One of the darkest and most depressing Southern Rap albums of 2015 came from an unlikely place.
Dorian, Mel and Jay had a big breakout moment together as The Outfit, TX following the release of their Down By The Trinity project. The Dallas trio produced something that could be seen as a depressing mix of Southern Hip Hop, slowed industrial rock and blues. Complex called Down By The Trinity “a dysmorphic mass of distorted grunge riddled with overt production techniques.”
The lyrical themes matched the moody production. No bottle popping unless it was an eighth of “Wild Turkey” to wash down the depression. Hitting licks seemed more in tune with scrambling to pay rent instead of buying a new foreign whip. Bleakness never sounded so good. Rap notables including Danny Brown and Trinidad James became fans as well.
Their follow-up mixtape Green Lights: Everythang Goin’ wrote a new playbook for the group. They relinked with influential Texas tastemaker DJ Mr. Rogers, who essentially put them on the map during their early days. Normally keeping production in-house between Dorian and Mel, they offloaded a large portion of the project’s beats to Stunt N Dozier (Bun B, E-40). The end result is a lighter album featuring slappers grounded with a slightly experimental vibe.
They’ve previously said they make music for the working man, and that feeling couldn’t have been any clearer when HipHopDX got some time with them. We caught up with the group after they played three shows in Southern California, and they mentioned making the nearly day-long drive from Dallas without stopping.
Just like Green Lights: Everythang Goin’, they’re speeding forward despite overwhelming odds.
The Outfit, TX Talk The Controversial Cover Of Down By The Trinity
HipHopDX: Green Lights: Everythang Goin’ is your sixth official studio project and first not to be solely produced in-house.
Mel: It’s the first project we outsourced most of the production. Normally it’s split between Dorian and I. We actually let Stunt N Dozier and Guerilla323 finish it off and I believe I produced one. We really had fun with this hoe man and we’re in a different space in life. We’re mashing the gas and grinding. It was like a transition. With this one, Hawk and I were adamant about picking up the pace in how we make tracks and records. When we produce everything, it takes a little longer and takes a couple of days. A studio session might only amount to one record or half a record as opposed to having bets on deck. Then, you can make three or so records. Plus, our output has been a lot for the past couple of years. So the production takes a lot out of you. Personally, I produced a majority of Down By The Trinity and Deep Ellum EP and Dorian has been innovating his sound while I’ve been doing that. It was at a point where I was kind of tired so I thought, fuck it, let’s fuck with some other producers like Stunt.
DX: Off the bat, I noticed that it’s a lot lighter than Down By The Trinity. Where did that come from?
Dorian: That’s usually how life works. Once you get the heavy off your shoulders, the next thing to come is enjoying things. Once you get that catharsis off, you’re free of that and it’s easier to enjoy where you at.
Mel: Everything comes organically regardless of how we feel. That’s just how we feel.
DX: What was going around the time of Down By The Trinity?
JayHawk: Hell. Trying to get through the pain and trying to celebrate through it. Like New Orleans do the second line. Trying to be positive and get through some painful times.
Mel: Almost like a Baptism. Talking shit to the record seriously. Trying to bury it deep with some real life. If you’re blessed to live a long life, everyone is going to hit hard times. Some shit happened to me in my personal life that affected me on a spiritual level. My bandmates too. All three of us were going through some things. This underground rap life is like the chitlin circuit grind. It’s a very unforgiving and sometimes unrewarding grind till a certain point. So Down By The Trinity was a blues point for The Outfit, TX.
DX: To me, Down By The Trinity was neck-and-neck with To Pimp A Butterfly for the best cover art last year. Both featured highly racial themes. What was the influence for that?
Dorian: Pretty much all of it Mel does. Some of it stems from the music as well. The music dictates what kind of aesthetic we go for from what we feel and see.
Mel: It’s a mode bro. The greatest art is highly conceptualized. I want my art to be like the Sade and Kanye covers. I say go there. For us, when we started making that music, Down By The Trinity wasn’t even an album. I was making beats and songs as therapy because of what I was going through on some real nigga shit in life. I wasn’t even playing it for these niggas. We were making other music. I was making that shit when these guys left around four or five in the morning. I looked up and had eight pieces. I was listening and made a cover with a Confederate Flag. This was way before Dylann Roof and all of that shit. I had a tattoo of the Confederate Flag on fire way before all of that shit.
