Media

Taylor Crumpton Is On a Hot Streak

Next up: the writer and cultural critic is set to release her ode to Big Tuck's Purple Hulk on December 1 on Shea Serrano's Halfway Books.

Here is what the last few weeks for writer Taylor Crumpton have been like: her first piece for the Washington Post, an essay about Black women voters, went viral, eventually ending up on CNN. A few days later, the artwork for Megan Thee Stallion’s debut, Good News, was unveiled, and it featured the op-ed she wrote for Harper’s Bazaar in July. Today, pre-orders started for her book essay, Taylor Crumpton Considers Big Tuck’s Purple Hulk, which is set for release on December 1.

Her ode to Big Tuck—the author of the absolute Dallas rap classic “Southside Da Realist”—is part of a group of five such releases from emerging writers by Halfway Books, the imprint started by New York Times bestselling author Shea Serrano. All money from the sales of the essays goes back to the writers. Given the enormous popularity of Serrano and the devotion of his online FOH Army, Crumpton could be looking at a life-changing check. Let’s put it this way: Serrano released a free book that was essentially one long joke in the run-up to the election, and his supporters still paid him more than $98,000. (He used the money to pay for the senior years at UT-San Antonio for two undocumented students, among other things.)

Full disclosure: Taylor interviewed me for the essay, which, like Hanif Abdurraqib’s Go Ahead In the Rain: Notes to A Tribe Called Quest, means to contextualize the scene Big Tuck and Purple Hulk emerged from, using the artist as a lens. She found out when she went looking back to dig into that history, however, that much of it was not really documented in any way, making a project like hers even more essential. She plans to expand it into a full-length look at Dallas hip-hop over the years. And the good part? She’s going to be doing it from here. Our lightly edited conversation follows.

Where around here did you grow up? I was born in Sacramento, and then my parents are both Texas natives. And when I was a young child, we moved to Flower Mound. After my parents divorced, I spent time in Valley Ranch before my mom was able to move us to Coppell.

And you’ve been out in Oakland for like, three years now, I guess? Yeah. I came to Oakland in 2018, and it’s funny, I just bought a ticket to move back home next week. Yeah, I’m excited.

When did you decide to do that? I think the inkling to kind of start transitioning back home to Dallas maybe occurred a year and a half ago, two years. I was covering the Bay Area regional scene for a long time after I moved here from Philadelphia, and I kind of fell in love with covering regional hip-hop styles. Even though I love the Bay Area—I’m very thankful to have fostered a network and community here—I just felt this longing to come home.

I think that probably is characterized by the rise of so many Houston artists that we’ve had—you know, Travis, Maxo, Megan. A lot of times when I’d be interviewing Bay artists, they’re like, “Dallas has hip-hop outside of, like, Vanilla Ice?” It just started to irritate me, because I grew up in an era where I remember Big Tuck and all of them who came out, and even the Yung Nation and the jiggy movement. So I think a part of me just got so pissed off interviewing other artists not from Dallas and they’re like, “Oh, Dallas has hip-hop?” And I’m like, “We have an extensive, vast history and I want to go report about this because I’m getting tired of yelling at y’all about it.”

How much contact did you have with Shea during this process? Yeah, it’s funny. Shea is very much like a hands-off boss, which I appreciate, because I think I’m so used to editors that micromanage. Shea will be like, “Take as much time as you need, I’m here.” I’m like, OK.

So, we talked about this before, but when you went back to look at that history, you kind of found that there wasn’t really anything there in terms of documented coverage of that era. Yeah. Which was… I’m laughing because I remember our last conversation where I’m like, “Zac, I’m literally pulling at strings.” Talking to Pikahsso actually gave me a greater understanding—I was surprised to hear that on his DFW Hip-Hop History page, which has become like my Wikipedia, that some artists actually didn’t want to be known in the archive or the history, right? I think now, for me, as someone who wants to turn this book essay into a full book, is trying to figure out why some of the artists who have contributed to hip-hop in Dallas don’t want to be documented or covered.

It’s so strange to me. I can’t even imagine. I mean, I guess I see it if maybe somebody was, I don’t know, born again or something and maybe had that going on. But I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t want what you’ve done covered. You know, it’s been interesting. I am on Clubhouse and there has been like this migration of Dallas A&Rs, publicists, managers, on the audio platform that’s being used for networking. Originally, it was for Silicon Valley and now it’s been music industry heavy. There is literally a room of just folks who work in the music industry in Dallas, and a common complaint has been the lack of unity, or the brain drain where everyone has to leave Dallas for LA and New York.

