The Outfit, TX, is a rap group from Dallas consisting of members Mel, Jayhawk, and Dorian. The trio linked up while attending the University of Houston, and have released several critically acclaimed projects such as Starships & Rockets: Cooly Fooly Space Age Funk (2012) and Deep Ellum (2015). Bringing their vibed-out trap and a Dallas aesthetic to Fun Fun Fun Fest in early November, they sat down and had a talk with MUD about life, music, and wacky album names.
Give me your take on the Dallas music scene- it’s a bit slept on.
Mel: Not even a little bit. A lot of bit. Right now — with all due respect to every other city and scene — we have the scene right now. We have the wave. Atlanta’s had quite the tidal wave for a decade, LA had that big-ass wave in the 90’s, New York was the original wave. Even Chicago and New Orleans had waves. Houston has a whole wave by itself. Dallas right now, as we speak, is it. If you like gangsta shit, we got you. If you like weird shit, we got you.
What are some of its key characteristics?
Jayhawk: It’s very eclectic. We have something for every style. Every walk of life. If you’re really into hip-hop, we have five to ten artists that are really hip-hop based. If you like ratchet shit, we got plenty of that. If you come to Dallas, it’s not just one thing that you’re going to get.
Mel: Houston is like LA, and Dallas is like the Bay. To not have Dallas involved in the conversation is like completely subtracting the bay area from California hip-hop. It would be the same detriment.
Dorian: People try to lump Texas music all in together, and that’s cool, it’s deeply rooted, Most of the history was bred in Houston. A lot of that history permeates throughout the whole state, because Houston, they have the first guys. They have the Geto Boyz, and Scarface, and UGK of course. Houston is Beyonce, and Dallas is Erykah Badu. If you look at how they are in the music industry, that’s really a great way to describe the difference between the two cities. Both dope music, both icons in their own right, but they just do it different ways.
Mel: We have our own je ne sais quoi. It has appeared in a lot of other people’s themes in very tertiary ways. A lot of people have borrowed from Dallas for years now. We’ve had a storied hip-hop history, but there’s always been a missing link in the chain. And now all the links are present, and we’re not playing no more games. Don’t come to Dallas and steal no swag, and go call it no Cali nothing. You’re not come and take our shit, use our vernacular, make everybody think you been talking that way. We’re not doing that no more.
It’s difficult to localize these days, with the Internet.
Mel: But that’s why we’re working together. Dallas, we’re moving like an army right now. And we’re going to continue to move. And anybody who’s not moving with the army is not going to be able to move.
Dorian: It’s cool that you like it, and you want to utilize it in your own voice and adapt your own style, but just recognize and pay homage and respect to where it comes from. New York expects us to pay homage to them for the creation of hip-hop. The west coast expects us to respect them for G-Funk, for incorporating gangsta rap into the music. Atlanta had what it had, Miami, Chicago. Dallas has it’s thing. It’s being used everywhere else, but never really been given proper credit. That’s all we’re really saying. Respect us as a place that creates art, and creates art that can permeate through the culture.
I thought Deep Ellum was a little bit more aggressive than some of your previous work. Why do you think that is?
Mel: Because we’re living back home now, and the city is just a little bit more aggressive. Not necessarily in a negative way, but you can’t be weak in Dallas. I don’t care if you’re a hipster nerd, went to AP classes…you still know how to fight. I also think a good, more sonic answer to the question is that I had a little more to do with the production than previous projects. My sound, and Dorian’s sound, together, is what makes us The Outfit, TX. He’s a lot more rhythmic, it’s “cooler,” because it locks you in that groove. My shit is more like, ‘Jump out the window, get out the car at a red light, throw a middle finger to a beat, turn left,’ you know?
Your sound, you call it “Cooly Fooly Space Age Funk.” That reminds me of a few Outkast album titles. Is that what y’all were going for?
