the sharp-witted veteran unafraid to talk race and politics; Steve Austin is the heavy hitter with such crowd-pleasing straight-shooters as "Pussy Is a Wonderful Thing" (currently the No. 1 requested song on Con Radio); Massive is the Twista-tongued rapper whose "What You Goin' Do Wit It" deserves national airplay; Hydroponic Sound System is the all-star collective that marries the city's best emcees to tracks of funk, jazz and soul.

Even if you miss the May 27 show, Final Fridays are trying to return to their once-a-month gigs at Gypsy. "The hip-hop community is a bit of a bubble," says Brian "Viz" Walker, who promotes the shows. "And as much as I try, there are people who don't know there are talented acts here."

Well, what are you waiting for? Prove him wrong.

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Sarah Hepola