Music

NSFW Podcast: Mel Kyle of The Outfit, TX Talks Fuel City and Raising Up Dallas

Don't let the kids listen.

I first met Mel Kyle of The Outfit, TX on Club Dada’s back patio sometime around 2013. He handed me a copy of the group’s album, called Starships and Rockets: Cooly Fooly Space Age Funk, and the thing didn’t leave my Accord’s CD player for years. It was a perfect amalgam of the Outfit, which, at the time, was a perfect amalgam of Southern rap writ large: Houston’s slowed funk and screwed vocals, Dallas’ jargon, Atlanta’s cosmic sounds, and Memphis’ pace, the type of music that makes you feel on edge even as you relax with the sound up. Mel is one-third of the group and, until lately, had handled much of the production work with childhood friend Dorian. The two met JayHawk in college at the University of Houston; I’ll let Mel tell you the story himself that cemented their friendship.

Mel and Hawk, who handle the lion’s share of the rapping, have the sort of chemistry and contrast that define the genre’s best duos. Hawk raps as if he has to make up for every minute he has spent not rapping. It is furious and high-pitched, the polar opposite to Mel’s coolness, which is delivered through a voice that sounds powered by a subwoofer he has packed somewhere around one of his kidneys.

Since the three moved back to Dallas, the music has gradually lost its Houston reference points, getting faster and more energetic, leaving room for darkness when necessary. Instead of leaning on it, their music acknowledges Houston’s influence and yet forges forward, creating something uniquely Dallas: deeper bass lines, more BPMs, raw energy. Fuel City, which dropped last week on the L.A. label POW Recordings, is the finest distillation of their style yet. If you’re not hearing this through speakers in a club, the only way to listen is loudly in your car. Be careful not to punch through your steering wheel.

They do Dallas right, and the city needs it. Rap is geography. It establishes a sense of place like no other type of music can, allowing whole worlds to be created through local jargon and slang and neighborhoods. Mel and Hawk and Dorian are fiercely loyal to this place and view themselves as ambassadors. There’s a through-line here, from the Dallas rappers in the early ’90s like Nemesis and Pimpsta, who tried to morph the L.A. sound into something Texan, to the fast-rapping and lo-fi soulful hooks of Mr. Pookie and Mr. Lucci years later, to Big Tuck and DSR’s moment in the 2000s, to the national rise and fall of Dallas boogie, on to today, to The Outfit, TX, the underground that shouldn’t be so damned underground at all.

They’re hoping they can achieve what those who came before them couldn’t — not just success, but creative infrastructure, to bring the city together around a movement, to create mechanisms in Dallas that get Dallas artists paid and promote the sort of collaboration that propels a unique scene. “We don’t have enough of a market to compete with, we need to be collaborating,” Mel says, channeling Pimp C’s spirit of togetherness. “If we fight over one drumstick, we get kicked out the buffet!”

Listen to this one. It’s insightful, it’s hilarious, and includes a cameo from one Erykah Badu. Show notes and streaming player after the jump.

1.This is Sudie, if you don’t know her. You should know her. She’s collaborated with The Outfit, too. The video is very NSFW:

2. Here’s the video of the guys interviewing on NPR with A Tribe Called Quest’s Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Frannie Kelly.

3. The latest on the Zeke Elliott saga.

4. The sports show is actually Cris Carter With Random Guy. We regret the error.

5. Here is the Dallas Observer article that has the headline that got under Mel’s dad’s skin. The idea isn’t to reclaim the Confederate flag; it’s to tear it down and all it stands for, to escape the conventions of our past to create a new future.

6. Down by the Trinity is the Outfit’s terrific and under-heard album from 2015. It’s dark. It’s creepy. It’s incredible. Buy it here.

7. If you’re so inclined, this page has Michael Irvin’s stats from 1998, which Mel bets Hawk can recite off the very top of his dome.

8. Right around here, Tim and Mel start talking Houston. Listen to one of my favorite DJ Screw songs:

8. Before Shea Serrano was the famous author and leader of the FOH Army, he was writing profiles of The Outfit, TX for MTV. Read it here.

9. Here is Peter Simek’s 2015 writeup of the Outfit. And you can find Mel’s Noisey column on Dallas’ rap scene right here.

10. Listen to Diego Money. Listen to Devy Stonez. Listen to G.U.N.

11. Last year, the fire marshal went after the city’s DIY spaces. It had a chilling effect: Today, a lot of those operators have stopped throwing parties or moved their evenings into bars or proper venues. One of the victims in all this was the Dallas rap scene, which had found a home in abandoned airplane hangers and lofts and warehouses and homes. The 16Bars.XXX crew fought hard to bring the scene together in these nontraditional spaces, but disagreements with promotors and the fire marshal’s war on all things DIY did it in.

12. This is a Fooly Fade, aka a Southside Fade.

13. YouTube link dump alert. We’re talking Boogie. The first song that reached well beyond the confines of Dallas was Lil Wil’s “My Dougie.”

But the national attention also allowed in outsiders, who stole the dances and the lingo and made a whole lot more money off it. Here is Inglewood’s incredibly irrelevant Cali Swag District. Note that their Dougie song has about 30 million more views than Lil Wil’s.

Soulja Boy, ever the cultural sponge, did something similar:

The same thing happened with B-Hamp’s “Do the Ricky Bobby”:

And the California group Rej3cts’ “Cat Daddy,” with famous woman-beater Chris Brown:

Mel’s arguing that if we had the infrastructure that’s in California and Atlanta, the money and the popularity could’ve stayed with our artists. I’ll leave you with another dance, the South Dallas Swag:

14. Here is “Dez Bryant,” which I can’t wait for Dez Bryant to hear.

Again, you can buy Fuel City right here. 

15. It should also be noted that Starships and Rockets shares a title with another criminally under-heard Southern rap album from Huntsville, Ala. group G-Side. 

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