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Continued from 11 >> That was also the year that Baptist Generals frontman Chris Flemmons began making plans in earnest to promote the festival now known as 35 Denton from its status as a low-key South by Southwest day party in Austin to a full-fledged music festival Denton could call its own. After an exhilarating and occasionally tumultuous first few years, the event now shows all the signs of a maturing operation. Organizers have secured crucial backing from local businesses, settled once and for all on a name, developed a focused and highly creative marketing and booking team, and in general are exhibiting a level of organization and professionalism that, as anyone who has ever attempted to run a conference can tell you, only comes with experience. But as hip-hop’s profile increased nationally at a seemingly exponential rate, and even as the Denton rock scene received a great deal of exposure with a flagship music festival now entering maturity, the city’s equally eclectic hip-hop community has been growing and developing a voice of its own, and is only just now beginning to be noticed. In a 2010 festival day panel, Shiny Around the Edges frontman and unofficial Denton music advocate Michael Seman remarked how the festival could certainly do more to promote local hip-hop, partic-

even though it boasts a number of active DJs and MCs, such as Chris “AV the Great” Avant; Smitty, aka Lil Ben; J-Whoa; Buk Baby; DJ Spinn Mo; and a collective known as the Dream Team. Although not for any apparent lack of desire for collaboration between the core Denton music community and Southeast Denton hip-hop artists, there appears to be a dearth of awareness on both sides of Bell Avenue, which divides Southeast Denton from the main area of downtown, and serves as both a geographical and metaphorical boundary between two music communities that, as it turns out, are eager for more cooperation. “I wish there wasn’t [a gap between the two communities] but it’s a simple fact that I’ve never seen anybody from Southeast Denton at the same party, or at a Fab Deuce show or an Xegesis show, or any one of the number of hip-hop shows,” says local DJ Joey Leichty, otherwise known by his nom de turntable Yeahdef. “Or they haven’t made themselves known.” With his long straight hair, a subtle but distinctively Texan drawl, and an intelligent demeanor that veers toward downright nerdiness, Yeahdef has become an unlikely spokesman for Denton’s hip-hop community. He says he got hooked on the music during rehearsals for a high school musical, where a defective CD player essentially forced him to listen to one of the most influential hip-hop records of all

‘Hey, it’s me, I’m rapping, here’s my Twitter link, let’s link up,’ or something. I guess the handshake’s never been made.” Fab Deuce’s Pudge Brewer agrees. “For the most part when booking shows everyone seems to stick to booking with the bands and groups they are closest to.” Brewer, who grew up in Denton, has kept up with hip-hop developments east of Bell Avenue. “I’m a fan of the Southeast Denton movement,” he says. “I grew up with a lot of those guys within the Denton public school system. A lot of those MCs have been making hip-hop around here for as long as I can remember.” The boundaries that define the city-within-a-city known as Southeast Denton (it even has its own “Welcome to” sign) couldn’t be more stark. Sitting not only across literal railroad tracks — as many as seven on its west side along Bell, elevated by what might as well be a 20-foot wall of dirt — and bounded on the northeast by the Denton County Courts Building, a large county jail complete with encircling barbed wire, a juvenile detention center and a dog pound, the area is enclosed by a set of visual associations that to local hip-hop artist and Southeast Denton native Chris Avant have been, to put it mildly, forbidding. “The city jail’s right there,” he says. “Go down farther on the corner, you got the courthouse. Look to the right of it, you got the county jail. Look to the right of that, you got juvenile. Go to Fred Moore Park,

