Though The Outfit, TX have made waves with their recent project, Down By The Trinity, they’re far from newcomers to the rap game. Earlier projects like this year’s Deep Ellum and solo work from members Mel and Dorian already proved the group has what it takes to carry on the southern tradition in their own warped and blackened style. Despite being around for years and gaining notoriety among the Texas rap community, the trio behind The Outfit–Mel, JayHawk, and Dorian–still seem just as mysterious as the music they’ve been creating.
Today, we’re premiering the visuals for standout cut off Down By The Trinity, “Cut For Me,” but we also got a chance to chat with the group about what makes the new record tick, like the time-bomb of aggression and tension that it is. Check the clip above to watch the gang vibe out in full hunting apparel, then read the interview below to learn how they came up with the concept, and how it may hold the key to understanding the record as a whole.
Mass Appeal: To kick things off, can you guys describe each other, as far as your role in the group, what you contribute, and how you feel about the record?
JayHawk: Mel’s role in this album, man, he’s like the center block for this piece. Like how old basketball teams had to start with a center. Nowadays they start with a point guard. But back in the day, you had to have a great center in order to have any kind of deep run at the playoffs. And I feel like that’s the position he played in this record. He stepped his production game up tremendously. We were in a place where we was just kind of making music, trying to figure ourselves out, trying to figure out what our next mode’s gonna be. He started making these records and it just started kind of painting a picture and molding what we were gonna make with this project. [Dorian] and I were able to take the rock from there, and add our little pieces and additives to make it what it is today. He was the foundation of this particular project. He was the production mind behind it. He had the vision, and we just implemented the plan from there.
Dorian: Hawk is definitely the livewire. He brings a lot of energy to the table, he’s always the most vibrant of us. We call him Daytime for a reason, ‘cuz he is definitely alive when the sun is out. We recorded a lot of music late at night, so even for him to get as much energetic stuff off on the album as he did, as much of his emotions as he did, was dope. This is the first time since Starships, our first project as a crew,that he really got to come out. There were solo projects from Mel and myself, and he wasn’t on there as much. But this time around I feel like he really made his presence felt. He definitely has killed everything that he’s touched over the last two years, and it shows on the album.
Mel: Last but not least, Dorian is like the zen master of The Outfit, TX. We always joke around, we’ll tell people at shows, this motherfucker’s gonna float in about 5 minutes, Indian style, and rap his verses from that point on like that. It’s a joke but, like D stated, Hawk is a livewire, he’s a loose cannon in every good way possible. And I’m right there with him. If Hawk decides we’re gonna a loose cannon today, then damn it, we finna be a loose cannon! And vice versa. We’ve had issues at shows, if I feel like something’s going on, then I know Hawk’s gonna be right there. D, he always this zen-like existence about him. And it transfers from the stage to the studio. Hawk or I would be in the booth, and I’d be putting drums on something, and for lack of a better term, we’ll be crunk. We’ll be into it. And then, D, will be sitting there stroking his chin, “I think we should add a synth.” he’s just always super cerebral at all times and it’s something that has proven to be a benefit. You kind of need that balance in a band like ours. You can’t have three livewires.
How did you arrive at the current sound? It’s born out of a southern tradition, but sounds pretty different as well. Thinking about the music that was really popular when you were growing up, like Gucci Mane, Soulja Boy, Kanye, what moved you to want to do this style of music?
M: It was something I stumbled on initially. Last year we made music at this spot we called Granny’s House, because it was literally my granny’s house. I was staying with her last year, she was gettin’ older, and she needed some help around the house. I figured it killing two birds with one stone, because it could help me financially, stack up a little bit. So we crashed with her and we would record there during the witching hours four or five nights a week. Us, we’re very eclectic. We love everything you just listed… minus Soulja Boy to be honest. [All laugh]
Even his more fun records are cool, I wouldn’t knock all his records. But Kanye and Guwop are cool, but we’re also a fan of Soundgarden and Deftones, and Nirvana of course, and FKA Twigs, and Sade, and Maze and Frankie Beverley. We’re music heads. As we all know, some of the best music, in hip-hop or any genre, is a little darker. I say that to say, it wasn’t contrived. It wasn’t like we sat down and we had a meeting, like “We gotta make it darker.” We’re hopeful that as more people listen to it, they really get to the bottom of the movie. There’s a story being told, amongst other stories in that album, and what caused the music to get dark was real-life situations. You know, life happened. As a producer, I was already experimenting with different sounds. D, he bestowed upon me one of his synthesizers. In the synth bin, there was a whole shit-ton of sound effects. I don’t want to give away too much of the recipe, but I was like, goddamn, this shit is interesting! I’d never heard nobody take some of this shit and then modify it to sound like somethin’ else. I’m being kind of vague for a reason, but forgive me, I don’t want to give too much of the recipe away.