The cover was highly saturated and I had flames on that bitch and turned it purple/blue because that’s how it sounded. It was some really South shit, but different — almost as if we were burning down conventions of what we have to sound like. Still slow tempo and everything was like 60 BPMs. It had that Texas in it fa sho. It ain’t just repetitive hooks and ESG samples. That was the original surface level feel. When I played it for these guys, that’s when we started talking about how it sounded. Then stuff like Michael Brown started happening in real life and started inspiring us. We had a conversation where it sounded like a horror movie. A lot of the pain and hate we were talking about got us into a conversation about the KKK. That’s obviously one of the most hateful organizations and we wanted to flip that imagery. That shit just be happening.
“Niggas Fucked With ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’”
DX: I remember The Dallas Observer naming Down By The Trinity one of the best albums of last year alongside Jeff Weiss having you guys perform out here at his POW 10th Anniversary Concert. You guys are getting some serious looks.
Mel: If I can be real with you like I’m going to be, I feel like Down By The Trinity is still under-appreciated and highly underrated. We definitely feel blessed that people acknowledged it, but we went for something with that one. We’re not even trying to sound contrived. We wanted to make something that we’re starting to see as a wave now. This whole rage wave that’s coming.
DX: I call it Hip Hop’s punk phase.
Mel: I feel like we did it to a certain extent. I’m just trying to be tactful but real. A lot of the more rage type records I’m hearing lately is talking about drug use and angst.
DX: I always thought of you guys Southern Hip Hop’s Black Sabbath or Lynyrd Skynyrd. Where are you guys’ rock roots?
Mel: I’m with that shit. Creedence Clearwater Revival, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Soundgarden.
Dorian: What time period do you want to go to? What decade?
DX: Down By The Trinity featured a nice amount of pretty long guitar solos.
Dorian: Santana and Sublime.
Mel: All that shit from the ’90s. Huge fans of Metallica.
DX: There are a lot of rappers who almost use rock as a crutch to seem alternative or cool outside of Hip Hop. You guys seem different in that regard.
JayHawk: These are the first niggas I’ve been around who really listen to rock and it’s cool.
Mel: One of the first projects I remember owning was Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill album when I was little. My dad let me buy that with my own money. I bought that and Project Pat’s Ghetty Green album. Hawk’s a ’90s Hip Hop nigga so I put him on to the rock shit cause we’re partners. That ’90s alternative wave was dope to be living in. My dad used to work at Channel 4 in Dallas and he’d get tickets to The Edge Fest, which was put on by this alternative rock-and-roll station. That was like my first concert. I got to see No Doubt, Green Day and Red Hot Chili Peppers the same night. I’m sitting on top of a truck with a lawn chair. I got a Capri Sun and my dad got a beer. These muthafuckas going crazy.
DX: How many black folks were there?
Mel: On the cool, it was a lot. It was like 80 percent white folks and Latinos and 20 percent blacks.
Dorian: Cause realistically, a lot of that got to black people. We just try to act like we didn’t fuck with it. Niggas fucked with “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”
DX: Yeah some rappers have made Kurt Cobain one of the few honorary significant figures not directly involved with the culture.
Dorian: It was times I would be listening to some shit in high school and would turn it down when people walk by because it wasn’t cool.
DX: Even if you pay attention now, rock has had an overwhelming influence on Hip Hop more than ever.
Mel: Ain’t it karma, though? Rock and roll was originally a black genre. It was definitely white washed and we know the history. It’s going to come full circle. Black people are going to feel anything that has feeling. Anything that has soul, we’re going to feel it. Can’t tell me Kurt Cobain didn’t have soul. It was a demented, depressed and dark soul, but soul. We all got ratchet partners that ain’t trying to hear none of it. They trying to hear Tupac and Boosie.
DX: You guys are still with the shits, though. There is still a ratchet Southern rap nature to you guys. Where does that fall into play?
Mel: We still ratchet ass niggas. We all of that. We’re just as eclectic with the rock as we are with the hood shit. We’re just as much Boosie and Erykah Badu as we are Jamiroquai. We’re with all of that shit. Anything musical period, we’ll check it out. The only music I don’t fuck with is like Tim McGraw. This nigga Hawk might shock us.
