As anyone who has ever tried to publish a novel, open a restaurant or release their own CD can tell you, it's not easy to get noticed these days. There is so much competition, and your audience is perpetually being distracted by Facebook, smartphones and the latest news about William and Kate's marriage.
It's sad but true: He with the biggest marketing budget often wins.
Here at DFW.com Ink, we like to buck this trend. We're always on the lookout for artists, businesses and local phenoms who might operate under the radar.
Over the next few pages, you'll learn about one of Fort Worth's brightest new hip-hop stars; a blink-and-you'll-drive-by-it sushi restaurant serving some of the best food in town; a pair of filmmakers who have crafted a haunting tribute to a deceased baseball coach; and a local painter whose fearless work demands a national stage. Chances are you won't have heard of them -- or if you have, you've been meaning to learn more about them.
Don't delay any longer, and don't let the noise of YouTube, Dancing With the Stars, or your ringing iPhone distract you. Our under-the-radar talents might not have million-dollar promotional campaigns or hordes of publicists, but they are all reminders of why Dallas-Fort Worth is one of the country's most culturally vibrant and diverse metropolitan areas.
Dru B Shinin'
All you need to know about Fort Worth rapper Dru B Shinin' is right there in his rhymes: "I got my nose to the grind/And my head to the sky," spat the TCU grad on his 2010 full-length album, Dirty Money Painting.
That grind is unceasing -- the man who grew up as Andrew McCullough in Topeka, Kan., rarely lets up. His output (albums, EPs, videos, live performances) is prodigious, even in a genre known for its necessary, steady flow of new material. Plus, Dru B Shinin' is armed with a ferocious ambition.
Name another local artist -- in any genre -- that could deliver a polished mini-movie based on one of his albums. Dru did just that earlier this month: In collaboration with director/editor Sean Humanity, the Korean-American rapper released an ambitious, two-part, 30-minute short film based on the eight-track 2010 EP The Admission One. That collection preceded his full-length, November's Dirty Money Painting. (You can find both halves of the film at dfw.com/music.)
Along with a small army of collaborators, Dru is helping make Fort Worth into a thriving hip-hop town, which is all the more remarkable since he didn't start seriously rapping until arriving at TCU, collaborating with different bands and honing his flow by competing in regular freestyling faceoffs.
"It gave me a good starting point to begin working when I decided to pursue music professionally," he says.
His songs are mindful of the firm foundation provided by insistent beats, but don't skimp on melody. Dru consistently works with the same band of producers, the team known as Midi McFly (EyeJay the Boy, the Shark and Telegraph Canyon's Andrew Skates). Live instrumentation lends an edge to his tracks; Dru also shies away from an overreliance on samples -- although when he deploys them, as he does with Cream's White Room in Range, the sample is pared down to its essential elements.
His lyrical content roams freely over rap clichés (drugs, money, women) but also wrestles with cultural identity (McCullough, born in Korea, was adopted by white parents) and creative expression; the through line from one work to another is his simple thesis, "the world is a canvas."
"It seems that Fort Worth respects originality and isn't like most big cities where everybody just chases popularity," Dru says. "Being yourself and being different is appreciated in [Fort Worth's] music scene."
Dru is also finding an appetite for hip-hop among the city's music consumers, with a regular "hip-hop night" pulling in crowds to local club The Cellar.
"We are really excited about what we have been doing at The Cellar, as far as bridging the gap between the more 'street' music that's traditionally been made in Fort Worth and the 'alternative' scene of hip-hop like what we make," Dru says. "Things are going well."
This year, Dru B Shinin', in addition to that just-released sprawling "video EP," will offer The Clean Up, a companion EP to last year's full-length Dirty Money Painting, this summer. He says it will feature "a more focused, clean sound," and is built around live instrumentation, produced by Midi McFly.
"It's not as big and ambitious as Dirty Money Painting; it's very easy to listen to," Dru says. "Also, just for fun -- and to give a double meaning to The Clean Up, it will contain no samples and no cussing."
Put it another way, Dru B Shinin' is gonna keep his nose on his grind and his head to the sky.
Just across from Ellerbe Fine Foods, the dazzling, locavore-inclined eatery hailed by food writers from coast to coast, sits a much smaller, more humble but no less forceful dining experience. Temaki Sushi, the first in a planned wave of Japanese restaurants along the rapidly revitalizing West Magnolia Avenue, has been open barely two months, but it could quickly become one of the premier sushi destinations in Tarrant County.
The setup is elegant in its simplicity. A carefully curated menu is split between three affordable price points ($3, $5 and $9) and features a grand total of 29 items. The very accommodating staff is more than happy to explain the difference between sashimi and nigiri or extol the virtues of a particular sushi roll -- and then deliver the goods to your table in carefully timed waves.
Whatever you do, do not miss the $3 spicy tuna endive appetizer; it's a miracle of Asian fusion. It's the perfect beginning to a meal that will unfold one astonishingly clean, fresh bite after another. Temaki feels less like supping in a restaurant and more like grabbing a bite to eat at your neighbor's house -- if your neighbor had a stylishly appointed dining room, with modern furniture and subdued lighting, that is.