But as hip-hop’s profile increased nationally at a seemingly exponential rate, and even as the Denton rock scene received a great deal of exposure with a flagship music festival now entering maturity, the city’s equally eclectic hip-hop community has been growing and developing a voice of its own, and is only just now beginning to be noticed. ularly what’s coming out of the vibrant Southeast Denton scene. So two years later, where does hip-hop stand, with regards to the festival as well as the broader Denton music community? This year, 35 Denton organizers have tapped underground rap artists Danny Brown, Devin the Dude and Main Attrakionz and high-profile Houston performer Bun B. A small number of local Denton hip-hop acts are also on the bill, with longtime Denton resident and accomplished DJ Yeahdef, as well as homegrown Denton hip-hop collective Fab Deuce both getting the nod. However, Southeast Denton remains unrepresented, 12

time. “I had a CD player that was broken ... and the CD that was in there was [A Tribe Called Quest’s] Midnight Marauders. During rehearsals I would just listen to that. Probably 1,000 times I heard that record. Ever since then I was feverishly searching for other hip-hop tracks like that.” As far as cross-community collaboration goes, Yeahdef admits he may have simply missed meeting Southeast Denton rappers, and would genuinely like to see more interaction develop. “I mean I can’t see everybody,” he says. “Maybe I don’t know who they are. I wish that after a show or something or after a DJ gig they’d be like,

you got two big cemeteries. So when you’re growing up, this is all you see. You got the school where dropouts go, Fred Moore. This is what I saw growing up.” But the community inside those borders, says Avant, was close, and his description of life growing up in Southeast Denton sounds more like an episode of The Andy Griffith Show than The Wire. This is Denton, after all, not Baltimore. “It’s a small, close-knit community,” he says. “It is kind of cut off once you cross those tracks. ... Everybody knows everybody. Mommas went to school together, grannies went to school with each other, go to church with each other. Church is a big

Little d After Dark

part of the community.” The fact is that once you get past the somewhat ominous boundaries that define it, Southeast Denton is, well, quaint. The houses are older but generally well kept. There are churches in almost every direction, always bustling any Sunday you find yourself driving down Morse Street, which bisects the area from Bell to Audra Lane. There are small restaurants, a community center, a large park and a new elementary school, all landmarks of a community that few residents of Denton ever see, even though they probably drive within less than an eighth of a mile of them every day. Avant, who is studying radio, film and television at the American Broadcasting School in Arlington, would like to see the two communities come together, and seems as committed as anyone to helping Denton’s music scene thrive. “I’m totally dedicated to getting this area noticed, period,” he says. “We all try to support each other as much as we can. It’s very eclectic. We’re a city of our own; we’re not a suburb of Dallas. If they like Brave Combo, then they’ll like what’s going on [in Southeast Denton].” Meanwhile, hip-hop continues to be made on both sides of Bell. Yeahdef says the scene is constantly changing, constantly surprising him. “It’s been morphing, there’s been people coming on that I didn’t expect that are doing their own thing and they’re not trying to fit in.” He mentions in particular a young MC he met just over a year ago, Dontae Smiley, who goes by the stage name D. Smiley. Like Fortune’s “Hip-Hop Cash Kings,” Smiley’s entrepreneurial instincts are as sharp as his rhymes. Smiley is “very motivated around creating his own circle,” Yeahdef says. “He’s really progressing fast. He’s ready to go.” Smiley came on the scene not only as a talented MC, but as an organizing force for local hip-hop. A native of Dallas now living in Denton to attend the University of North Texas, Smiley has been putting together successful bills around the area, like a recent show at Andy’s Bar consisting of himself and a number of mostly Dallasbased hip-hop acts. Smiley says Dallas seems to be more focused on lyrics than the kind of “party rap” that rap scenes like Atlanta are known for. “What Dallas used to want to see is the club music, party music and dance music and that stuff,” he says. “But this younger generation is trying to get the lyrical [side] going and try to make something of itself. We’re trying to get off that dance stuff and write.” Smiley doesn’t exactly see himself as part of the Denton scene. “I don’t plan on staying here,” he admits. “I’ll still do shows >>

Continued on 17 March 2012

March Little d After Dark  

Monthly entertainment guide of the Denton Record-Chronicle.

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