JayHawk: I fuck with a few country songs. I don’t fuck with heavy metal, though. I can’t fuck with the screaming and shit.
Mel: I fuck with it.
DX: Even with Hawk mentioning the screaming and stuff, I just had a conversation about how people feel about the “mumble” generation of rappers. Most rock and heavy metal can be extremely difficult to understand despite being dope.
Mel: Look at Jimi Hendrix, my ear had to mature to get a lot of what he was saying.
DX: You guys are still obviously lyrical, but do you think lyrics matter as much anymore or is it the vibe people are feeling?
Mel: Less is more and make sure to be poignant.
Dorian: That’s the thing about lasting through time. Immediately, people aren’t hearing lyrics. All they hear is the music. Does that shit bang? Can I do whatever I need to do while listening to it? Do you deliver the same feeling that goes with the music? That’s all you need to reel people in. The lyrics take you throughout time. That’s what make people go back to it. That’s what makes it feel that much more important to you. Niggas have to remember that there was music prior to Hip Hop.
The Outfit, TX Explains What Keeps Them In Dallas
DX: DJ Mr. Rogers is the host of Green Lights: Everythang Goin’. He’s one of the most respected DJs out of Texas in regards to his history of breaking records.
Mel: Mr. Rogers is my big bro. I consider him a big bro of mine. I use to kick it with Rogers by myself at the clubs in like 2012. I would be with this nigga helping him carry his shit there. It wasn’t even about getting songs played because I didn’t have songs to give him. He took a liking to us early on and saw the potential in us before a lot of people. He’s a living legend.
DX: I know you get this a lot, but it seems like Dallas has these really bright moments before fading. The D.O.C. came from there, Dorrough, GS Boyz, NFL Boyz and even Justus after the Compton look. Is the scene changing?
Mel: The best way I can put it is that we have a wave with this underground culture we’re living in. Dallas is the few locales that enjoy a scene and a real live culture built around it. Last year, we had the Dallas warehouse parties and 16 Bar house parties that were insane. When people come to Dallas, you’re going to see a shit ton of local acts and a lot of them have for real talent. This isn’t anything new, it’s just that we don’t have a pipeline to the industry and spotlight on us. We don’t have any predecessors or legends before us that’s set a precedent. They have DJ Screw, Mike Jones(s), Lil Keke(s), Slim Thug(s) and the likes in Houston. You can name 10 Houston rappers right now. Atlanta, New York and L.A. have it as well.
DX: What keeps you guys in Dallas?
Mel: We talk about it all the time as so many people try to persuade us to leave, but we see the opportunity and we want our own scene and wave. You ain’t going to see this anywhere else. 1,200 kids in an empty airplane hangar going crazy. It’s going all the way up. We travel and do shows all the time. We got the wave and other people are noticing. We don’t have any industry or infrastructure.
DX: Is infrastructure even a necessity now?
Mel: Basically, yeah because that’s the biggest thing. There is a plethora of talent and culture there in Dallas. I think everyone is looking for that next step or next phase. Because we don’t have the leadership that Houston or Atlanta have, it’s harder for us to figure out how we navigate. You have to be able to keep up with where things are going everywhere and not just in your own city. Before you can shift a paradigm you have to have a paradigm. In all these other cities, they have an infrastructure in place. Soulja Boy can come out of Atlanta’s scene and decided to say fuck it and do something else.
DX: I first heard about you on the web through a Day & A Dream post. Has the internet become an equalizer for that?
Mel: Shit, we moved back to Dallas three years ago. We were living in Houston. We were aliens down there because we weren’t from Houston. For the longest, the internet was our home base. It was our equalizer. Recently, the state and the city is behind us in real life, but for the longest, we were on some internet shit. Our old manager asked us where were our fans. What do they look at? She would look on Soundcloud and Twitter and come up with a summary and try to assist it. It was impossible. There’s an 18-year-old white girl in North Carolina or Latino dude in California who is 38 years old.
JayHawk: You gotta know your audience. That’s how you end up learning yourself.
Mel: That’s my biggest curiosity. Who is feeling me?