Mel: Maybe they the same way, but we were just sitting there in the projects and we arrived at this sound. We were trying to figure out what to call it. He was saying, ‘this just foolin’. And I was sitting on the stairs, and I was like let’s just call it Cooly Fooly Space Age Funk. And I was just talking.
Jayhawk: It was “Cooly Fooly Space Age Shit” at first, but we changed it because we weren’t sure if we could put ‘shit’ on the front of the cover.
Mel: I went to holla at my dad, and he didn’t think we would be able to sell it with the cussing. I was playing him some records and he thought it was funky. We felt like it would be a little more receivable, so we changed it a little bit.
Not a lot of rappers get that degree. How do you think the fact that all of y’all went to college impacted your music?
Dorian: I would say it impacted more of the approach. Networking. The biggest thing anybody can take from college is who you meet. And we’ve definitely benefited in the industry from that.
Mel: My real world education taught me more than college ever taught me. When we went to U of H, we were some triple-D young fools who would get up on your ass. In college, you grow up. You still that same person, but a little more cognizant of real-world situations and events. But when we left college, did our music thing, and moved back to Pleasant Grove we learned way more. We’re firm believers in being constant students. You should always be a student, that’s just how we look at it. I don’t ever want to feel like I mastered life, ‘cause what’s the point of being here?
It’s real of y’all to talk about having jobs, being on the grind and waiting tables while trying to make it as rappers. Not a lot of rappers talk about the behind-the-scenes, the come up.
Mel: We still do our jobs. I write articles for Noisey, do MC gigs. D is a producer, he mixes. Hawk will pick up a job or two. We’re grown-ass men with real bills. I’ve got student loans. You feel me?
Jayhawk: And we actually got advice from an OG in the game. And told us until we on — and what he mean by “on” is that you can’t go nowhere without people recognizing you and knowing you — then you need to work. Some underground rappers feel like they don’t need to work, because they’re local stars.
Dorian: For people to see you onstage one day, doing what you’re doing, you may inspire them in that aspect. And they might see you doing an odd job. They might see you working a bar, slinging a drink, doing whatever you got to do. They’re like damn, this person is grinding. It’s inspiring. Maybe they can do whatever they want to do too.
Mel: And maybe they don’t. Maybe they look down on it, but that’s a child. And I don’t really care about what a child says. It takes money to make money. We press these CDs ourselves, we dress ourselves, we mix and master our own music. We make our own merch, finance our own travel.
Off the top of your head, each of you pick one of your favorite tracks from any of your projects.
Jayhawk: I’m going to go with “Dysfunction,” from Cooly Fooly Space Age Funk. I feel like that’s one track when all three of us felt like we were going through the same things at the same time in our relationships. We just all poured out the situations that we went through, it was almost like a therapy session. Also, sonically, that was the first time that I realized that we were doing something different. I had one of my relatives come and play saxophone on that record. That was one of the first times I felt like we were really doing something big, that we were really making music.
Mel: I’m going with “Full Moon” from Ramen Noodles. It was just the moment, man. It was around the time we really just hit our stride. Living in those Pleasant Grove townhomes, hearing that goddamn machine gun fire like clockwork at about 11 p.m. every night. Motherfuckers trying to kick our door in, and working our jobs and shit, and still making our music. One night Hawk said the most poignant line I think I ever heard him say. He said “Young nigga trying to be a star, sound asleep, I stay up with it.” ‘Cause we were up until about five or six in the morning. It’s damn near something I could get tatted on me. For me, that’s kind of been our story. We trying to be stars, so we stay up for it. We up with the full moon, blood moon, all that.
Dorian: I think I’d pick one from the same period, “D-funk Era.” Mel’s dad was over, getting a haircut in the kitchen. I started making the beat, and before I even got done making the beat, Hawk had a verse ready to go. I think Mel was coming up with the hook already, and he was finishing up his dad’s haircut. It just captures everybody’s personality, and it was at that time when we were all coming into our own as a band. It was just that moment in time where we were like, “This is The Outfit, TX.” Even before we put that TX on there, this is what we knew we were gonna be.