Although The Outfit, TX was formed by three Dallas-natives in Houston in 2009, the group sounds like it materialized out of the paranormal Marfa, Texas Mystery Lights.
Dorian, one of the group's two producers, is primarily responsible for the group’s Unsolved Mysteries-esque production, which is a fine balance between what you hear in your head during an intense hip-opening yoga class and a dramatic soap opera score. But unlike the therapeutic effects of yoga and the suspense created by soap opera organs, The Outfit, TX’s records do not always provide catharsis. Instead, their Milky-Way song arrangements will keep your ears rerouting like a disregarded Global Positioning System.
Mel and Jayhawk bring gravity to the group, but only enough to keep The Outfit, TX in orbit. Their self-invented genre, Cooly Fooly Space Age Funk, requires active listening in order to penetrate the group’s ozone layer-like matte finished sound and appreciate the substance of their music. Once that desire is dedicated, listening to anything else other than The Outfit, TX is as challenging as an astronaut readapting to Earth after months in outer space’s microgravity.
Interview by Douglas Doneson (@droopydood)
Your name, The Outfit, TX, is partially a satire on the way many Texans reference their street names and neighborhoods?
Mel: Back home a common phrase is to put Texas on the end of everything, like “I am hungry, Texas.” It is an affinity for our state; maybe we are too in love with it. Forgive us, but it is what it is. We were The Outfit for the longest, but there is an alternative rock and roll band based out of Denver, Colorado and they go by The Outfit as well. They reached out to us via email on some legal shit. Because we didn’t want to deal with that, we added what belongs anyways, TX.
Where does The Outfit, TX currently reside?
Mel: Dallas, Texas. In 2006 we moved down to Houston for college at the University of Houston. We stepped foot in Houston during the zenith of that whole second wave of H-Town. We were there from 2006 to 2013. Once I graduated from U of H, we stayed down doing the music thing. Houston has a lot of good. We love it as much as we love Dallas; it is home.
Pick a street in either Dallas or Houston which best represents each of your personalities.
Jayhawk: I would say Buckner Street because you can get anything you want on Buckner, from speakers to food; clothes; insurance; and pawn shops [Laughs].
Dorian: In Dallas, I would say Malcom X, but the museum side of Malcom X because there’s a lot of art and I love to be around that sort of thing and those kinds of people. That is where I mainly get my inspiration.
Mel: I will give you one from each city. In Dallas, Lake June Road, because that is where I grew up. My mom and I stayed there for the first 13 years of my life. It stretches all the way through to Mesquite, which is where we moved and where I went to middle school and met Dorian. And that is where the story starts…
Take me down that “road” (if you will) and end on that street in Houston.
Mel: My mom was a single mother and we moved around a lot for financial reasons. My father was in my life but it was like a visitation thing. I tell people that I am Dallas because I have stayed in every part of it, but I always ended up coming back to Lake June. When my mom remarried we moved to Mesquite, where I met Dorian in seventh grade. We were in the cafeteria before school and I was talking about how my momma beat my ass on the side of the road. Dorian was the only person listening to my rant.
Dorian:It was funny. He has a way of captivating you with his personality and telling stories. We talked about stuff no other seventh graders would talk about, like funk records, Cee- Lo’s “Closet Freak,” and Stevie Wonder.
I just believe that Dallas has always been [considered] by the radio, local radio, and cities outside of 635 as one hits. They don’t take us seriously. We’ve had artists come through that nobody knows
Mel: Dorian started producing in ninth grade and I was just his friend messing around with the females and going to parties. We were in honors classes and every year in high school we had a math class together. By the time we got to graduation I said “Bro, let’s go to college. We’ve got to get out of Dallas.” We went to U of H and that is when we met [Jay]hawk. So, Lake June weaves through the story on how I got here today and the street in Houston would be Upper Kirby. I like the Rice Village area. It represents the dichotomy that is all three of us. Lake June is a lower income ghetto area. Upper Kirby is the opposite. But we are not ghetto kids. We are well read, educated, and artsy individuals. So we can go to Premium Goods in the Rice Village or be in a hole in the wall with Rice students and talk about science or whatever. We could also go down to the King’s Flea Market and post up at the Swang Parade and just parlay.
You’ve received a good deal of press comparing you to U.G.K., OutKast, and Three Six Mafia. But your compositions clearly exhibit styles of specific Dallas acts, such as Money Waters’ unique sense of humor and his nebulous song arrangements; Dorrough’s chant-like hooks; Chalie Boy’s anthems; Big Chief’s iron-fisted verses; and E-Class’ country intonations and Dallas poise. E-Class even has a song called “Fooly” and your self-invented genre of music is called, Cooly Fooly Space Age Funk. Why do you think the press you’ve received hasn’t compared you to any Dallas artists?