Then, for artists there’s rightful, just frustration, right? This kind of, “I’m doing all of this work. Why am I not being seen?” It’s very hard to be like, “You’re not the first generation to experience that.” That’s something I wanted to allude to in the book, is that I think sometimes—we’re not the first generation to create the real. I want to definitely tell artists through this book: you’re not the first artist from Dallas to say, “I know I have the talent. Why am I not being promoted at a national level?” It’s really this infrastructure gap, and I’m curious. That’s my working hypothesis with the artists who didn’t want to be covered is: did your frustration of trying to aspire to a regional market just make you leave the industry as a whole?

I get that. I mean, I did a story for the Observer on local hip-hop in like ’98, I think? I think it was my first cover story I ever did for them. And it was, I mean, it’s all the same stuff you’re talking about now. About these people having this frustration that they have the talent and nobody’s looking at them. It’s kind of insane to me that it keeps carrying on and carrying on to another generation. Yeah. Also, your articles at the Dallas Observer were very, very key. Thank you for your work over 10 years ago, because I pulled a quote especially from that interview with The D.O.C.

Thank you. That was one of the favorite interviews I ever did, because I loved The D.O.C. so much when I was in high school, or coming right out of high school. That was one of the few times I was probably a little bit starstruck in doing stuff. OK, so, I know why you picked Big Tuck, but when Shea announced this, is that the first idea you had? To write about Big Tuck? Yeah, because before I applied to the Halfway Books project, I was part of the NPR Southern hip-hop project, The South Got Something To Say, and it was this collective of Southern hip-hop journalists. I don’t believe we had any artists, but journalists, critics, scholars, and we had spent months just trying to break down a list of the best Southern hip-hop albums and the best Southern hip-hop songs.

The composition of the collective was heavily Southeastern, so, of course, we had Atlanta, we had Houston, the Carolinas. Surprisingly, I think we got representation from Memphis and Mississippi. When you have, I think, over 50-plus Southern artists and hip-hop folks, you’re like, “Oh crap, this is going to be a very heavy Atlanta/Houston leaning list.” So, I was surprised to see that we had some Dallas songs on there. I think “Crook for Life” [by Mr. Pookie] made it, Big Tuck made it, Yung Nation made it. Some deep cuts made it, and for me, I was like, wow! It was this appreciation of your hometown’s music outside of just Texas, which I think kind of proves the theory of Dallas hip-hop is more influential than what people think it to be.

I was one of those people who was on the unofficial steering committee in which we narrowed down the list. I was in so many conversations with folks advocating and fighting for the city to be in this uniquely Southern hip-hop project. It’s so funny that even in the sub genres, hip-hop of Southern hip-hop, I’m still fighting for our city to be represented, to have a seat at the literal table, which is funny, because for generations we know Southern hip-hop wasn’t welcomed at the mainstream hip-hop label.

So, this summer, and even, I think, a year prior when I started working on this reported piece in Level about the state of Dallas hip-hop with some commentary from Mel of The Outfit, TX and Rodney Blu and Bri of Already Radio, it had kind of been on my mind for over 12 months.

I was like, I need to do something for my hometown, because right now the South is dominating hip-hop. Specifically, Houston is really dominating hip-hop, and we see three hours north of Houston that Dallas has, for generations, created and produced artists. I think one thing for me is, even being in the Bay, seeing all of these great artists out here in Oakland that moved to L.A. for that exposure, I wanted to give our city some flowers and some hope to be, like, we don’t always have to move to Houston. We don’t always have to move to another city or region. I truly believe that if the infrastructure is there, and I think it’s building, that we don’t have to have these generational cycles of like, “Yeah, I was really big. And then I went to L.A.” It’s like, OK.

Well, I think it also will be, with you moving back, that’d be kind of powerful as your career takes off, for you to be doing it out of Dallas, because there’s not always necessarily that voice coming out of here, I think. Yeah. That’s what I’m trying to do. It’s funny. Because of the pandemic, some of my other peers who were Dallas natives, but of course moved to New York for, like, journalism, they’ve all started to migrate back. It’s weird. It’s kind of like this reverse migration, where we were told to go to the coast to make our careers, then the pandemic hit, and so many of them are moving back home. I’m also interested to see how that kind of artistic weight is going to be.

