It happened at last: Dallas hip-hop finally started realizing its potential. Kinda went down exactly how we expected it to, too, right in the shadow of Super Bowl XLV coming to Arlington earlier this month.
No worries if you missed it—it happened quickly, and in the shadow of about a bazillion other distractions—but it happened.
While the rest of us were bogged down by weather and blinded by the stars (and minor celebrities from The CW), Dallas' hip-hop moguls were making moves behind the scenes, once again talking about what might be their futures. This time, they finally had an audience of attentive listeners.
The first chip fell about a week after the Super Bowl. That's when the news broke that Big Chief, long a favorite in the local underground scene and hailed as the Next Big Thing out of Dallas since forever, had earned himself a record deal with Cash Money Records out of New Orleans. (Yes, that Cash Money—the most bankable label in the genre, thanks to the successes of Lil Wayne and Drake.) It happened rather informally: During a stop by the KKDA-FM 104.5 K104 studios during Super Bowl week for an interview, Cash Money chief executive Bryan "Baby" Williams asked influential drive-time DJ Bay Bay (the same guy about whom Hurricane Chris penned his hit "A Bay Bay" and also the guy who "found" Dorrough) who was the best unsigned rapper in Dallas. Bay Bay's response? Exactly the same as every other local figure's when asked that question over the last few years: Chief, whose Eat Greedy mixtapes (he's currently working on Volume 12 in the series) highlighting the soft-spitting Chief's alluring flow and hard image have been a fixture in the local mixtape scene since the turn of the millennium.
A week later, Chief was signed to Cash Money.
That's more important than you might think. It shows that another major hip-hop city is starting to see promise out of what's happening in the so-called "Triple D," which, referencing the city's official logo, is what the rap community has started to call the city. New Orleans joins Atlanta, which via Collipark Records has had a stake in Dallas through its support of Treal Lee & Prince Rick, and New York, whose E1 Music has its hands on Dorrough.
Big Chief's signing was just the beginning of a banner February for Dallas hip-hop. The city scored another coup earlier this week, when the hip-hop-centric XXL Magazine announced its list of rappers to watch in 2011. The piece featured another Dallas rapper as a potential breakout star. Take it with a grain of salt—Oak Cliff's mohawked 18-year-old Lil Twist, a member of Lil Wayne's Young Money collective, isn't going to wow anyone with his heavily Auto-Tuned rap-singing—but take it nonetheless. Hey, if the biggest hip-hop magazine in the nation seems to think he's got something beyond his friendship with Wayne, his 555,000-plus Twitter followers and, perhaps most important, his friendship with Justin Bieber (with whom he's reportedly working on a collaborative mixtape), then so be it.
If nothing else, it's proof that people are now watching Dallas even more closely than they were two years ago when the so-called (and now largely defunct) D-Town Boogie movement, with its instructional dance songs and flash-in-the-pan stars the GS Boyz and B-Hamp, came to rise. This otherwise insignificant stat about the talent roster at this year's South By Southwest in Austin hammers the point home: Texas' unquestioned hip-hop mecca, Houston, is scheduled to send two rappers to perform at the March festival; North Texas has spawned five confirmed acts.
The transition's probably still a few years from fully taking place, but Dallas is starting to give Houston a run for its money in Texas rap supremacy. Even if neither Big Chief nor Lil Twist pan out, Dallas still boasts the most bankable rap star in the state at the moment in Dorrough. There's no doubting his star power; since his hit "Ice Cream Paint Job" single went platinum, Dorrough has been able to score remix collaborations with the likes of Diddy and Mr. Super Bowl Song himself, Wiz Khalifa, both of whom joined Dorrough on the late 2010 remix for his song "Get Big." Hell, Dorrough's even on the Drug Enforcement Agency's radar: On the morning of February 8, agents stormed Dorrough's home on suspicions of drug trafficking; no charges were filed and no arrests made, but the DEA says its investigation continues.
Can you say street cred?
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No? Then consider the fact that two-time Grammy-winning super-producers Play-N-Skillz just released the best single of their careers. "Things We Do," which prominently features Snoop Dogg, isn't the hardest track we've ever heard—sampling Madonna's "Holiday" tends to have that effect—but the song has every bit the pop appeal of Katy Perry's super-hit "California Gurls," on which Snoop also guested. And it finds the duo finally gaining their own footing as performers and not just as hit-makers for Lil Wayne, Chamillionaire and others. Not that their position on the production front is in danger. Play-N-Skillz's G4 Muzik record label, founded in 2009, looks like it's about to pay dividends. Affiliated acts Inertia and Trai'D, among the two most talented vocalists in town, each just released new mixtapes with songs that seemed primed for success. Trai'D's "Popular," with its guest verse from buzzing Young Money rapper Tyga, is as tender a hip-hop song as the Dallas market has ever released, with its anti-peer pressure warnings. And Intertia's "Do It Girl," which features guests spots from Trai'D and Dorrough, is a bona fide bassy club-banger.
Meanwhile, other acts are positioning themselves for big scores. Big Hud, a hefty rapper obsessed with fashion and quirk, is set to release his sophomore mixtape in March (one that, once again, will feature collaborations with the likes of 2009 XXL Freshman Curren$y). High-energy duo A.Dd+ next month will release their Badu World-backed full-length When Pigs Fly. (Picnic, who produced the entire album and shot the music video for lead single "Likeamug," and Symbolyc One, who produced the Kanye West hit "Power" and cameos in the A.Dd+ music video, are both members of Erykah Badu's Cannabinoids DJ collective.) Sore Losers, the biggest local success story on the hip-hop blogosphere front, should release their debut full-length, Get a Life, in the near future too. And, one level below that crop, another batch of acts—highlighted by the likes of newcomers Killa MC and The Mohicans—is just getting warmed up.
Local radio's long been on board—while indie rockers shout with glee that KKXT-FM 91.7 KXT is playing a handful of locals daily, urban radio stations K104 and KBFB-FM 97.9 The Beat have been combining to play more local music than the rest of the FM dial combined for the better part of five years now.
Seems like everyone else finally got the memo.