It's the sort of casual neighborhood place where you could squeeze in a low-key date night, or study for a final or get caught up with friends. Most of all, Temaki Sushi is the kind of place you would really like to keep a secret and have only for yourself. Once word gets out though, expect the crowds to grow and grow and grow....
(1504 W. Magnolia Ave.; 817-810-0438)
A woman stands over a bowl of cake batter, her hand and arm dripping with the chocolaty mess. In pure surrender, she laps the chocolate from her hands, diving into a greedy, sensual reverie. In the painting, titled Euphoria (3), she is lit dramatically -- like a modern-day Caravaggio, if Caravaggio dabbled in eating disorders.
This beautifully jarring body-image statement is the work of Michelle Brandley, a 28-year-old Fort Worth painter who beautifully lays bare her insecurities and tormentors. Other artists have tackled eating disorders, but none quite so intimately or with such heart-rending honesty.
"For the last two years now, I've been painting about ... fat," says Brandley, who is a student in the fine-arts master's degree program at Texas Christian University.
When people think of eating disorders, their minds typically go to anorexia and bulimia. But Brandley is more interested in the disorder of overeating. She thinks of it as an addiction -- with many of the same feelings and effects of drugs and alcohol. "Like in the Euphoria paintings, the idea of food putting you into a sort of euphoric state -- pleasure and desire, all wrapped up." And of course, the paradoxical guilt and danger that come with it.
For the last year or so, she's been painting self-portraits that explore these issues. In Crime, you see a dramatic close-up of her head, her mouth stuffed with an apple like a roast suckling pig. Then there's OD, where she's passed out on a couch, surrounded by a litter of junk food carnage: empty packages of Peanut M&Ms, Cheetos and Chips Ahoy. Resting on her body, an open copy of Shape magazine
"I've been an overeater my whole life and struggled with weight issues," Brandley says. "I've been on a hundred different diets since third grade, striving for this so-called perfection and dealing with the expectations and stresses of world around me -- like my parents, who are thin.
"When I started painting about food and eating, it evolved very quickly into this thing with the self-portraits, because I felt I was able to communicate with myself in that way."
Brandley came to Texas with a fine arts degree from California State University-Fullerton, enrolled in Tarrant County College to put together a portfolio, and then went into the TCU MFA program. She's had her work displayed at 500X Gallery in Dallas, and before that, a solo show at the East Fork Gallery of Tarrant County College in downtown Fort Worth.
The next showing of Brandley's work will be a few pieces in a group show with other MFA students at TCU's Fort Worth Contemporary Arts gallery at TCU. The show opens May 5.
Right now, she is still in grad school, so she is still finding her way in the profession. For every success, there are deflating moments. "I've had a lot of rejections, but I have to just keep moving forward," Brandley says. "I think every artist hopes to be represented by a gallery -- I know I do -- or have a museum show someday. Gotta think big."
Amphibian Stage Productions
Although Amphibian Stage Productions is in its 12th season, the edgy theater group still doesn't get the attention it deserves.
If you don't know the work of the 'Phibs, as they are affectionately known, then consider that a goal for this year. The group was founded by theater students from turn-of-the-millennium Texas Christian University. After several years of mostly new plays and a few out-of-the-box premieres, including a work performed entirely in complete darkness, the group settled into the Fort Worth Community Arts Center's intimate black box, the Sanders Theatre, and has managed some remarkable makeovers of that space, with exquisite design.
Many of the original company members moved to New York, Chicago and other cities for graduate work and professional careers, but they all still maintain a tight bond with the home crew and often return to work here. As a result, the company often finds interesting scripts that may have only appeared off-Broadway or off-off-Broadway, or playwrights from the Big Apple to check out. For instance, they recently gave North Texas its first taste of hot playwright Rajiv Joseph, whose Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, starring Robin Williams as the title character, is currently being acclaimed on Broadway. The 'Phibs' production of his origami drama, Animals Out of Paper, was nicely crafted. And the group's production of Nilaja Sun's one-woman, multicharacter piece No Child ... was the best show in Fort Worth or Dallas in 2010.
Amphibian stages three productions in the Sanders each year, but perhaps more impressive is its roster of one-night-only staged readings, performed in the auditorium of the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth. These are done with more thought and rehearsal than readings typically receive, and in a hat-tip to the museum venue, there is typically at least one title dealing with the visual-art world. Its next reading is a new play from longtime TV writer and producer Philip Gerson (who will be in attendance), called Eyes Forward, which deals with a painting stolen by the Nazis. At $15 a head, the Modern's auditorium fills up; that rarely happens with readings. So perhaps word is getting around about the fabulous 'Phibs.
'8' by Daniel Laabs and Julie Gould
In 1999, 27-year-old Arlington native Clay Gould was named head baseball coach at his alma mater, the University of Texas at Arlington -- making him one of the nation's youngest collegiate baseball coaches. Two years later, after a valiant struggle, Gould died from colon cancer. He had been married to his wife, Julie, for less than two years. Their daughter, Logan, was 10 months old.
