J-Dawg, Propain Warehouse Live March 30, 2014
Dallas can be a nice place to visit sometimes, especially in the springtime. The air is a little fresher up north, and the allergens a little less intense. After a few days spent relaxing and grilling outdoors with a few friends and family in Big D, though, I found myself missing the smog and the street construction just a tad. For someone raised on Houston's creole blend of cultures and poisons, the street flavor of Dallas will probably always be found thin and lacking by comparison.
Luckily enough for a rap fan coming off the long trip down I-45, Warehouse Live provided the perfect palate cleanser on Sunday night: a double-dose of Houston hip-hop featuring two contrasting yet complimentary performance styles. Boss Hogg Outlawz capo J-Dawg and New Houston mixtape star Propain might be separated by a few years and face tattoos, but they're both now increasingly storied fixtures in the Texas rap scene. And more importantly, they both sound like only Houston can.
It wouldn't be until the early hours of Monday morning that the young audience crowded into the Warehouse Live studio room would get to hear the local hits they came for, of course. First would come the customary procession of warmup acts, each delivering three or four songs to the mostly good-natured indifference of the swelling crowd.
The impossibly young J-Lew stood out from the pack, with his rapid-fire, aggressive rhymes generating an energy much bigger than his tender age and slight frame suggested was possible. Even smaller but packing a more practiced punch was Doeman, the 5'7" Latino with the 7'5" flow. It had been about six months since I last saw Doeman on a bill at Warehouse, and the big jump in his confidence and stage presence was highly promising this time around. Whether it's sooner or later, his big local breakout appears to be coming.
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Propain's big breakout, of course, has already occurred. Last year's Ridin' Slab seemed to be practically the only H-Town mixtape that mattered, and the rapper isn't taking his hard-won taste of success for granted. His watch is icier now, and his chest puffed out a bit farther, but Propain delivered the same hungry and desperate flow on Monday morning that won him so much acclaim last year.
After snapping off the percussive rhymes of "Smiling Faces" from 2011's Dangerous Minds, Propain welcomed fellow New Houston fixture Doughbeezy to the stage for "Louder," and the two traded live-wire verses over a slick, uptempo Marvin Gaye sample. Doeman was recalled next for another fresh-faced H-Town collab.
Ridin' Slab standouts like "All Day" and "Ain't Nuthin'" were performed with the supreme confidence of a man who knows he has a dedicated and growing fanbase. Throughout his set, Propain thanked his young adherents for their steadfast attendance and urged them to continue spreading his mixtape gospel.
Singled out for specific praise was a dedicated fan named Steve, recently paralyzed, whom Propain lauded for his continuing support since day one. I couldn't find Steve rocking out in his wheelchair somewhere out there in the dark, but Propain's fired-up female fans up front were impossible to miss as they happily screamed his lyrics right back at him.
Before he left, Propain brought Dallas Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant out from backstage for a round of confused applause. Guess getting out of Dallas for a hot rap show feels good no matter who you are.
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There were no star athletes or up-and-coming youngsters brought out during J-Dawg's performance. Rather than the tight and polished feel of Propain's set, the hardened street veteran looked and sounded organic and unadorned, and he was celebrating more crucial victories than hit mixtapes.
"Just beat a bad-ass case," he said, to no one's surprise. "God is good."
That exhortation was followed up with "Don't Wanna Go Back" from Behind Tint Vol. 2. J-Dawg's laconic, raspy delivery makes him sound like a man constantly struggling to stay on beat but managing to keep up against all odds, anyway. Watching him rap on the Warehouse Live stage felt almost exactly like watching him rap on a street corner or in a parking lot. At times, it seemed a little too real to be a performance.
The crowd had thinned out a bit after midnight, as it always does. But the vast majority of fans stuck around to hear "First 48" and "Ride on 4's," a couple of potent street bangers from the last several years that seem to be steadily growing in stature toward full-blown standing as H-Town classics.
When J-Dawg closed the night out with a capella verses from "Gangsta Party," the young dudes in the back and the happy gals up front rapped right along, living out J-Dawg's hard-ass realities from a safe distance. Maybe it was that indisputable realness that I had missed on my road trip, too. Try as I might, I just couldn't locate it in Dallas.
Personal Bias: Too old to be staying out past 1 a.m. on a Sunday night.
The Crowd: A young rainbow coalition.
Overheard in the Crowd: "All she does is eat, man! Half my paycheck goes in her mouth."
Random Notebook Dump: The younger the rapper onstage, the more likely he'll ask you to follow him on Instagram. Instagram goes hard in the streets.
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