In his apartment just a short drive from DFW International Airport, Terry “Pikahsso” Jones begins telling me the history of Dallas-Fort Worth hip hop through the lens of his memory and experience. Hardly five minutes pass before Pikahsso is on his feet and pacing, unable to contain his nervous energy. He abandons all chronological linearity as his story pinballs around the events, places and people in his head, shifting in and out of decades. The history of rap in the metroplex is a story Pikahsso tells with unflagging enthusiasm and pride, because, in the tradition of hip hop self-reference, it is his story too.
Listening to Pikahsso talk about DFW hip hop sounds less like a story than an Old Testament genealogy. He starts by rattling off about thirty names of rap groups and DJs, a base group of artists as standard in his mind as the periodic table of elements. The full litany, which he posted on a diatribe in his Facebook group dedicated to DFW hip hop and has reposted in other forums, consists of 187 rap crews, MCs and DJs that all contributed to Dallas’s desultory scene. If you had to narrow it down to a Mount Rushmore group, Pikahsso would likely carve the faces of the rap crew Nemesis, MC Rappin’ Nookie, DJs Dr. Rock, Easy Eddie D, Ushy, and The D.O.C., who is perhaps Dallas’s most prominent hip hop export. These are the people he callsDallas’s “unsung heroes,” who existed before the days of worldwide communication.
Pikahsso puts Dallas hip hop’s halcyon days in the late 1980s, primarily because that’s when he discovered it for himself in Oak Cliff’s Kiest Park. It was there, at the age of thirteen, that Pikahsso saw DJ Dr. Funk and rappers, among them Rappin’ Nookie, putting on a show for the neighborhood. Those were the years when local kids still got their music at Oak Cliff’s Sound Warehouse and traded rhymes at roller rinks like Rocket and Shamrock. The scene was helmed by rap group Nemesis and up-and-comers Fila Fresh Crew, who counted the very promising D.O.C. among its members.
Dallas’s hip hop story through the late ‘90s was thoroughly covered by Zac Crain in a 1998 Dallas Observer article. The story parallels, in graver tones, the same one Pikahsso tells. In Crain’s article, we learn about the scene’s fledgling years, its hopeful moments with The D.O.C. and again with Mad Flava, and its tenuous status at millennium’s end. “Dallas hip-hop is like a UFO,” Crain wrote in 1998. “Many people believe in it, but only a few have actually seen it.”
The situation hasn’t exactly improved. Pikahsso describes the current hip hop climate like a critical patient whose breath comes in labored, irregular heaves. The scene is up one moment and down the next, and it rarely builds on preceding momentum. One of the more recent surges came from Pikahsso himself and his collaboration with Picnic and Tahiti, which they called PPT. By now, PPT’s accomplishments are well-documented. As recently as 2008, they were being hailed as Dallas’s newest hip hop messiahs. But the group retired under circumstances that Pikahsso is reticent to share. He does address the odd brilliance of their last album, Denglish, and its mixed reception. “We tried to recreate ourselves with British personas, like the Black Beatles,” says Pikahsso. “I think we made it a little too weird for people.”
Now, Pikahsso is trying to find a way forward by reaching backward. With his Facebook page and Youtube channel, he is trying to reinvigorate lost memories in the hopes that all the contributors fromDallas’s early years will not be forgotten. “People will think the history started in 2005 and it’s not true. We had our own Run DMCs, we had our own Public Enemies. We had our own, me.” This is where Pikahsso writes himself into the story as an area innovator. He slightly resists the claim, in the name of modesty, but insists on staking it in the name of accuracy. “The story has to be told correctly,” he says. “I ain’t saying I’m the only one, but I’m probably [at] the forefront of bringing eccentric, weird hip hop to Dallas.”
Pikahsso is not necessarily exaggerating. From the time he was beat-boxing as a student at Lincoln High to his local fame with PPT, Pikahsso has been one of the few constants in a fickle hip hop community with no clear identity. His years of work have resulted in a profile that, at best, is somewhere in the static level. Dallas, Pikahsso measures, doesn’t warm to eccentricity. “This is a corporate, anal-retentive city.”
What Pikahsso wants to make a case for is simple deference, for MCs and DJs and artists in general to map their way back to the mid-80s in order to get a bearing on where they will go from here. “I think they should say Nemesis on the radio, have a ‘Nemesis Day,’ have a ‘Ron C Day.’” It’s a disputable premise, looking back to a scene that was accused of being overly derivative in order to refine your own identity. But to deny that history, derivative or not, is equally mistaken. Like family, you do not get to choose your ancestors and you have to walk in the impressions they made.
For now, Pikahsso is comfortable being cast as one of the caretakers of the DFW hip hop estate, even as he continues to work on his new project: Pikahsso & The Fabulous Verbadelycks. Yet he doesn’t want to give anyone the foolish notion that he’s retired. “I will always be a historian, I will always show love, and I will always eat MCs up on the mic,” Pikahsso asserts. “You get old in hip hop. It happens. But you rap till you die.”
All photos by Sara Kerens