Breaking Out Of A Little World: An Interview With The Outfit TX

Andy MacKay sits down with the members of The Outfit TX to talk about the duo's new record.
By    August 30, 2018

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The whole block is complaining about Andy MacKay.

Dallas rap history may not be as well known as the other classic Southern hotbeds like Houston, Atlanta, or Memphis, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t immensely significant in its own right. There’s The D.O.C., who spent his formative years in the Fila Fresh Crew and eventually gained notoriety for his penmanship on tracks for N.W.A and his own classic debut, No One Can Do It Better. The Dirty South Rydaz (once signed to Universal) have released a number of projects spanning over 25 years and remain legends in the city. In the late aughts and early 10s, Dorrough had some charting songs and a series of mixtapes with DJ Drama. We all know who really invented the Dougie. And if you’ve never been in the Triple D and heard “Oak Cliff That’s My Hood,” you have not properly lived.

Nonetheless, a full-fledged and long-wasting wave has yet to push the city to national rap world recognition. But right now is as close as it’s ever come. There’s Tay-K, sure, but there’s also J Cole shouting out Oak Cliff and Lil Uzi dancing to Splurge’s song with local dancer and Oak Cliff’s own, 10k. There’s Yachty tweeting about Sensei Molly and Cuban Doll and Yella Beezy and T.Y.E.

There is also The Outfit TX: true outlaws. Straight from the DDD, Mel and Jayhawk have taken slices of inspiration from Suave House and Houston and Atlanta, but have first and foremost absorbed their own surroundings and slang into a singularly explosive Molotov cocktail.

Outlaw Mel spits his raps like a powerful running back, nimble but a Bettis-like bulldozer. His delivery meshes with Outlaw Jayhawk, who operates like a NFL linebacker waiting to decapitate a receiver blindly coming over the middle of the field. The drums snap and pound. The bass lines are blistering.

From 2012’s Starships & Rockets to last September’s Fuel City, Mel and Jayhawk have expanded the palette and expectations for Texas rap. They’re album artists, who design their own merch and album covers, make their own beats (quite often) and have done everything themselves. They’ve worked hard to tell the story of Dallas and continue to be one of the city’s most creatively vital groups.

Enter Little World. Released on POW Recordings (full disclosure), this thirteen track offering from The Outfit, TX finds the group at their most relentless and powerful. The beats are ready to shatter your speakers like a 40oz hitting the pavement. The words are unsettling, but for a purpose. Named after a local convenience store located on South Malcolm X Boulevard, the store is in one of the most dangerous parts of Dallas. As only Mel and Hawk can, they sonically transport you to their world of cautionary tales, doing so with convincing authority. Little World deserves to be cranked up to volumes that’ll wake up the whole block. If anyone complains, tell them to take it up with Hurricane Outfit.

Since Fuel City dropped almost a year ago, you’ve released the 4 Degreez EP, which came out at the top of the year and a slew of singles before announcing Little World. Are you guys always working or did y’all take any extended time away from the studio to reset your minds before going back to start recording the new album?

Mel: No, no, no. No time off. We in there every night.

Jayhawk: Yeah, literally. I ain’t even realize that we don’t give our minds or our spirits time to reset. But, shit. Now that I see it…at the end of the day I’m human. Every day we wake up, both my brother and myself…shit, there’s something new that happens to me. You know what I’m saying? You just get in that zone…so hell nah, no time off.

Why did you decide to name the album Little World?

Mel: Little World is an infamous corner store in south Dallas. It’s kinda like a ghetto landmark. It’s located in the belly of the beast…we’ve had a motif for the last couple years and the motif has been each project has been named or themed after a Dallas landmark. Fuel City is a truck stop/taco stand in South Dallas, so that’s why we named that album Fuel City. We not just making music and naming it after something. The title of the project still fits the sound and the vibe.

Jayhawk: When we were making Green Lights it was kinda the same thing. We got a fancy green building downtown in our city or whatever. When we was making music then, we was in go-mode, pedal to the medal on everything. It just kinda speaks to that. We don’t really try to plan it like that, but when we are making the music we just let it become a theme and when the theme started working…

Mel: Little World, like I just told you, it’s in the belly of the beast. It sits in between two warring neighborhoods. We say that to press the listener that if you’re preparing to check out Little World, understand that we’re saying a lot with a little by titling it what we title it so you’ll get the concept or the vibe of the project.

The artwork is pretty simplistic and sparse in terms of layout and the usage of space. Was there a reason for that? Is it in alignment with a vision going forward?

