Max Bell lives near the ocean of funk.
The bird is flipped to any fatuous rambling claiming that we’re living in a post-regional rap ecosphere. We aren’t. We never will. Genre similarities are inherent and immutable, but there will always be at least a handful of rappers in every city who offer something singular, a sound, delivery, and/or perspective that couldn’t have been bred elsewhere. You just have to look in the right place. Mel, Dorian, and JayHawk aka The Outfit, TX couldn’t wait to be found.
The best rap group in Dallas, The Outfit, TX rode in with rocket boosters soldered to the slab. After two promising mixtapes (We Are the Outfit and The Ballad of Percy Shalamar), they released Starships & Rockets: Cooly Fooly Space Age Funk. One of the best rap records of 2012, it was an interplanetary odyssey that reverently re-imagined Texas rap, thirteen songs that found the coordinates for the planet where E.T. and E.S.G. coexist.
National acclaim should’ve followed the trio’s debut LP, but there were only a spate of blog posts and Shea Serrano. Since then, they’ve gradually expanded their profile (see their appearance on NPR) and released more music (see Cognac/Four Corner Room) while strengthening their roots. For evidence of the latter, see Mel’s very necessary treatise on the history of Dallas rap and its inevitable resurgence (here). Respected and recognized from Oak Cliff to Deep Ellum, The Outfit, TX chose the latter for the name of their new eight-track EP, Deep Ellum.
Furthering Mel and The Outfit’s indefatigable mission to spotlight their city, the EP features a coterie of their compatriots (e.g. Crit Morris, Que P, Devy Stonez) you’ll find at burgeoning Dallas rap shows like We Are Dallas and 16Bars.XXX. The production remains bent on inhabiting two spheres, the bass and skittering percussion firmly grounded on Texas turf, the keys culled from unreleased NASA transmissions. The list of tropes isn’t exhaustive, but all is explored with equal gravity and levity (or zero gravity), the voices as diverse as the deliveries.
Standouts include but certainly aren’t limited to “On Em” and “All Bills Paid”. The former finds Mel leading the race with sonorous mack missives; Lil Ralo follows, on three drugs and refusing to think twice, rapping plainspoken rhymes that paint him as your favorite Western antihero. On the latter Devy Stonez spits drug-addled barbs between smooth verses from The Outfit over an ethereal suite somehow primed for blistering summer heat.
Still, the best cut remains “Whatcha Mean”. Describing the beat only detracts from its efficacy. Cooly fooly space age funk fits, but not quite. There are also levels of atmospheric menace and beauty, sounds that feel borrowed from Carpenter’s latest rather than the Halloween keys people have been stabbing to death like a promiscuous camp counselor for decades. Lyrically, The Outfit and co (Crit Morris and K. Vation) reject all unsolicited and flawed advice. They’ve made it to the moon without leaving the ground, your marketing strategy is nothing but static.
While far from comprehensive, Deep Ellum serves as a solid foundation for your Dallas education. The city won’t be the Texas analogue to California’s Bay Area for long. The think pieces probably will be. When the time comes, The Outfit, TX will be ready with more music and Wild Turkey by the case.