Flash-forward a decade: Julie Gould and UT-Arlington-educated filmmaker Daniel Laabs have collaborated on perhaps the loveliest tribute imaginable. The short film, 8, premiered at last month's South by Southwest Film Festival, where it won the prize for best Texas-made short. Screenings at the Dallas International Film Festival a few weeks ago were equally well-received.
Shot in Arlington last spring, the film -- scripted by Gould (who is a photographer) and directed by Gould and Laabs -- observes Gould and Logan as they spend a day commemorating Clay. With money that she has been dutifully saving, Logan buys a bunch of bright red balloons, which mother and daughter launch into the spring sunshine. Later, they visit the UTA baseball stadium, now named for Clay. Only near the end, when Logan resists Julie's efforts to practice hitting in a batting cage, does the melancholy of the day seem to overcome the younger Gould.
At only eight minutes long, it is more of a visual poem than a fully realized piece of dramatic storytelling. Yet there are lovely, graceful notes throughout, including an early shot of the balloons soaring into the air which inevitably recalls the classic French film The Red Balloon. Laabs, who has produced a number of other short films (and who recently relocated to Austin), is clearly someone worth keeping tabs on. And the Gould ladies are natural and graceful presences in front of the camera.
8 will continue to screen on the film-festival circuit, with showings April 28 at the Independent Film Festival Boston and in early May at the Maryland Film Festival. You can view the trailer for the film on Vimeo.com
Doc's Records and Vintage
From the outside, it doesn't look like much -- a slightly dumpy, slightly overgrown storefront not far from the refined, manicured lawns of the Cultural District. And if we're being honest, the inside, with its cinder-block and 2-by-4 charm, doesn't really wow you either. But once you start digging into the crates spread across the floor of Doc's Records and Vintage, the store's appearance falls by the wayside: "There's a ton of great vinyl in here!"
North Texas has no shortage of music retailers, from behemoths like Forever Young Records in Grand Prairie to the hipster-approved Good Records in Dallas, but Fort Worth's record stores are often left out of the street cred conversation. Sure, Record Town gets marks for being the artistic ground zero for Grammy-winning producer T Bone Burnett and the Bruton family, while the Ernest Tubb Record Shop earns a thumbs-up from the pearl-snaps and tourist set.
But where is Fort Worth's mecca for rare vinyl (longing for a mint condition copy of Pink Floyd's Atom Heart Mother?) and new releases (helpfully stowed up front), while also not forsaking the city and region's local artists, many of whom ply their craft in one of Doc's three performance spaces?
It's tucked away on Montgomery Street, it turns out, where Doc's proprietor Jenkins Boyd stations himself behind a wonderfully cluttered counter. If you're not hankering for slabs of vinyl, Doc's also stocks plenty of vintage duds that line the back walls -- make this your last stop for the Great Ironic T-shirt Search.
It may not have the star power of Good Records, or Forever Young's sprawling inventory, but Doc's has what every great record store needs: an accommodating owner who is willing to turn customers on to his new favorite band, a wide variety of music and a welcoming vibe.
(2111 Montgomery St.; 817-732-5455)
The first time we saw a headline on a website called DFWian, we scratched our head: "In-N-Out Breaks Ground, Looks to Fill Metroplex Fast Food Burger Void."
Eh? Was this for real?
A quick scan of DFWian.com revealed a satirical news site that is rooted in issues affecting Dallas-Fort Worth. Mocking headlines, usually with funny Photo-Shopped images to match. To wit:
Dallas and Fort Worth Drop Streetcar Plans in Favor of Badass Urban Zip-lines
Stars Fire Coach for Refusing to Play Magical Hockey Unicorn
Southwest Reminds Panicked Customers that Bags Flew Free
The site is run by John Greer, a 34-year-old website developer who lives in Fort Worth. "I had been looking for some format to write, but hadn't really found something I liked," Greer said. "There wasn't really a local site like it that I saw."
One day last year, he showed a mock-up of the home page to his wife, Elena. "Oh, I get it," she told him. "It's like The Onion, but local."
That's the same description DFW.com arrived at when we started seeing those headlines shoot across our Twitter feed. It's very much in the style of The Onion, the well-known satire newspaper/website/book series. But judging by its modest base of Twitter followers (at press time, just 77), DFWian seems to be a well-kept secret we want to share.
Greer started DFWian.com in October of 2010, and says he skewers because he loves. He says that aside from living in Austin and College Station to attend school, he has lived mostly in Fort Worth, and he and his wife moved back here eight years ago. "It's grown on me more than it did when I was back in high school. I really like Fort Worth," he said. "I'm definitely keeping up with the local news; it's good to know your community."
As for the news parodies of DFW: "It's not perfect, and I guess that's part of it, too."
He faces a few challenges with the site, which he hopes to eventually expand and start selling ads on: It's tough to find the time to update it every day, and it's also sometimes a struggle to find a news story that well-known enough to work as a successful parody.
One of our biggest challenges? Wrapping our tongue around that cumbersome name: "DFWian."
"Yeah, it's hard to say," Greer acknowledges. "But I think it kind of fits. I was surprised it was available [as a domain name on the Internet].
"A lot people mispronounce it," he says, laughing. "I think my aunt called it 'Dwayne.'"