Mel: I do all our artwork from a design point. My normal regiment, as we are making music, if I’m more inspired from a more visual standpoint I will start to doodle, basically. We got to the point…I don’t know how many records we had, Hawk would know better than me. I don’t even know when it was, I felt like maybe it was in June, I just started fucking around in Photoshop. I was in the studio when I came up with the cover. I was listening to the the playlist we had at the the time and I kept seeing yellow. Yellow is such a stark, alarming color…it grabs your attention.
Red is obvious. Everyone when they think of red they think of danger or shit like that. In the animal kingdom, yellow is just as dangerous if not more dangerous than red, as far as animals that are venomous or deadly or whatever the case may be.

I just thought yellow, bro, I’m not gonna lie to ya. Most of that shit is just going off instincts. I didn’t sit down and go like “Bees, yellow jackets…yellow!” or anything like that. I was just fucking around listening to the music. And then Big Tex on fire…it’s like “That’s what we’re doing…we burning this hoe down.”

I don’t think a lot of people around the country know about that. Big Tex is a big robot or whatever that is in the State Fair of Texas that’s in Dallas every year. It’s been around for years, I wanna say 40-50 years, something like that?

Jayhawk: Oh yeah, longer than that.

Mel: It caught on fire because of an electrical problem. So that’s the reason why Big Tex is on fire on the album cover. It almost personifies our ethos as a group. We’ve been putting on for the city and it feels like we’re burning down bridges and burning down paradigms. It also kinda illustrates our sound for the album, a whole lot of flames and a whole lot of thunder. When Big Tex burned down, they had to build a new Big Tex. It’s a running joke around the city because the new Big Tex doesn’t like look like a white Republican rodeo man. He’s almost Latino and he’s skinny, so everyone cracks jokes like “It ain’t even the same Big Tex.” Well, same shit on this end. This ain’t the same Dallas rap that your big cousin is used to. This is the new wave.

Moving on from the artwork, what can we expect in terms of production and features on this record? Did you work with anyone you’d been wanting to work with for awhile?

Mel: I ain’t gonna lie to you, bro, we don’t really have a list outside of the legends like Pharrell, 808 Mafia, Timbaland, Jay-Z. We’ve found out a lot of these rappers they aren’t even artists, let alone real people. If you happen to be in the studio that night, pulling up and shit, we gonna fuck around. We don’t have TV or Playstations…that’s all we gonna do.

Everyone that’s on that bitch just happened to be in the right place at the right time. Imagine it like Samuel L. Jackson didn’t even know Tarantino was shooting another film and he just happened to pull up and Tarantino’s like “Fuck it, get in this, man.” You know what I’m saying? If you pull up on us at the studio at night, we’ll see where you can fit in. If not, fuck it.

Last year Mel, when talking about recording Fuel City, you said that the amount of songs you’re recording for albums has gone up a lot, but ultimately you’re keeping less on the final product. Is that true this time around? If so, is that for a reason? Are you trying to be more concise?

Mel: It’s definitely for a reason. We definitely made more songs during this album’s process than previously with Fuel City. If you make a good amount of songs, but then you put them all out…I don’t wanna drop a name, but a lot of rappers since like 2009 have gone about it that way. The quality control ends up being sacrificed.

That’s not how Quincy Jones went about putting together all those great albums. That’s not how Stevie Wonder went about putting together all those iconic, timeless albums. I think Brown Sugar has 11. All my favorite albums have no more than 14 tracks. I have some favorites like Project Pat albums that usually have 18 tracks on them. We just do that shit so we can be like “Here you go, eat this. You’re gonna enjoy this, and you’re gonna want more.” We definitely got plenty more, but we don’t wanna overfeed you to the point where it’s like “Bro, no more food please.” It breaks my heart because some of my favorite artists do it to me. When you start giving me undercooked chicken, I don’t know if I wanna come back to your restaurant now.

Jayhawk: We not making mixtapes. The album we put together is how it is for a reason…every element of it, every aspect of it. So many times when you end up with a project that has that many songs on it, you just pick all your favorites and put all them hoes together. That’s not necessarily an album.

What singles that’ve been released leading up to the album are making the final tracklist or are they mostly loosies?

Jayhawk: “Rocket” that we just dropped is gonna be the single off the album. We dropped a song called “Mean Green” with Emotional Xan that will be on the album. And we also dropped a song with Mel and 03 Greedo that’s gonna be on the album too.

How important was it to link up with 03 Greedo before he had to go back to prison to start serving his sentence? Have you known each other for awhile?

Mel: Nah man, we didn’t know each before that night. I was in LA kicking it with Adam from No Jumper…definitely one of our outlaws. Shout out to Adam. He was like “Shit, you wanna ride with me?” So, I roll over with him to the studio and it was Greedo in session. Greedo was in there locked and loaded. I literally watched him do seven songs in front of my face in like two hours. No cap. He was in the studio with a lot of A&Rs and people that weren’t giving him vibes. They was just sitting there kinda nodding their head and shit. He was really fucking with it but he wasn’t really getting that back. Well, I’m the type of person that if I’m in the studio, that’s my sanctuary and I care too much to be in the studio and not make it loose. Slowly but sure, I was starting to vibe with him.

