A new literary project by Shea Serrano examines Dallas hip-hop
CORRECTION, 12:06 p.m., December 7: The original version of this story included a photo of artist Tum Tum, misidentifying him as Big Tuck.
When Dallas native Taylor Crumpton got the opportunity to write on an album for a series of books by New York Times-Bestselling author Shea Serrano, she knew she had to document Dallas’ influence on hip-hop.
Serrano selected five journalists from a pool of applicants to each write a 3,000-word essay on a rap album of their choice for his Halfway Books PDF series; the five essays were published last Tuesday. While some of the other writers chose critically acclaimed classics, like The Notorious BIG’s Life after death or at Lil Kim’s hard coreCrumpton chose Big Tuck’s purple hulkan album with special meaning for her and for Dallas.
Crumpton credits her mother with initiating her love of hip-hop by listening to Tupac while she was still in the womb.
“I think it’s so funny because a lot of times hip-hop is viewed and categorized as this masculine genre that’s passed down from father to son,” Crumpton said. “And my dad is not a hip-hop leader at all.”
At the time of purple hulkin 2004, Crumpton was about 8 years old. Her mother and father had divorced and she was the only child of a now single mother.
Some of Taylor’s fondest childhood memories include listening to purple hulk with his mother, who identified very much with Big Tuck’s lyrics.
“My mom spent so much time driving around Dallas back then,” Crumpton says. “A lot of my childhood memories are in the passenger seat with her as we went to pawn shops and check cashing places and later things that I did as a kid like “Oh, those aren’t everyone’s experiences,” but to me were so commonplace.
“Because, theoretically, my mom was a single mom who was a hustler. She identifies so much with gangsta rap because she always had to struggle to get by, thinking about how we were going to charge the invoices on the 30th and 31st of the month.
His mother’s trickster spirit mirrors Big Tuck’s. Tuck released purple hulk without any label backing, and he and his band Dirty South Rydas would travel from Dallas to Houston dropping his CDs off at record stores to sell on consignment. He would make the same record release trips to Louisiana and Oklahoma.
Although it took a while for Tuck to gain national attention, songs like Tum Tum-assisted “Tussle” quickly became his signature, allowing him to slowly build a following.
“Our biggest market, out of the blue, was Pensacola, Florida, for some reason,” Tuck recalls. “We were on our way to Texas A&M to play in a show, and we got a call from Roy Jones Jr. He was the first person to book us a show out of town. He was telling our manager, George [Lopez]”You gotta come to my club in Pensacola, they’ll sing your thing verbatim,” and we couldn’t believe it, because they weren’t even doing it in Dallas yet.
Soon, songs like “Southside Da Realist” and “TUCK” became Dallas favorites. Tuck says K104 was one of the first local radio stations to show him and the Dirty South Rydas some love. Yet he was more satisfied to hear people playing in their cars.
“That’s what makes it feel like nothing’s really happening here in Dallas, because everyone feels like they have to go somewhere else…I’ve always kept Dallas as my power base.” – Big Tuck
He remembers the first time he heard his music in passing cars.
“I heard that before I heard it on the radio,” Tuck says. “I think I was more impressed hearing people passing by, playing my music in a car, than I was about the radio playing it.”
Tuck was then signed to Universal Records and released his first major label, absolute truth, in October 2006. But even when he exploded, he remained loyal to his city.
“We’re a high-production city,” Crumpton says of Dallas. “We produce a lot of songwriters and all the people who are so instrumental in the development of a major artist… [Tuck] never went to LA or New York, he stayed in Dallas. When the mainstream first started hearing about him, he really represented the sound of our city in a very pervasive and direct way.
Artists from outside Dallas often cite Tuck’s “Southside Da Realist” as a favorite. Rappers like Big KRIT and the late Nipsey Hussle had previously brought Tuck on stage during their tour stops in Dallas to perform the song.
Although such an influence is often erased, Crumpton hopes that his essay on purple hulk will help immortalize Dallas’ contributions to hip-hop. During his research process while writing his chapter, Crumpton found Dallas hip-hop memorabilia on eBay, including back issues of O-Zone Magazine and the Kappa Beach Party concert series DVDs, the latter featuring artists from the Dallas-based T-Town Music label.
“I think that’s what makes Dallas unique,” Crumpton says, “that a lot of the archived knowledge about the hip-hop scene is in the physical things. The existence of physical stores is essential to Dallas hip-hop.
One of the sources Crumpton found during his research process was 2006 from Texas journalist Matt Sonzala. Ozone magazine article titled “Dallas Got Next”. She later found out that Sonzala had helped Serrano while he was a freelancer and recruited him as the trial’s fact-checker.
While Crumpton and Tuck have yet to meet in person, she hopes to one day be able to “offer her flowers to him in person” in a safe, socially distant setting. Both Tuck and Crumpton are inspired by each other’s work ethic.
“[The essay] feels like an accomplishment,” Tuck says, “and I want to see her flourish as a writer, too. …she went deep. I was impressed.”
Juan “Play” Salinas, one half of the production superduo Play-N-Skillz, also drew inspiration from Tuck’s work ethic. Play first met Tuck in 2003 at the Bruton Bazaar, where he was selling some of his mixtapes to record store T-Town Music.
“George Lopez told me about DSR and this band he was working with,” Play recalled, “and Big Tuck was at the store.”
Play-N-Skillz are featured on the purple hulk the track “Pimp Call”, a song that Play says came together pretty quickly.
“We were all in the studio one day, and Skillz already had the chorus lined up with the beat,” Play explains. “Big Tuck came to the studio and he heard it and he said ‘Man, I gotta get on it’…Big Tuck is actually pretty fast. He writes his verses really fast and me and Skillz, we don’t really write our lyrics, we just go into the booth and go bar for bar…. This particular song, actually, he wrote his lyrics. But I saw him go to the booth and do some freestyles.
Tuck currently resides in Preston Hollow and has no plans to leave Dallas anytime soon. He hopes other artists will choose to stay in Dallas and thrive on the city’s energy.
“I just feel like a lot of artists here feel like they have to go somewhere else to be successful,” Tuck says. “And that’s what makes it feel like nothing’s really happening here in Dallas, because everyone feels like they have to go somewhere else…I’ve always kept Dallas as my power base.”
Crumpton, who recently returned to Dallas after a brief stint in Oakland, also hopes her essay captures Dallas’ oft-overlooked impact on American music.
“I’m a history person,” Crumpton says. “I love putting things in context. So I hope [the readers] get a sense of Tuck’s influence, to this day, especially in the heyday of Southern hip-hop crossing the mainstream, and give Dallas its flowers, because we’re late.