The rap cliché holds that hip-hop shows are nothing more than a rapper and his or her posse walking around the stage, mumbling over backing tracks. The Outfit, TX haven’t heard that rumor. At last summer’s Passion of the Weiss Fest in Los Angeles the band’s Dorian, Jayhawk, and Mel stormed The Echo’s small stage. They passed out Mahalia Jackson embroidered hand fans to the audience, and led the crowd through songs that depict the nocturnal, haunted, world of the South.
Their music resides at the crossroads where Flannery O’Connor and UGK reminisce about violence, religion, race, and the best car to cruise down the I-30 in. For a band that’s often accused of being a 90s Southern rap nostalgia project, The Outfit, TX commanded the stage with a menace more attuned to The Cramps than Outkast. Just look at their press photo. Do you think Pimp C would dress up in a black KKK robe and mount up on a horse with a Confederate flag in tow? Probably not.
The Outfit, TX live in these juxtapositions of images and sounds. Their new album, Down by the Trinity delves deeper into their self described “cooly fooly space age funk” sound. The bass lines are deeper, the kick drums submerged, and the choruses stab with spookiness and a haunting ghost of the South. I spoke with the group over the phone to talk about the Confederate flag, gospel music, and Dallas’ seat at the grand table of hip hop. —Sam Ribakoff
Y’all are pretty hard to get a hold of. Have you been touring a lot lately?
Mel:We have ever since last year around October when we went on tour with Run the Jewels. We kind of haven’t stopped touring since. We got home for the holidays, then you look up and it’s South by Southwest time. Then we went to California, then we went on tour with the Fish out of Water boys in like June, or early summer. Went to L.A. again for the Passion of the Weiss joint, Chicago… Goddamn, we’ve been on the road quite a bit bro.
Yeah, the first time I heard y’all was at the Passion of the Weiss Fest last summer. You guys stormed the stage and really blew everybody else out of the water. Are performances important to y’all?
Mel:Absolutely. Shows are the bread and butter at this point, especially in hip hop. Beyond that, as a band that’s where we get to really let loose. You know we independent, and shows are where we really get to experience a kind of reciprocity. It’s not putting out a [recording] project and seeing what people tweet about it, or whatever the case may be, it’s right then and there. There’s no room for smoke and mirrors. If you trash, you going to know you’re trash. Believe me. The goal is to not be trash.
Based on the show I saw, I’m assuming that crowds at the Run the Jewels tour didn’t think you were trash.
Dorian:Nah, those crowds treated us very favorably. They gave us the energy we put out. We’re all usually like family by the end of the show. That’s what Mel always tells the crowd. It’s always good to see who your audience actually is.
Mel:You think about Sade, and you think about a certain way to take her music in. If it’s raining outside, and it’s almost dark, but not quite dark, and for some reason my lamp won’t turn on, then I’m going to play some Sade. If I’m at a cookout in Houston, Texas on a Sunday and it’s 6:30 in July, I hope somebody’s going to play The Outfit, TX.
One thing that took me back at the Passion of the Weiss Fest, other than performance, was Mel’s Confederate flag handkerchief that he was wearing. Can you explain that?
Mel:Yeah that was me, the Confederate battle flag bandana that I had on doesn’t mean shit to me. As it stands, you know, a lot of people get misconstrued thinking that it was flown during slavery, but that particular flag, the Confederate stars and bars was adopted by the Dixiecrats in the 1950s, and it came to represent those people that didn’t want to integrate in the South. That flag blatantly represents hatred, it doesn’t represent anything else. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. They like to say it represented pride or any other of this bullshit. But anyways, the one that I have has flames airbrushed across the bottom. We also have a regular sized Confederate flag in flames in our studio. That’s the flag that we rep, the Confederate battle flag in flames. It represents a couple of things, most importantly, the burning down of said hatred. The burning down of those kinds of conventions, those kind of contagions. Those kinds of ills that we pass down from generation to generation, especially down here. That’s our way of saying we’re shifting these paradigms including hatred and racism, and all this type of bullshit. We gotta move forward man. Us living in Dallas Texas gives us a very juxtaposed kind of experience because on one end I see it progressing a bit, look at the North side of the city above I-30, downtown, and north of that, there’s a lot of great development happening, a lot of great shit.