I’m gonna keep it 100 with you, bro. I was sitting there the whole night myself thinking “Damn, I ain’t really personally heard anything beat wise yet that was just hard,” and he finally said the same shit that I was thinking. He was like “I’ve been out here on this LA shit…I need some hard shit.” Right when he said that, they played a beat and I looked at him like “Yo, that the one.” And he was like “That’s it, bro?” And I was like, “Yeah, that’s it.” So he asked me if I wanted to get on it and I said yeah. So, he ended up putting me on one his songs first, that wasn’t “Money Truck.” When I finished doing my verse, I came out the booth and said “I think I know what type of ‘hard’ you’re looking for.” And he was like “Yeah, play me some of that Texas shit.”

So I pulled out my phone and played it (what I had so far of “Money Truck”) for him and he just lit up. I wish I coulda gotten it on camera, cause he made the ugly face. He said, “See man, I knew my people from the South was gonna bring me what I needed.” Because you know, Greedo lived in the South for awhile. I wasn’t even really realizing what he was asking then I was like “Oh, he wants some gutter shit.” That’s my boy. Greedo is a real one. One of the non-weirdo rappers.

Jayhawk: For real. For real, for real.

Did any particular music you listened to or life experiences in the past year sway the album’s direction in terms of lyrical content?

Mel: That’s a great question. We listen to so much different types of music, man. It’s hard to pinpoint where exactly or what exactly inspires at this point. I think what it is is that we’ve gotten to the point as artists where once you’ve reached a certain point in mastery, not that we’ve mastered it…we haven’t. But, we are mastering it as we working towards that. I think we’ve reached a point where you can lean on what you need from whatever we believe. You get what I’m saying?

My example would be LeBron. You see in Game 7 of the first round or whatever it was? He might piss himself off or find somebody or some reason that night to get pissed off and go blackout. It might be the crowd, it might be a teammate, but he’s gonna find whatever inspiration he needs for whatever he got before him

This one might not make a lot of sense, but I was listening to a lot of Sade…‘92 Sade. You can’t find nowhere on that album where that makes any sense, but that’s what I was listening to.

And my bro persuaded me to go see Infinity War. Mind you, I don’t know one thing about what’s going on cause I ain’t seen none of the previous movies. But when I went to go see it, I fucked with Thanos as a character. He’s a dreamer, he’s hellbent. That kinda inspired me for a whole week.

The rise of the Dallas rap scene has been a slow, steady burn. Are you frustrated with the lack of attention or recognition? Does that even matter to you or do you appreciate the process of gaining recognition with each release?

Mel: Frustrated probably isn’t the word I’d use. That has a defeatist attitude, you know? We definitely use it as a motivator though. It’s not something that we aren’t seeing the progress in every day, every month, every year. The past four years Dallas has progressed so much in its notoriety and its quality. It’s a slow process, but everything is a slow process. Atlanta didn’t get to where they are right now overnight. It took decades. It took OutKast, DTP, T.I., Young Jeezy, Gucci Mane and now they on that new wave.

We are motivated by the slow burning process. You can start a fire with a bunch of paper and stuff like that but that fire gonna burn out quick. But if you get a good stack of wood when you start that fire, that fire is gonna slow burn for a long time. I feel like we are just stacking the quality wood so that when this fire really catches fire, we gonna have that fire for a while.

Jayhawk: I would say hell yeah we’re a little frustrated, not necessarily for a lack of recognition, but I definitely feel like we are underappreciated. I wouldn’t say regionally, but maybe from a national and an overall game perspective. We ain’t crying about that shit, we just use that to go even harder. We put that frustration in the music.

Have you started thinking about concepts or locations for music videos?

Hawk: Every video we approach like a new screenplay. We’ve started tossing around some ideas, but we try to make that shit genuinely inspired instead of “Let’s pull up to this hood or trap and do a whole lotta gang shit.”

Mel: That’s how a lot of videos are these days, just a whole bunch of gang shit. We try to be organic and put our heads together…you have an idea, I have an idea. We’ve already started shooting some of the videos for the project and will continue to shoot. We learned that from the past by trying to stay a little bit ahead of the game. Texas, especially Dallas, hasn’t been seen like that on a national level so that’s our opportunity to continue to put Dallas on the map.

Lastly, after Little World comes out, what are the plans for touring?

Hawk: Well, first things first, we’re definitely gonna do a hometown show. Beyond that, to be honest with you, because of where we are financially right now, we didn’t really draw up any kind of tour. Right now we strapped too tight to tour beyond maybe Dallas or Houston to be real.

Well, if you ever come up to where I’m at in Kansas City…

Hawk: I heard something about how you supposedly have the best BBQ, but I’ll believe it when I see it.

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