The lines "M-A-R-S. Mars, bitches," declare what The Outfit, TX, are shooting for with their current project. It'd be easy to chalk up the reference to the group's characteristic "cooly fooly space age funk" aesthetic, or even just the song's title. But it goes a bit deeper than that, because, to paraphrase Dave Chappelle, they ain't stopping at the moon.
The Dallas hip-hop trio's current project-in-progress is a five-part series called The Texan Chronicles, which isn't just an homage to the state, but a play off Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles. Last November, they put out a double-disc album of the first two parts of the series, "Cognac" and "Four Corner Room."
The Outfit, TX features the talents of Dorian Terrell, Jayhawk Walker and Mel Kyle. Since 2006, they've been building beats based around synthesizers and 808s while mixing in sharp, clever lyrics. Tonight, they will be performing at Trees for the Red Bull Sound Select series alongside Isaiah Rashad and a bill brimming with local hip-hop talent, including Blue, the Misfit and Buffalo Black.
The influence of Bradbury's science fiction book manifests itself in several ways. Primarily, the concept of the five-part series itself is influenced by the style of The Martian Chronicles, which is a collection of short stories that Kyle says was required reading in middle school. "They were smoking some chronicles in south Dallas," he quips.
Mirroring the book's format, each song and each album functions as an individual piece that together form a mosaic perspective of an alienated planet. For the Outfit, their "Mars" is where they've been living since they dove deep into the music industry, and their chronicles are snapshots of the time period they're trying to navigate.
"Cognac" and "Four Corner Room" are both solo projects by Kyle and Terrell, respectively. Mel's side is a biography of the life of a "player," where he digs beneath the surface to dredge up the influences that create a personality.
"We never really get the nuances and the exposition and the sincerity that creates some of that [player] mentality," Kyle explains. "It all contributes to that behavior."
For Dorian, "Four Corner Room" was about finding his footing as an individual artist and then channeling his own stories into each track. Throughout the LP, Terrell weaves the real with the surreal, using a dream-like state as a means to blur the two lines.
Although they're technically "solo" albums, the two LPs play off each other in motifs, callbacks and even track titles where the two were on the same page as they were recording their individual albums.
The Texas Chronicles grew naturally out of the group's predilection for telling stories. As they collected what they were writing about, they realized that it all revolved around their lives in Texas, across different cities and with different people. It's not just about the state itself, though; it's about the people they've worked with and the music scene they've broken into.
"Just like with the renaissance or any revival, it's about working together," Kyle says. "Any great period in history wasn't built without collaboration."
Though they formed in Houston, the Outfit came back home to Dallas with fresh eyes and could feel that the scene was vibrant and alive, even if people who had lived there forever couldn't quite see it anymore. "We think Dallas is one of those quintessential hip-hop-ass cities," Kyle says. "We're at the cusp of something big, something great. And I think we all can taste it."
Walker said the scene's eclectic offerings allow musicians to stretch the limits of their sound and try to bring something new to the city. "Nobody's afraid to do the music they love to do," he says. "There's something for everybody when it comes to Dallas hip-hop."
On stage, the trio hones in on each other's energy to avoid getting trapped in their own heads and instead be in the moment of the show. "We also try and make sure the music is there," Kyle says. "Sometimes you see so much circus shit going on at a show, but at the end of the day, people go to live shows to hear music."
With three albums to go in their series, Mel says the group is about waist-deep in their next release. As they move forward, the Outfit avoids setting anything in stone, such as whether or not the upcoming albums will be LPs or EPs, or planning who will be featured on them. As it stands, Kyle, Terrell and Walker think it's best to just see what strikes them next.
"After these albums, who knows, man?" Kyle says. "We're just going to ride out this wave. That's the best part about how we like to approach this."
THE OUTFIT, TX play Red Bull Sound Select with Isaiah Rashad, Blue, the Misift and Buffalo Black at 7 p.m. tonight, Thursday, September 11, at Trees, 2709 Elm St., treesdallas.com, $3
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