Jayhawk: Hold up mayne! That’s my big bro. Shot out to E- Class.
Mel: Check you out! Most press is unbeknownst of Dallas’ whole hip hop history. That is just a sad fact.
Why is that?
Mel: Two reasons. First, Houston has had a legendary history [going] all the way back to the Geto Boys. So they kind of overshadow us like a big brother. Second, infrastructure: for a while Dallas had an issue with properly organizing the movement like Houston was able to do. A lot of those acts you named are from different areas of Dallas. It takes synergy and we have not been able to have that synergy. The closest I believe we got [was when] we had D.S.R., Young Nino and Hot Boy Star, and a couple of North Dallas acts still hanging on.
Dorian: Outside of that, we had the Boogie Movement.
Mel: That’s a part of our culture, but it’s surface level. It’s like Bounce music in New Orleans; it’s there, but it’s not all the hip-hop New Orleans has to offer. The Boogie Movement is the best example of synergy Dallas hip-hop has probably seen, because all those different high school kids from the suburbs were getting on YouTube and putting their tracks up and having people dance to them in unison. The timing was there; the D.J.s got behind it; the radio got behind it; these kids were going off to Prairie View, T.S.U., and Grambling taking the music with them. I remember Tuck got to B.E.T. and “Tussle” played and I never saw it again. I remember “Caprice Musik” got number one! I started celebrating like it was New Years! It was getting ready to happen but just…it’s no fault to those gentlemen; they are legends. I just believe that Dallas has always been [considered] by the radio, local radio, and cities outside of 635 as one hits. They don’t take us seriously. We’ve had artists come through that nobody knows of such as Mr. Pooki, Mr. Lucci, Nemesis, The D.O.C., Twisted Black. Man, free Twisted Black!
What Dallas artists have influenced you?
Mel:Big Tuck, D.S.R., Nino and Hot Boy Star, o2 and Lil’ Richard. A lot of these people I am naming were really about the shit they were talking about. Hot Boy Star got locked up several times. Him and Young Nino were out of Oak Cliff and can be credited with the whole Triple D name
Jawhawk: They dropped that song “Oak Cliff, that’s my Hood.”
Dorian: D.S.R. had a direct and indirect influence on me. They were taking what Houston was doing at the time and making it Dallas. We were getting their burnt CDs from friends in high school. It gave us a platform. It showed us a way to be able to do it too. We started getting instrumentals, rapping over them, and screwing them up with our own swag.
What differentiates Dallas rap from Houston rap?
Mel: It is a different energy. Let me take it back to the early 2000s and late ‘90s. I had a Talking 2 Texas mixtape series and the only Dallas acts on there were Mr. Pookie and Mr. Lucci and the rest were just H-Town cats and those two records stuck out like sore thumbs. I love H-Town music, but the thing about Dallas is it’s more high energy. Pookie raps fast and is wild [whereas] Keke has a smooth butter flow and Fat Pat is like some Courvoisier.
Dorian: It’s that I-20 connection between Dallas and Atlanta too. Atlanta influenced Dallas’ sound a lot because of…
Mel: The radio…
Jayhawk: We had [DJ] Greg Street’s Six O’clock series on our radio and he was [broadcast] in Atlanta and Dallas simultaneously.
Mel: So there is a lot of Lil’ John influence. I will just put it simply: Dallas is more 808s, where Houston is more synth bass; there are more bass lines and it is just smoother. Now once you got to 2005 to 2008, Houston started going into more 808 sine wave bass line and it banged in the trunk.
Who is primarily responsible for your beats and production?
What kind of production tools do you use?
Dorian: It is really simple. We use a 61 key mini keyboard and another 25 key mini keyboard with some pads on it and run it through Logic. We have software synthesizers and tons of drum samples that I have accumulated. We took a lot of the music we liked, knew what we wanted to make, listened to a lot of different things, and made a gumbo.
Mel: Erykah Badu has a lot more to do with influencing us than a lot of other shit. One night in 2011, I was in Dallas at an Erykah Badu concert and she started fucking around on this drum machine she had on stage. It had one large circle pad. It had this 1983 sound, but it also had some distorted 808 shit. I was like, “God damn that shit sounds tight.” I came back home and I remember being like “hey, let’s try some shit.” We found this drum kit and we started to tweak it with our own recipe. It sounded like some rap from ’94, or ’84, or 3004! We couldn’t put an age to it, we just had some shit.