Yeah, for sure. What was it like to have your Washington Post piece also end up on CNN? [laughs] It was so funny. I think I’m like still decompressing from the virality of that whole entire weekend, because the piece did very well. Then, as I said on Twitter, I was literally in Costco with my father. I received a text from a friend like, “You were on CNN.” I’m like, “I am in a Costco parking lot, that does not make any sense.”

I’m very thankful for the overwhelming positive response. I think that is something for me as a freelancer and—not a self-taught journalist, but one who didn’t go to J school, so, for years, I’ve just had to learn and take L’s from editors—to be like, “Wow. This is on prime time broadcast television. Nowhere else.” It kind of … It gives you that institutional affirmation, but now I’m also like, “Damn, I have to go even harder.” You know? It was like, make room for me literally drinking champagne out of the bottle, but then also last night, I was up on deadline.

When did you start? You didn’t go to journalism school, and I think that’s great because that’s pretty overrated. I did, but like, it’s not—think more people than not, do not. I’m not a huge advocate for going to journalism school. When did you start to write? When I was a senior at Abilene Christian University—go Wildcats!—Donald Trump had just been elected president. I remember the day fondly because as senior class president, we decided to host a watch party. My housemate was the student body president, and her and I just looked at the screen as Donald Trump is being elected. I was like, oh crap. You know, it was like, I’m literally about to become an adult. They were like, and this is the four years we have to live with. And, at that corresponding time, Teen Vogue was really transforming into the political powerhouse that it is today.

I remember that. That was definitely that 2016–2017 where it’s like, OK, they’re talking about how capitalism is bad at Conde Nast. I think an editor had put out that pitch email on Twitter, and I had already received a byline on Glamour because I found it an editor’s email on Twitter. I was like, let me just do it again, because at that current moment I was a student blogger for two nonprofits that I was a fellow for. So, I had gotten in the hang of blogging, but blogging is very different than journalism. And that is not shade to any bloggers.

I had pitched this idea, which was kind of a wordplay on Nina Simone’s “Young, Gifted, and Black.” It’s really funny, because they left me on read for about four to six months. It was like, November 2016, and I didn’t hear anything until April 2017, weeks before I’m preparing to graduate from ACU and start grad school at University of Penn.

You were already racking up bylines before you got the Halfway Books thing, but what kind of effect have you seen since Shea picked you to do this? I think the greatest thing that I’ve gotten from the Halfway Books, other than being paid to write about Dallas hip-hop—which is a topic I had pitched to various national publications and been left on read—is I found a literary agent, and her name is Renee Jarvis. The one thing that I really liked about Renee is when I had several phone calls with her, and I told her very promptly, “I want to write a book about Dallas hip-hop,” she didn’t tell me, “You need to write a book about Texas hip-hop.” For months prior, I had had conversations with literary agents, but they always devalued the importance of Dallas. Right? They’re like, “Meg’s really popular. Let’s just do a book on Texas and you could have a chapter on Dallas, but you need to really have this wide-ranging thing.”

Then I would go back to them: OK, so do you know about hip-hop in San Antonio? Do you know about hip-hop in El Paso? What about hip-hop in Waco? Killeen? I’m listing all of these other regional capitols and it’s like, the phone is silent. I’m like, “OK, so you really are telling me that you don’t want Dallas hip-hop, but you probably want a Houston book and there’s already Houston Rap Tapes by Lance [Scott Walker].” I love Lance. There are books on Houston.

Renee is very unique because she grew up in Staten Island, so she understands how every borough in New York has a different hip-hop scene. She was like, “No, if you want Dallas hip-hop, I’m going to support you in that,” and that has been such a blessing. Because I think, as a freelancer, there’s oftentimes… Even probably in journalism in general, where you’re like, “Well, I want to get to this goal, so I’m willing to adapt.” Halfway Books really encouraged me to not adapt, but make media and make entertainment modify itself to you. I’m very thankful for Shea and Renee, who probably is somewhere asking me why I haven’t finished my book proposal.

I think yours is kind of the surprise pick of these five book essays, but I think it’s really cool that that’s going to be in the same conversation with all these other guys—the Roots, Kendrick Lamar, Lil Kim. It definitely surprised me, too. I tell people all the time, I did not know Shea was going to pick this out of all—because I know he had over 1,500 applicants, and I know that they were probably 1,500 albums that have been on best of lists, and Kendrick won a Pulitzer Prize. For little old Dallas to really show up, I was just floored.

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