Making these pieces, they would come over, we would lab up, we would kick it, but I needed my niggas. I needed my bandmates. You need to love one another. I don’t think at the time they knew all the demons I was wrestling with. They would leave about four, four-thirty, and we’d maybe made something, or listened to music, but I would stay up. I would just make beats as therapy. I started making these very dark-ass pieces. The first initial ones didn’t even make the cut, but they were just windows into what was going on with me spiritually. I believe one of the first records… “Burn” was early, “Darkness” was early, “Highs and Lows” was early. The music became dark, and became the soundscape it became, haphazardly. Life just kind of pushed us in that direction. Along with us being creative, and trying to think of different ways to sound, it ended up amounting in the soundscape that exists as we speak. Once I got a handful done, Dorian, as the other half of the production team, was like “Bet, I see where you at with it bro, let’s do it,” and we didn’t even need to talk no more. We just went from there.
D: I remember hearing “Burn” for the first time and that solidifying where he’s at, where he’s coming from, just solidifying everything. I remember we had talked about visual motifs, like Mel said, the best thing you can say is it literally was life. Everything that happened in life just kind of came out in the music. Having been through some darker things, but made it through those darker things, and made it to the album.
M: A good example, is the Michael Brown situation. We actually went downtown to Dallas, to the march. And I remember coming home before and after that, and being enraged, putting a lot of that in the music.
It sounds like it’s born out of crisis. I was interested in hearing your thoughts on that, because it feels like you don’t directly address state violence, or racial climates, despite actively engaging with the visual imagery of KKK hoods, confederate flags. I was kind of surprised it wasn’t as overtly political in the lyrics as much as in the mood.
J: If it was up to me, originally, the type of artist that I was, it definitely would’ve been like that. I’m direct, I’m straight to the point. I’m surface-level with it. One thing my bandmates were able to teach me to do is to convey an emotion without actually talking about that particular emotion. To be able to convey to someone that I’m angry about something, without actually saying I’m angry at Mike Brown dying. I’m angry cops are killing people… to be able to write and convey my anger, without being too literal with it.
M: One of our favorite films as a band, I know Hawk was high as fuck when I showed it to him, is Mulholland Drive. We think everybody on earth should be a movie buff, a fan of cinema. The better films are the ones that leave you to get in the car, and you have to decode it. You gotta work together with your girlfriend, with your partners, with whoever you with on a double date and shit, at a restaurant, and you gotta share your viewpoint of what you think it was about. I think the internet has kind of ruined it, because now you can go to Rotten Tomatos, go to Google, and tell you exactly what the movie was about. That takes all the fun out of it! I remember being little and going out with my dad, and his step mom, and maybe they friends, some of they kids, but being at whatever restaurant was poppin’ in the 90s, maybe TGI Fridays, and talking about the movie. We don’t try to make it mystical, and we’re not stupid. So we didn’t put confederate flags in the video and the album have nothing to do with the confederate flag, hell no. But as Hawk just touched on, there’s more than one way to skin a cat. It’s obvious that we’re dealing with certain things, and if you decode it, you’ll see it. Nobody’s fully decoded the album, and if they had, we’d be getting asked a very blatant question that we haven’t gotten asked yet. But we think in due time, people will be like… this album is blatantly about this one thing. We look at our music like sonic art, and we’re trying to illustrate. We’re not trying to orate all the time, we’re trying to illustrate.
It’s born out of racial climate, but also feelings that transcend race, like being broke, problems with friends, girlfriends. There’s this irony that, if you were to become really successful, you would no longer be faced with the same problems that inspired the record. I was wondering how you planned to keep your sound on that note, or if you’re fine with it evolving. I think a lot of people would say that’s ruined a lot of artists, if they were rapping about struggle, then get money, and they lost it.
J: I don’t want to speak for my whole band, but I feel like I can… we talk about struggle because we’re in it, but we’re not trying to stay in it. We’re not trying to make struggle our theme, like “You come to Outfit, TX for that struggle music.” Nah. We just went through this pain, but we’re about to get through it, and things are gonna get better. We’re gonna celebrate the fact that things are about to be better. We don’t have one of those like… depressed attitudes about our pain like, “Oh, woe is The Outfit, TX. We went through all this crap and we’re just gonna be sad…” Nah, we have a very positive outlook on our future, and we know things are gonna get better. That’s basically where we’re coming from.
When it does get better, though, the music is definitely going to change.
J: A lot of our good stuff has been inspired by oppression, this economic struggle, this struggle within this career path. So you’re right. Some of the best music, as we’ve already touched on, is darker, or it’s bluesy. Even some of the best jazz is very bluesy. There’s a lot of concepts that we recognize that transcends struggle. Like love. Love is something that transcends whether you have a million dollars or a dollar. And love is one of the strongest forces that you’ll ever deal with during life. That’s something we’ve dealt with, and we’ve explored, and will continue to.
Even the opposite of struggle, I mean I’m not saying we can put on no shiny suits, but at the same time, we are able to go out to a nice restaurant, and travel, see the world, perform while seeing the world. You gotta believe that we gon’ touch on it! We embrace the change. We look forward to everything that life offers, whether it be a peak or it be a valley, because our music is just our way of chronicling this journey.
