Listen: Celebrating 50 years of hip-hop in North Texas

A singer on stage

Cameron McCloud of Cure For Paranoia closed the show at Trees for Deep Ellum 100’s event. Photo: Jessica Waffles

At a small bronx party 50 years ago this month, a then-18-year-old DJ by the name of Kool Herc was spinning for his sister’s back-to-school party. He didn’t know it in the moment, but the gathering would birth a movement that would bust through the walls of the apartment community room it was held in.

Half a century later, hip-hop has pierced through nearly every facet of culture, from various mediums of art to viral internet trends to fashion.

But even as the genre took off and the musicians behind it became the new rockstars as they commanded an explosive presence on the charts, ears were largely focused on either East Coast or West Coast hip-hop. It wasn’t until near the turn of the century that Southern hip-hop artists were getting their shine. A speech from Outkast’s Andre 3000 at the 1995 Source Awards, in which he famously proclaimed “The South got somethin’ to say,” is widely credited for turning necks toward what had been cooking in states like Texas.

And while heavyweights like Geto Boys, Slim Thug and UGK gripped southern rap by the collar to give hip-hop no choice but to mess with Texas, North Texas has often shadowed Houston in the conversations surrounding Texas rap.

That’s not to say Dallas’ influence on the genre has gone without impact, though.

Early on, Dallas native The D.O.C. penned records for some of mainstream hip-hop’s forefathers including N.W.A, Eazy-E, and Snoop Dogg while laying the formula for success of his own breakout debut, No One Can Do It Better. A documentary chronicling his legacy in hip-hop premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival just last year.

Even our own Erykah Badu, before stepping into a reign as the queen of neo-soul, cut her teeth as a rapper named Apples – she’s still got the bars to prove it. And if only for that brief 15 minutes, Vanilla Ice’s “Ice, Ice Baby” infamously sampled its way to the top of the charts back in 1990. For a view from the front row of those early days of Dallas hip-hop, check out We From Dallas: A Salute to Dallas Hip-hop, a documentary featuring MCs, radio hosts, producers and others who helped define the city’s hip-hop DNA.

On the independent circuit, area rappers gave voices to a generation with rowdy, infectious anthems. Tracks like Big Tuck’s “Southside Da Realist” and Young Nino & Hotboy Star’s “Oak Cliff (That’s My Hood)” were unapologetic in putting North Texas on their backs. D Magazine‘s track-by-track retrospective of some of these essential regional classics is a must-read.

The omnipresent question of “what about Fort Worth?” finds answers in artists like 88Killa and Lil Ronny MothaF whose influences held it down for the sounds out of Cowtown — the latter of which even made a fan out of Beyonce. Similarly, Lou Charle$ has proven to be an artist to watch in recent years, and not just out of Fort Worth but across North Texas.

Now, in this digital age where music discovery is just a viral Tweet or TikTok away, DFW’s voice in the Texas hip-hop conversation has never been louder. Bangers like Tay Money’s “Bussin’” and 10K.Caash’s “West Coast Cure” have picked up millions of listens through short-form video virality alone. What’s more, Dallas is the birthplace of several viral dances created by hip-hop artists, perhaps most notably Lil’ Wil’s “My Dougie.”

Despite its understated role in Texas, hometown hip-hop still erupts beyond North Texas, of course. Bobby Sessions has implanted his conspicuous Dallas pride not only at the core of his sound, but with everything his pen touches. In 2021, he nabbed a “Best Rap Song” Grammy for co-writing the biggest song of the year, “Savage,” by fellow Texans Megan Thee Stallion and Beyonce. Dallas runs deep behind the scenes, too. Latino duo Play-N-Skillz have established themselves as a team sitting on ready for production among the likes of Lil’ Wayne and Chamillionaire. And of course, the limits of the runaway success of Grapevine’s Post Malone have yet to be reached.

The backbone of hip-hop in North Texas now is indisputably the local artists who are bubbling under and reaching beyond a linear sound. Artists like Coach Tev and Devy Stonez are not only packing out shows all over the city, but challenging the ideas of what Dallas music sounds like. Nezi Momodu, with co-signs from legends like Missy Elliot and Snoop Dogg, recently signed to Def Jam Records alongside Bobby Sessions.

Even 50 years in, the future of hip-hop in North Texas is bright, and it still has plenty more to say. As we send off this anniversary month, here’s a playlist of only some of what’s in the roots of the genre here, as well as who is next up.  Admittedly, this merely scratches the surface of the rich, underrated history of Dallas hip-hop – a mix of the legends, unsung heroes, and even voices of the new generation carrying the mic. Tell us your favorites on KXT’s Instagram.