The number is big.
“Well, we’re all off Monday to Wednesday,” says Mel Kyle, de factor leader of the Outfit, TX, a rap triumvirate spawned in Dallas but now based in Houston, Texas and maybe the best thing in rap today that nobody is talking about yet. “While we were making the album — I don’t remember what part of the process we were in, but while we were making the album we recorded one time for 48 hours straight.”
If you’ve not heard the project he’s referencing, late 2012′s Starships & Rockets: Cooly Fooly Space Age Funk, the claim might sound unreasonable: Has anybody ever done anything for 48 hours straight? Is the earth even 48 hours old? But if you have then “48″ sounds appropriate.
The Outfit, TX’s music is, in no uncertain terms, absurdly trenchant. It is a master class in influence amalgamation, the sort of cosmic blend of all of the groups in Southern rap history you think of when someone says “Hey, think of rap groups in Southern rap history” that can only come from an altered state of consciousness (like not sleeping for two days). The most impressive part, though: While the lineage is clear (Outkast‘s abstract ambition, UGK‘s femur-snapping insight, Three 6 Mafia‘s complex simplicity, etc), the threesome (Dorian Terrell and JayHawk Walker are the other two-thirds) somehow manages to sound all the way brand new. “This is no shot to anyone making music,” says Mel. “But we couldn’t find anything today that we wanted to listen to. I was always having to search for some ’90s shit on Spotify. So we wanted to make something that made us feel like what that music made us feel like.” The result: A contemporary take on traditional Southern rap that feels youthful but still connected to the forefathers, excitingly creative but still familiar, and uniquely regional without being exclusionary.
Answering questions about themselves in a café in Southwest Houston, the trio falls into the same roles they play while rapping. Mel, wide-voiced and ultra-melodic, guides the conversation, his fuzzy intonation declarative and passionate. He’s charming, and surprisingly funny. When asked why they moved from Dallas to Houston: “It was a bad environment. There just wasn’t anything to do. It was like prison; all I did was do push-ups and read.” When asked what he might order for lunch: “I never know what to do with penne pasta. The shape’s confusing. Do I use a fork? Do I grab it with my hands?”
But he’s also hyper-contemplative, in what is probably the least possible way anyone has ever been contemplative. When asked about the line “Do heaven got some hoes?” from one of the songs: “I mean, does it? And if it doesn’t, are n*ggas still gonna wanna go there?”
Dorian, the group’s dynamo producer, acts as the border fence for talks, letting Mel wander around in his own thoughts without letting him run astray. The album’s 11th song, a trance-like track called “Matter of Time,” extends all the way past seven minutes, the last two of which bleed into a robotic soliloquy that is as fully vetted and emotive as Kanye’s album version of “Runaway.” Dorian builds similar sorts of moments out of nothingness all through “S&R:CFSAF,” and it’s never not impressive.
And JayHawk only talks when it’s absolutely necessary.
For more than two hours, The Outfit, TX sits at a table eating foodstuffs discussing from their new video (above) to how they compose their songs (after the beat is made, they’ll get in the car and drive and just say nothing until they can feel the music in their protons) to the type of defense required to stop San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick (a fucking good one, is the type).
Eventually, finally, exactly eight minutes before everyone gets up and leaves, Mel makes perhaps the only the only statement that needs to be made when discussing The Outfit, TX: “I can feel the music, bro. When Dorian makes a beat I can feel it. When JayHawk gets to doing his lyrical thing, rhyming all these words back to back to back, I can feel it. It’s like it’s not even music. It’s more than music. It’d be nice to be able to stop slingin’ fish plates [as a waiter in a seafood restaurant] and do this full-time, but it is what it is. We have that feeling. That’s all anyone ever needs.” Mel, JayHawk and Dorian stand up, shake hands with others at the table, then walk out towards their car. They all rode together. And they all live together. They all work at the same place too.
And all of their work clothes are in the car.