D: I would definitely agree, I think if you look back over what we’ve done thus far, it’s all been an evolution. It’s only natural that as time goes on, and as things change, as much and moreso as they already have, the music will only change with it. I think we definitely learned with this album how to put life into the music. So as long as we continue to do that, as long as we continue to live and put life into the music, I don’t think people will look at it like it’s disingenuous.
On a similar note, you’ve spoken about, and you’ve gotten a lot of press for the Dallas sound. You’re coming out of this tradition and feeding off that scene. Do you see your music tied specifically to Dallas? Could you imagine recording somewhere else, and how would that augment your sound?
M: Absolutely. I’m sure you’ve met all kinds of native New Yorkers, New York is one of those places that has that certain je ne sais quois. Doesn’t matter where in New York you go, you’re gonna find New Yorkers. You could put us in goddamn Brazil, and get to talkin’ to Jayhawk for not even 10 minutes, and you’ll be like, damn, this dude’s from Dallas. Even if you never even been to Dallas, you gon’ be like, he from somewhere like a Dallas. So it don’t matter where we go, we gon’ carry the city with us on our backs, and literally on our arms, ‘cuz it’s tatted on my shoulder. So it’s nothing. We lived in Houston for 7 years, and everyone knew we was from Dallas. And they loved us, but not all of them would fully embrace us. The real niggas did, but everybody wouldn’t just because we were so Dallas. But you gotta broaden your horizons. We want to go to LA and make a project! We want to go to Atlanta and make some hot sauce! We want to got to Paris like ‘Ye did, see some fashion, and some Parisian bitches.
J: Ironically, the track on the album that I feel like has the most Dallas spirit, and I mean from the lyrics, to the sound, to the chorus, to the video, I feel like, was Revelations, and we recorded that in New York. Dallas people love that, we were just in the studio with a Dallas cat last night, and he was letting us know, everything in that video he can relate to, because when people have been down and out, and they back against the wall, everyone has made a decision to do something like that, to do something wrong. I feel like even what we talked about lyrically, Mel was talking about Dallas hoods, specific neighborhoods. I was talking about cars, a box Caprice, that only people in Dallas and Florida would drive those cars. It’s just so Dallas, and it’s ironic that it’s one of the few songs that we didn’t record in Dallas.
Where did you film the video for “Cut for Me,” and what was the inspiration behind that?
M: You tryna get us to give away the moves here bro! Let’s start with the track… “Cut For Me” might be one of the more immediate records that I made. The stimulus was immediate. It had just went down, a little incident at my Granny’s spot. Somebody, I ain’t gon’ say no names, ended up pulling a knife on me. A woman in my life. And I literally said, when the knife got pulled, “So you gon’ cut me?” and now I obviously didn’t end up getting cut, but she was serious with the knife. I was there by myself, and next thing I know, I just went for the keys. Then the hook just hit me. It’s hard to explain, I know Dorian feels me, Hawk feels me, anyone that fucks with music, and has seen it being made, it is a spiritual process when it’s real. Everything about that song slapped me at once.
Once we did that, we didn’t really record the verses until we were in Atlanta for A3C last year. Our partner Miguel Scott, we recorded it. We just knocked out the verses then, but I don’t remember how we came up with the concept for the video…
D: I remember having the idea about the camo. Camo’s a big thing down here, so having that on film, and we wanted to do something where we were hunting.
M: Nah, you trippin’! What it really stemmed from was last year, Jayhawk ended up having to have surgery, he lost his gall bladder. We had a video shoot for Ü, this record we have with Maxo Kream, and he was throwing up profusely, blood, to the point that he had to go to the hospital. He finds out his gall bladder’s completely not working, it’s filled with bile, it’s poisoning his body. So he had to get it removed. People go through that, cool, but it was different for us, because they were saying if he had not come in, if he went to sleep that night, he would’ve died. So we all go to see him, us and our manager, and this motherfucker… sweating buckets, lookin’ bad, and he has the nerve… he wants to talk about video ideas! He just says, “Ay, we should go hunting!” and I was like, you need to get well first, we ain’t hunting shit right now. So he was like, nah, I saw some shit when I was asleep on these drugs, of us hunting. I remember this shit like it was yesterday. And I was like, pray tell, what do you mean? That’s what started it.
Any closing comments, or shoutouts to people in the Dallas scene?
M: We’d like to thank our family. Everyone that helped us with our record.
J: Sudie. I don’t even know how to describe her. We were recording at Rubber Tracks in New York, and we’re the types that if you’re a talented artist, we’re gonna use you. So we just asked her to wail, like she’s on the bayou. And she nailed it! She’s so talented, she’s got her own soundscape
D: She produces, writes, plays everything. Her thing is very ethereal, but she has a kinda 50’s jazz thing about her. Ricky Fontaine, who’s in InDeedFace. DJ Snake, who did production, and mastering the project. Rosalinda, our manager, for augmenting our visions. All the videographers, too.