You mentioned that “cooly” is a Dallas term. What does “cooly” mean and what exactly is Cooly Fooly Space Age Funk?
Mel: We were at the house, like six records deep, and [Jay] Hawk said, “what do we call what we are making?” I just sat there on the stairs and I said, “Cooly Fooly Space Age Shit.” That’s inherently some Dallas shit. We always just swag shit out. We just coin words. Merriam-Webster, it stops with him? Like when they were making genres up, who was the first person to say, “this is Jazz”? This was the same moment.
Jawhawk: Everybody knows Houston is cool, it’s real cool, chill, slow motion city, leaned out, and everybody is real playa. While Dallas can get a little bit more rambunctious. We fooly; we like brighter colors; loud jewelry; we like to stand out. So the cooly, the fooly, the space age, and the funk just describe us.
Mel: The funk is more of a foundation than any other word in the genre that we coined ourselves. Funk was a big part of Starships and Rockets. My dad was a funk DJ. Parliament, Funkadelic, Slave, Graham Central Station, Midnight Star… I am talking about anything that was funk, that’s what my dad jammed at home. He played Kool and the Gang’s extended nine minute version of “Summer Madness” over and over one time. I was in high school and came home with a Lil’ John CD. He used to let me jam my music in the car and he thought it was crap. So he ejected it and put on “Summer Madness” for like four straight hours. It was punishment but what he didn’t know is by like the twelfth time I was like this is the best record I’ve ever heard. At this point, we’ve had jazz for years now, we’ve had rock and roll for years, and we’ve had hip hop for years, but why’d we stop? All throughout the 20th century we’ve created all these genres of music and we get to like 1978 and we just stop?
Why did you name your debut album Starships and Rockets?
Mel: We were paying homage to 8ball and M.J.G. They are unheralded, unsung, and un-anything you can think of. They have a record called “Starships and Rockets” and we just wanted to pay homage to a sound that inspired us.
Dorian: …and we were living in Houston too, which is Space City.
George Clinton is a huge influence of yours and he was a proponent of Afrofuturism. I also read in a previous interview that your friends back in Dallas have turned their backs on your, making you feel like aliens. Tell me about this space theme in your music. Are y’all Afrofuturists, friendless aliens, or just out of this world?
Mel: Wow. We’ve had this discussion ourselves. We feel like we lost track of how we were once in tune with our surroundings. We have this kind of hierarchy belief that humans are on top of the totem pole and you go down and get to amoebas. When in reality, we are all interconnected and depend on each other. We had those antique civilizations that were smarter than us and had time to study the universe because they didn’t watch Scandal. They had time to study the universe and build pyramids that lined up with the stars and they did not need Google Maps because they were literally able to chart out courses and maps based on how the stars lined up. Because we are into this type of shit, it permeated through our music. It is a motif.
Dorian: It points to evolution too. We hear all these different sounds and we are just trying to take the sound a step further. We are forward thinking. We have our mind set on the future and pushing the sound forward, pushing ourselves forward, and our culture forward.
Jawhawk: There will always be times in an artist’s life when you are not doing the norm. Instead, you are kind of just doing things opposite of the regular way of thinking and that gives you an alien type of mentality at times because you always feel like what you want to do or enjoy is not necessarily what everybody else likes to enjoy.
Dorian: Or they just don’t even understand it. They look at you like, “why are you still doing this rap shit?” We deal with societal influence. Society expects people at a certain age to go to college, get your degree, get a job, do this, do that; they expect you to follow a certain rubric and if you come up in something and you don’t necessarily follow that rubric you get alienated.
"The Price of Dreams," an open letter you wrote a while back, is right on point with what you just mentioned.
Dorian: Dang. That was a while ago. I felt like a lot of people in our lives didn’t understand what we were doing. The letter was about realizing the things we sacrifice. We sat down one night and wrote out what we sacrifice personally and as a group. We took a moment to look at things and ask ourselves, “was it worth it?” It was, because those things that I miss, I’ll get the opportunity to enjoy them at some point in time again. But this period in our lives, we only have it right now, so we might as well go after it and get it.
Tell us about the concept behind your latest project, Cognac/ Four Corner Room.
Mel: Dorian started working on a project and expressing himself on some solo shit. And then later, the inspiration hit me and I started expressing myself on records that were tailor fit for me and we both kind of arrived at the finish line together on these projects. You’ll see parallels in both. You’ll see the story of 2010 to 2013.
