In an area often dominated by rock bands bashing out three-chord blasts and country groups considering the genre from different angles, North Texas hip-hop often has trouble finding a wider audience.
It's a shame, because Fort Worth, Dallas and Denton are home to some of the most forward-thinking, exciting rap and R&B acts in the state, seizing momentum away from Houston, long the Lone Star state's acknowledged hip-hop hotbed. Whether it's nationally recognized talents like Symbolyc One or Play-N-Skillz, or the impressive up-and-comers like A.Dd+ and the SMG Sound crew, it's impossible to ignore what these artists are turning out.
Mixtapes, once hustled from car trunks or in the back rooms of clubs, have, like everything else in the music business, gone digital: whether via Bandcamp or iTunes, some of the area's brightest stars are making a ruckus. Here are some recently released efforts from local rap acts worth hearing.
Snow Tha Product, 'Good Nights & Bad Mornings'
Fresh from signing to Atlantic Records last year, the woman born Claudia Feliciano offers up her first new music since inking her deal. Fittingly, the 10 tracks here, alternately produced by Money Moss, SAP, Magnificent, ID Labs, Keise on Track and Mike Nef, whip by in 30 minutes, matching the MC's breakneck flow (listen to the way "If you still sleepin', I'm gonna wake and bake and shake ya" trips off her tongue in Cookie Cutter B----es). Snow Tha Product moves easily among the stylish production, current without recycling other female rap stars of the moment. The tough, profane Good Nights & Bad Mornings pulls off a neat trick: maintaining Snow's unique skill set while showing she's raring to rip into the mainstream. (wakeyagameup.com)
Killa MC, 'Killa'
The ambitious Brain Gang collective is the closest thing North Texas will ever have to the Wu-Tang Clan, a comparison inspired by the martial arts interludes recurring throughout Killa, the latest mixtape from Fort Worth-born (and Denton-based) rapper Killa MC (aka Donovan Payne), and a follow-up to 2011's Laptops and Voicemails. Brain Gang encompasses a broad range of styles, evidenced by Killa MC's icy cool demeanor and his deft, occasionally menacing soundscapes. Expansive at 18 tracks, Killa displays a fine command of atmosphere, moving from spaced-out rhymes (Yawn) to blinding displays of verbal dexterity (Presidential) to expansive R&B-tinged pop (Straight Boomin') with ease. (killamc.net)
Bobby Sessions, 'Passion'
A member of the aforementioned Brain Gang, rapper Bobby Sessions lives up to this seven-track collection's title, working himself into a lyrical lather about life and relationships ("Peer pressure pressed her to the cliff/Let her leap," he fumes early on). Sessions, who doesn't shy away from repping his hometown (the self-explanatory Dallas, TX), is at his best when he's at his wit's end, bound up by his emotions and channeling his feelings into vignettes that grab you by the throat. "While others develop fake personas to cope with their fear of exposing themselves, I've endured some dark times in the past two years in attempt to find me," Sessions writes on his Bandcamp page. Listening to intense tracks like James Harper, you will willingly follow him into the abyss. (bobbysessions.bandcamp.com)
Dru B Shinin' & A-Roy, 'The Truth Tape'
One of SMG Sound's most appealing characteristics is the label roster's willingness to collaborate in-house. On almost any SMG release you hear, it's assured one or more labelmates will turn up a few times over the course of a record. So the arrival of The Truth Tape, which pairs Dru B Shinin' (aka Andrew McCullough) and A-Roy (aka Alan Royal), isn't exactly a surprise -- and neither is the album's smooth, easy greatness. Rapping over bold beats provided by EyeJay the Boy, Dru's wiry, witty rhymes mesh well with A-Roy's huskier, harder presentation. Although Truth Tape comes out swinging -- Raised No Fool is an early highlight -- the LP comes into sharp focus down the back stretch, with Lyrics in the Sky and Eyes of the Wild. (spheremusicgroup.bandcamp.com)
Mount Olympus, 'Mount Olympus I.V.'
Speaking of SMG Sound and its affinity for group efforts, Mount Olympus I.V. finds nearly every rapper associated with the Cowtown label taking a turn at the mic on this 11-track compilation. It's a dizzying assemblage of sounds and styles -- with seven credited rappers, including Wrex Washington, Zeus, Cali4nia Cuddy, Big Cliff, JKush, A-Roy and Dru B Shinin', Mount Olympus is nothing if not eclectic -- and arguably the best recording you could hand someone who doubts Fort Worth's formidable rap scene. Whether it's the tough stance of Gonna Give a F--, the gorgeous glow of Eyes So Low (Part II) or the throwback vibe of The World Goes Around, there's something here for everyone and, best of all, talent to burn. (themo.bandcamp.com/releases)