Terrence Morris is glowing after an evening workout. He’s a far cry from the boyish, happy-go-lucky rapper who appeared in the music video for “Blu Summer,” a single from his 2014 breakthrough mixtape NuDallas.
That year, the hip-hop radio station Live From the Underground declared Morris, who raps under the name Terrence Spectacle, the best new artist. The title helped him secure spots opening for The Internet and Kyle.
Morris is now back with a new EP. One Summer Night will be release on Friday, with a celebration the same evening at Cinderblock Studios. The EP is less sunny than Morris' previous work. And at the party, he will be eager to demonstrate how he's grown as an artist over the last few years.
“I feel like on One Summer Night that I was telling a story through different genres,” Morris says. “Like, it kind of starts off hip-hop, and then it’s like this cross-hop, then R&B, then bluesy, then dark." He describes the effort as Blink-182 meets Kanye West's Graduation, which should give you an idea of how wide Morris' spectrum of influence is.
"I feel freedom that is unlike I’ve ever felt before," he says. "No one’s telling me what to make. I have the freedom to make what I want. It’s just really up to the consumers to decide if they like it.”
Live From the Underground host Joshua Wilson describes him as so sincere that it he can be disarming. "You may not be able to connect with Terrence on any level, but respect his honesty and positive energy," Wilson says. "Look at Kanye. He was at Roc-A-Fella [Records] with a pink polo rapping about school spirit but it was sincere and he was living his truth. A real person will always connect with that."
Morris followed up his 2014 debut with Night Owl, a soulful trap record produced by Larce Blake and Medasin. Building on that sound proved difficult. To save money, Morris' label, Independent Recording Arts Society [IRA], wanted him to work only with in-house producers from there on out, but his sessions with them were fruitless.
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In 2015, Morris brought on Tony Ferguson as his PR representative. Ferguson, who'd previously represented Nas, insisted that Independent back him as one of their breakout artists. The label didn't take kindly to that demand, and responded by cutting Morris' budget.
[Ed. note: Matthew Winn, CEO of IRA, disputes Morris' characterization of their relationship. He says IRA didn't have a budget for Morris, as the company was still a nonprofit at the time it began working with him. "I felt we didn't have enough established to enlist a publicist," he says. Winn describes Morris as having been "disinterested" during recording sessions. "My priorities and attention had to shift." He adds that disillusion over his fallout with Morris caused him to briefly leave IRA.]
Morris ended up paying for Ferguson's services on Night Owl, a cost of roughly $2,000 to $3,000, out of pocket. He says in the end the investment didn't really pay off. “I ended up getting more buzz on SoundCloud than through any blog placements, which was trash," he says.
During this period after Night Owl, Morris also cycled through managers. Eventually he ran into producer Ishmael Davison, aka Ish D, who had recently signed with the label DefDisco. Davison had heard NuDallas and thought Morris had potential.
"I knew where he needed to go," Davison says. Morris' debut had a jubilant sound, and Davison thought he would be better served by heading in a more mature direction. One day Davison overheard Morris singing a chorus, and he encouraged him to flesh it out into a song. This collaboration produced "Lone Dirt Road."
"Ishmael was my saving grace. That was the first time I brought something organically to the table, and it just blew my mind," Morris says, making the sound of a bomb exploding for emphasis.
Once this creative well was open, songs began to pour out, and Morris was insistent about how he wanted them executed. "Blinded," a torch ballad, was originally written in 3/4 time, a choice Ish disagreed with. Together they rewrote the song six times before Morris was satisfied. Production ultimately took longer than recording,
The band Blue Heron serves as Morris' writing partners. At 6:30 p.m. each day, when Morris got off work in Valley Ranch, where he also lives with his mother, he would pick the band up from their house near NorthPark Center and the whole crew would trek to Fort Worth to work on songs until around midnight. They kept this routine up for two to three months.
Once One Summer Night was completed, Morris' manager invited him to New York City to network. “I’m like, ‘Cool, like, I can stay here and make connections, do some gigs, and I got this music I can work with,’” he says.
But his manager ended up ditching him once he arrived in town. Shortly after Morris got back to Dallas he discovered the same manager had filed a letter of separation without explanation, leaving him out $10,000.
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But despite this setback, Morris remains positive.
“I never hit the whole ‘woe is me,’" he says. "It felt like it was a part of the process. Even now, I feel like there’s a monkey off of my back, and there’s a weight on my shoulders, but something’s holding it and carrying all the pressure, and there’s a voice in my head telling me, 'Keep going.' I don’t know, everything seems to fall into place when I move forward.”
Right now moving forward means throwing a kickass release party on Friday.
One Summer Night Release Party, 7 p.m. Friday, March 31, Cinderblock, 4622 E. Grand Ave., $10-$20, see Facebook.