I read somewhere that there are three more albums in this five series project.
Dorian: That’s the plan. It’s called The Texan Chronicles. We are telling the same story from two different perspectives, but of course it would not be complete without [Jay]hawks perspective, and without a unified perspective from us again.
So the next one is going to be a Jawhawk album?
Dorian: We don’t know.
Jawhawk: They are going to Detox me. It’ll come out when Detox comes out.
I want to talk to you about three of your songs which have impacted me the most. Tell me any story that comes to mind regarding each song. Let's start with “Dysfunkshun” and about the saxophone solo at the end.
Mel:That song took six months to make. Dorian made the beat and we wrote the verses in a night but did not record them that night. [Jay]hawk tried to record his verse but couldn’t really convey the emotion he wanted to and I tried to put the hook down but didn’t like how that was conveyed, so we had to wait because we tried the next day too, but it was forced. Each of us recorded our different parts at different times. We waited until the next dysfunctional incident in each of our lives.
The beauty of music, and of being an artist, is that there is no rubric, there’s no curriculum, and there is no right or wrong. That’s the problem with the supposed “genre.” With rap and hip-hop, people feel like there is a certain rubric or a certain technical way.
Dorian: As far as the musicality on [Jay]hawks verse, we had to strip the baseline away because his delivery and the baseline didn’t work well together. But we smoothed it by putting 808s under there and you just felt it.
Mel: I tried to put jazz down [Jay]hawk’s throat because he is such a hip hop head and I love jazz. So we had an idea; we need a saxophone on this bitch.
Jawhawk: I called one of my cousins who plays saxophone. He played saxophone while I was growing up. He lived in Houston and used to come to Dallas to play saxophone at my dad’s church. I asked him at a family function if he could come play on some records for me and he was like, “yes, no doubt.” So he came in one time and we let him do his thing.
How about “Girl Blue?”
Dorian: That’s an homage to the Stevie Wonder song, "Girl Blue." My dad is a huge Stevie Wonder fan, so coming up I heard a lot of his songs. I would listen to his albums early on, but I didn’t really have that much of an appreciation for him until I started hearing songs like Girl Blue. I had an idea when I started doing Four Corner Room to do a rap version of it. It’s about a young lady in my life who was in a verbally abusive situation. I wanted to tell a little bit of a story about that and write it from the perspective of a friend while paying homage to Stevie at the same time.
And finally, “Everyone’s for Sale.”
Dorian: When I was out here in Dallas for another point before we all collectivity moved to Dallas for that six month period, I was working on this song with him. I made the beat and he had the hook and it just sat there. As I was working on Four Corner Room, I remember playing the beat for them and they were like that shit is dope. So I called him up and told him, “you got to let me get that song for the project…” and he agreed. He even came out and recorded a verse with me. In the industry we are trying to get into, everybody has their price. It’s like that Wall Street movie where they asked him, “what’s your number?” and he said, “more.” Everybody has their number that they are willing to go for. So that is what that’s about.
On your blog, you posted a Supa Day video. Is he from Dallas?
Mel: He has to be. I’ve sat down and studied that video. I know he’s from Dallas because of his accent. He starts to say different slang words; he says, “God-damn-me.” He also boogies. That boogie shit we were talking about? He does the dance, but like the original Oak Cliff version. So, he probably is a Dallas boy. He’s a legend.
How are you trying to push things forward and evolve your sound?
Mel: Going crazy. The beauty of music, and of being an artist, is that there is no rubric, there’s no curriculum, and there is no right or wrong. That’s the problem with the supposed “genre.” With rap and hip-hop, people feel like there is a certain rubric or a certain technical way. [For example, people will say,] Gucci Mane sucks, Jay-Z is great, this is bad, this is good. Being a fan of other genres, you’ll never hear two people sitting in a bar and argue that Red Hot Chili Peppers are technically better than The Smashing Pumpkins. If they do, they are pretty lame. At the end of the day, just jam the double discs of The Smashing Pumpkins and then put in Californication when you feel that way. Just listen to the music. We plan on taking this shit everywhere we can take it for as long as we can take it.
Dorian: We don’t create our music right now with a ceiling in mind. Whatever we want to do, we will try to figure out a way to do it. That’s our mindset. Going forward, we are going to try to challenge ourselves. We are students of it at the end of the day.
Mel: Let’s try to make some shit people haven’t heard before. [Mel sings Heard it all Before by Sunshine Anderson]
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