Fort Worth Got Next
One of the first stories I ever wrote for the Weekly was about local hip-hop. Most of the artists I talked to lived in the 817 but said they were from Dallas. Maybe they were ashamed of their hometown. Or afraid that no one outside of North Texas had ever heard of Fort Worth. Or stoned.
Their exaggerating was sort of understandable. Dallas has a bigger national profile — the city simply matured much more quickly than Fort Worth. While Cowtowners were paving their dirt roads, Dallasites were setting up big TV stations, starting major pro sports teams, erecting skyscrapers, building arenas, and doing a lot of other stuff that typically creates mainstream national attention and puts a city on the map. And in 2009, when the Dallas Center for the Performing Arts opens, Big D will threaten to overshadow the Fort’s greatest source of civic pride, the fine arts scene. For a workaday rapper, hitting the Big Time is hard enough. Trying to do it from a second-class city (i.e., Fort Worth) is even harder.
But there is a local rap collective whose members apparently refuse to accept Dallas’ pre-eminence. They are headed by rapper and scene impresario Royal South (a play on Houston’s “Dirty South,” perhaps?), and they recently released a compilation CD, Fort Worth Got Next. About two dozen rappers, all from Funkytown, are featured, including Smooth Vega, Immortal Soldierz, Mr. Aggravated Foe, and two or three other past Fort Worth Weekly Music Awards nominees in the best Rap/R&B category. (Smooth Vega has won twice, in ’06 and ’07.) The name of the disc also serves as a call to arms. Royal South is circulating e-fliers that display the phrase, “Call the radio stations and tell ’em, ‘Fort Worth got next.’” (The saying, “… got next,” is what ballers say at pick-up hoop games, meaning, “Dear sweaty gentlemen on the court, my friends and I here on the other side of the fence would enjoy beyond measure the opportunity to test our skills against yours in a friendly match of basketball.”)
In addition to a list of tracks and artists, the e-fliers also include the call letters, cities, and phone numbers of about 30 commercial hip-hop radio stations across the country. At the top of the list are the Metroplex’s four main hip-hop-friendly stations: K-104 (pronounced “K, one, oh, fo’”), Casa 106.7, Kick 99.1, and The Beat. Can’t say I’ve seen a lot of hip-hop fliers, electronic or otherwise, but I think Royal South’s are coolly innovative. Would a similar approach work for rock bands? Probably not. Rock bands must spend most of their time touring and angling for good press rather than sweating airplay. Hip-hop artists, though, don’t perform often — for years, folks have been trying to make hip-hop shows interesting, but a guy on an empty stage with a mic in his hand will always look naked and scared (unless he’s MC Hammer — “Let’s make it smooooove!”).
Another thing: Most hip-hop fans are blue-collar and either can’t afford to join iTunes America or simply prefer the old-school charm of albums, cassettes, CDs, and radio, leaving hip-hop artists with radio — the most inexpensive and, theoretically, the most accessible medium — as their only outlet. A part of me thinks that the rap game in general is changing and that Royal South’s boys are simply reflecting it. I’m sure you do not need to be lectured by another blowhard about how rap is frivolous and fantastical — and misogynist, murderous, and materialistic — and I will spare you my spiel. But the airwaves, in my opinion, have opened up to rap that is less formulaic and also tinged with bits of that ol’ indie-rock motif, irony.
A little witty, self-deprecating humor goes a long way in rap, as it does on Fort Worth Got Next. On the nodding, somewhat epic “In Tha Funk,” Willstrumentals, who sounds as if he is either sleep-talking or just woke up, raps, “‘cause my flow nasty, kinda make me nauseous.” Some other gems include “Gotta Keep it Trill,” “Ballaholic,” “Suck it Easy,” “She Like My Swag,” “Brand New J’s,” and Fort Worth’s future anthem, “Look Around, We in the Funk.” One of the most experimental tracks is Romio No E’s “Tung Fu Hustle,” the quicksilver rapper’s paean to his tongue in which a million different percussion sounds stutter and hop and are punctuated by the passing, wheezy zings of a creepy, Edge of Night-ish, ’50s-soap-opera organ. The “Wordsworth out of Fort Worth” weaves his lyrics through the beats — sometimes in front of them, other times behind — and, though he sort of laments training his tongue away from the boudoir and toward the mic, he comes off swell, kind of like a slightly gangstafied version of The Outkast’s Andre 3000. For the record, none of the rappers I talked to, lo, these five years ago are on Fort Worth Got Next. As for their whereabouts, I am not sure.