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The Cowboys, the Grassy Knoll, J.R. Ewing, the Stanky Leg... Dallas, Texas, is known for lots of things. Progressive, forward-thinking hip-hop has, until now, not been one of them. That’s all starting to change, thanks to A.Dd+ (spoken aye-dee-dee). The quirky yet streetwise, fun-loving yet dead serious duo of Paris Pershun (a.k.a. 24-year-old Arrias Walls) and Slim Gravy (Dionte Rembert, 24), moves easily between slang anthems (“Likeamug”), light-hearted stories about drug addiction (“Can’t Come Down”/”Erica & Jamie”), and weighty raps about father figures and Black male incarceration (“Momma’s Brother”). Their 2011 LP When Pigs Fly has earned them praise from national media outlets including XXL and Pitchfork, which described the duo as “the rapper and the poet, the spawn of UGK and OutKast, combining street and cerebral.”
The A.Dd+ story began in 2000 when Memphis-born Paris moved into the same North Dallas apartment complex as Slim. After years of rhyming together, the pair made their partnership official in 2007, dubbing themselves A.Dd+, a play on their first names, as well as attention deficit disorder, the most ubiquitous of youth behavioral problems. “A.Dd+ is whatever you want it to be,” explains Slim, who is also known as “D.D.” “It has many meanings like A Dynamic Duo, Analog and Digital, Always Doing Dirt. The plus sign symbolizes us being beyond what others are on, always adding to the craft, never subtracting. It’s all about imagination and creativity.”
In 2009, Paris and Slim dropped their debut mixtape, Power of the Tongue. The release earned them local acclaim and a “Best Rap Act” nomination from the Dallas Observer. Just as crucially, it led to their partnership with producer Picnictyme (of Erykah Badu’s Cannabinoids crew), the group’s sonic sensei and unofficial third member.
Produced entirely by Picnictyme, their debut LP, When Pigs Fly, took listeners on a ride through the streets of Dallas and a journey through Paris and Slim’s own offbeat imagination. Upon its release in March of 2011, the Dallas Observer boldly proclaimed it as possibly “the best hip-hop album Dallas has ever released.” The project earned the crew three nods from the Dallas Observer Music Awards, including nominations for “Best Album,” “Best Rap Act,” and “Best Producer.” Renowned hip-hop journalist Jefferson Mao also featured the LP in his XXL“Chairman’s Choice” column, while Pitchfork Media included it in its list of Underrated Rap Releases of 2011.
“It’s overwhelming at times to be held in such high regard,” Paris says of the response to When Pigs Fly. “We approached the project as more of a mixtape with original production by Picnic, and it really took on a life of its own once it hit the public. Having it described as possibly the best rap album ever released in a city that has so much talent, is a great honor.”
Backed by their DJ Sober, (named Dallas’ Best DJ in the Dallas Observer’s “Best Of 2011′′), A.Dd+ delivered “blazing opening sets” for sold-out audiences to see Wu-Tang, Erykah Badu, Big K.R.I.T. and Devin the Dude in 2011. The duo kicked off 2012 touring Texas on Red Bull’s Skooled tour with Bun B, Mannie Fresh and Paul Wall, among others. Up next, the group will embark on its first North American tour, opening for Black Milk, with whom they collaborated on the track “Insomniac Dreaming” (No. 17 on rap blog Passionweiss.com’s 50 Best Hip-Hop Songs of 2011).
Perhaps most encouragingly, A.Dd+’s success has come by pushing forward a sound that is thoroughly representative of Dallas, while at the same time completely different from anything that has previously been heard from the city.
“We are not ‘backpack rappers’; we are not hipsters,” Paris says, of misconceptions about the group. “Some folks take our sense of expression the wrong way ’cause we dress a certain way, or ‘cause our artwork and videos have a certain aesthetic, or ‘cause we express our thoughts over all types of canvases. Once people give our music a full listen or see us perform, that perception usually changes. We don’t make ‘fad’ music. We make music from the soul, and we kill shit.”
Sometimes, preconceived notions can be good; the comfort of expectations met is often a welcomed feeling. For the more adventurous among us, though, the best part of defined expectations and preconceived notions is having them broken, shattered even, in a good way. Enter: The Niceguys, a four-member Houston-based group with Southern roots and musical sensibilities that stretch far beyond the city’s limits. A self-contained unit, The Niceguys comprises MC (Yves ‘Easy Yves Saint’ Ozoude), DJ (Lucien ‘DJ Candlestick’ Barton) and producers (Todd ‘Christolph’ Louis and Winfrey ‘Free’ Oribhabor).
“I’m originally from Queens, New York, but I relocated to Houston when I was 18,” says Yves Saint. “I began attending the University of Houston in 2003, and spent the next two years moving back and forth between Texas and New York before I finally stayed in Houston for good.” Similarly, while Free, Candlestick, and Christolph now call Houston home -- the four met at the University of Houston -- each hails from different towns within the state, and each bring their own musical flair to the group.
“The first song that I memorized top to bottom was Nas’ ‘The Message,’” says Yves, who, along with the rest of The Niceguys, cite influence from such artists as J Dilla and MF DOOM in the same sentence as Houston legend Scarface and their hometown Screw music. “After hearing the way J Dilla and Pimp C flipped soul samples,” says Free, “it made me want to do it.”
Despite garnering their first national attention in late 2009, the origins of the group actually date two years prior, when Yves, DJ Candlestick, Christolph, and Free came together in 2007, releasing their inaugural project, a mixtape titled Niceguys Finish Last Vol 1, taking a little over two years to perfect their chemistry before releasing 2009’s The Green Room, a highly lauded seven-song free EP backed by 2DopeBoyz.com and Fatlace. An eclectic combination of soulful, boom bap-era beats backing Yves’ nimble rhymes, the EP -- with tracks including the playful street wear giant-ode “Supreme Team” and “Not At All”, with its the horny bravado supporting Yves’ witty lyrics and bouncing flow -- served as rock-solid precursor to the group’s forthcoming debut LP, The Show.
“Its a double entendre,” Yves says of the album’s title. “The Show as in we are entertainers and that's what people expect and pay for, but also, it’s a metaphor for life; regardless of all the crap that goes on within the music and outside of the music, the show must go on.” With tracks like the organ-heavy “Mr. Perfect,” Yves Saint’s nimble, double-time flow on “It’s Like That,” and the vintage sound and feel of “On This Road,” The Show is both a logical extension of the sound heard on The Green Room but also a step up and clear progression for the young group. “The sound of the album is big,” says Christolph, smiling. “A large percentage of the songs are high-energy and fast paced, like you’re at a live show. It’s like being at a concert right next to those 10-foot speakers: loud and in your face. But in a good way, of course.”
Humble yet full of bravado and confidence -- the group, also heavily into fashion with their own burgeoning Nice Look line, released their own line of panties for female fans -- The Niceguys know they have a sound that defies what listeners might expect, and they also know that sound is going to pay dividends in the long run. “In five years I want to have at least three successful albums, tour as much as possible all over the world, and be an established and well respected hip-hop group,” says Free. Now that sounds nice.
9th–13th March 2012