Dorian:Juxtaposition is a perfect word for it. There’s a large group of people in the world interested in progress and moving forward, and leave those past biases behind, but there’s still this old guard that wants to hold on to that control that they had, 20, 30, 40, 50 years ago. They have these ideas that are definitely outdated, and they still try to instigate fear with these symbols that are outdated. Like Mel said, we definitely recognize the history of the Confederate battle flag, but any symbols we use or appropriate are our own. In this new millennium it’s time to move forward and shed the negativity behind it all and just actually grow as people.
I guess in the same vein y’all have a song called “Mars,” which is about wanting to live on Mars because of all of your problems here on Earth. Are y’all fans of sci-fi and afro-futurism?
Dorian:Definitely. That song was my son by the way. But more so that song was about being different. It’s about deciding to be a musician and not go get that regular job like everybody else, or to think different, or to write sci-fi, or to be a bit of an afro-futurist. Those things are alien. So that song was just kind of like where could I go, or where could we go where there’s a lot more people like us? But we definitely feel like we are the sons of Earth Wind and Fire and Parliament-Funkadelic, and all those funk bands who that was an integral part of their whole thing. So in short, hell yeah we’re afro-futurists. I’m trying to find out when Wesley Snipes is going to be at his next compound, you know his little pyramid, so I can learn some karate, because I’ve been trying to kick some ass for a goddamn week. But now I’d say we’re transitioning from our Parliament to our Funkadelic phase. A lot of our shit currently is a little bit more rock and roll as opposed to straight up and down synthesised funk. I mean Soundgarden, shit, we grew up on that too.
Mel:Yeah, we listen to a lot of different shit. My grandma is getting older, and you know what comes with that, her senses are starting to fail her a little bit, so I went over to her place to help her out a little bit. And in living with her and being able to kick it with her she plays a lot of old Southern gospel staples like, “there’s a hole in the ceiling and my soul’s got to go” These are terrible lo-fi recordings, but no lie, some of that shit will give you goose bumps. Our music is always going to be a lot of different shit like that. What were you bumping Hawk?
Jayhawk:I was listening to a lot of Outkast and Jay-Z, just from a lyrical standpoint cause I was trying to open my mind up to different ways to approach the topics that I wanted to touch on. Like deeper than normal, but still relatable to the masses.
Can you explain to people the difference between the culture in Dallas and the culture in Houston? A lot of music fans know something about Houston’s heritage, but not Dallas.
Mel:Houston is like L.A., and Dallas is like the Bay Area. It’s like the same kind of twist of flavor. Like what I wrote for that Noisey article about the scene in Dallas, it’s just this ratchet festival of Badus Bootsys and Bilals. It’s a hood ass city, it’s gutter than a bitch, but at the same time it’s cultured and eccentric as fuck too. Even from the hood. Back in the day we weren’t scared to rock Coogi, even before everybody got back on it. We like crazy ass patterns and haircuts, shag, ducktails, hightops.
I wrote that article on the Dallas music scene after talking with Kyle Kramer at Noisey. He was interested in what’s going on in Dallas. I was just going to send him a bunch of Youtube links, but I thought that looked bad, so I wrote that article. I just still wonder how Dallas is so slept on, how do we have such a storied history, all this pride, all this creativity, and not have a seat at the roundtable of hip hop? How does Baton Rouge have a seat at the table and we don’t? More motherfuckers known about Boosie than they do Dallas? How does that work? It’s about time we pull up a chair. So we about to pull up three big ones.
In the same vein, do you think The Outfit gets misconstrued as a 90s nostalgia project?
Mel:We are so tired. What I think a lot of people get that idea from was that was our original concept with Starships and Rockets, and then everybody pigeon holed us as that. But Cognac/Four Corner Room was definitely a departure from that. That was a little ambient, a little more experimental, a little more different by Southern music standards. And Down by The Trinity is even more of a departure from that. We used to call our music cooly fooly space age funk, and with Down by The Trinity we’re going to show you how wide cooly fooly space age funk really can be.
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