Independent hip-hop artists who exist in Dallas’ hyper regional market often don’t have the support of a record label. Their patience and consistency are crucial in achieving lasting success. That’s the journey chosen by the trio of Coach Tev, Blake Cris, and J08s, who have spent the past four years building up to the release of Black Ice, their debut album.
The two rappers (Coach Tev and Blake Cris) and producer (J08s) met in 2014 as undergraduate students at the University of North Texas. The college’s singers, poets, dancers, and rappers often came together at Poetic Justice, a weekly off-campus event for creatives where the trio first heard each other perform. From there, the three began to collaborate, resulting in 2018’s “Ay Dios Mio!” and 2020’s “Home By Dawn” EP.
As a collective, the three musicians conceptualized a Goodfellas-inspired project into a full album. Anthemic tracks like “Ay Dios Mio!” and “Backwards Skaters Only” are balanced by serene, almost tranquil songs like “Vintage Black” and “Run Fast.” Coach Tev is a gravitational presence; Cris brings his own brand of vulnerable lyricism. J08s textures the album with haunting jazz production, creating a product that is better because of the sum of its parts.
Delayed by COVID-19, the album release process for Black Ice gave the trio the time to develop as musicians and settle into a path toward long-term success. Coach Tev, Blake Cris, and J08s spoke with us about the album rollout, the impacts of COVID, and offered advice for local independent artists.
How did Black Ice come together? When did you start working on the album?
Coach Tev: After “Ay Dios Mio!” Blake, Cris, and I continued to work together. J08s and I had a few joints. One day, around late 2017 or early 2018, we decided to combine them all.
Blake Cris: The first song was “08 Cristal” [on Black Ice.] The working relationship started after “Ay Dios Mio!” dropped, then we started to work on songs. After seven to eight songs, we started to make a real effort into developing them into a project.
Tell me about the recording process.
Tev: We recorded most of the album in 2018. The final mixing session was February 2020, a month before the first wave of the pandemic. We did a really good job on the album and put forth effort into rolling it out the right way. When the pandemic hit, we knew we weren’t able to host a listening party and do an album roll out, so we sat on the album.
What differentiates Black Ice from your previous collaborations?
J08s: [Time management] was the main thing. Trying to get three people with full schedules in coordination with each other, and being productive. It wasn’t hard, but at the same time, someone may not have energy one day but still had to show up and do their part.
When was the album supposed to be released?
J08s: The end of 2019.
Did COVID play a factor in the album’s delay?
Tev: It was a mixture. At the start of the pandemic, we realized there was no content for Black Ice. No cover art, no videos, just music. In my eyes, the most important thing was that Cris had not released his solo project yet. He was in the process of releasing his own music, so the delay gave him time to show people his own body of work, opposed to his first project being with a group.
How did you feel when a decision was made not to release the album in 2020?
Cris: We were bummed, but we knew what we were sitting out. We couldn’t rush or throw the album out there. [We wanted to do] a marketing campaign, promo, and merchandise. The listening party we hosted was huge for us. We were really proud of how it came out.
J08s: The pandemic caused everybody to sit down. It forced us to spend time on the album’s details and we were able to release joints that did not make the final track list. In hindsight, I’m thankful for it.
Did you ever second guess yourselves with the album delay?
Tev: Honestly, no. We knew we didn’t want to rush it. It deserved that care.
Cris: I felt like the album could have been released in 2023 or 2024 and still feel new.
J08s: One of the things I was slightly worried about was that a few songs were made between 2017 and 2018. As a producer, I’m thinking, are people going to gravitate toward this? At the same time, like Cris said, [the songs] felt timeless.
Now that you had a successful album rollout, despite the delays, what advice do you have for other artists in Dallas seeking to release an album?
J08s: Take your time with advertising and rollout. You could have the best album of all-time, but if nobody hears it, it’s like a tree falling in the forest.
Tev: It’s cliche, but you have to believe your ideas are good enough. Have confidence. [Be] consistent. Get out there and meet people. Don’t be afraid to show love to other people. You would be surprised at how much that gets reciprocated.
Cris: You’re selling yourself to people. Step inside of yourself and what you want to do. Fully embrace it because the more comfortable you feel the more people can sense that. If you make music with your friends, make sure to take a break from that to kick it.