There is no silence at the 97.9 Dub Car Show. You’re enveloped in sound the second you’ve climbed the 30 or so feet of stairs that ascend to an exhibition hall of the Dallas Convention Center. Tucked to your right is the main stage, the noise of whomever is performing bounces off the walls and ricochets out of the cavernous space into the other portion of the hall. And that portion is huge — a multi-thousand square foot area stuffed with purple and blue and yellow colored Chevrolet Impalas and Ford F-150s bathing under fluorescent lights.
The 97.9 Dub Car Show is an annual event hyped for months on one of our city’s two rap stations, an all day concert that brings thousands of people to the city center and, for whatever reason, is all but forgotten by local media. This is an oddity, considering its lineup. Performing today are once-an-hour radio stalwarts like Ace Hood and J.Cole who trade the sixty foot stage with regional legends like Juvenile, Slim Thug and Z-Ro. And during the event, the other half of the convention center is as much of a draw as that main stage. That area is an arranged bouquet of multicolored vehicles that if somehow mashed together would create a hallucinogenic rainbow. They’re beautiful objects not fit for pavement. They’re all so crisp and clean it’s as if the organizers removed the top of the convention center and airlifted them in.
And as you snake through this scene, DJs are set up strategically throughout. Walk 20 feet and listen as Lil Wayne’s nasally giggle segues into Rick Ross’s bark before dripping into a Future hook. Then return to the main stage. This noisy trot literally takes 15 minutes. The event is a sensory overload, highlighted by a clever mix of rappers who are currently ascending the charts and others who are long-respected, a strategy that draws a mix of old-head rap fans along with the coveted radio crowd.
Unpredictably, the older artists mostly overshadowed their younger peers. Part of that is because some of the more recent acts simply can’t match the catalogues of the day’s veterans. Z-Ro nimbly traded songs with fellow Houston icon Slim Thug and capped a terrific set with his “Mo City Don” freestyle. That under-heard gem bats first on Z-Ro’s — aka Roel Osten aka Rother Vandross — epic “Let the Truth Be Told.” It has such power inside Houston that a crowd singing it back nearly shouted Drake off the stage after he attempted to rap it to them.
Juicy J, who ended the day’s festivities, ordered the crowd to hurdle or smash through the barricade separating the VIP area from general admission, creating a ravenous rush of bodies that bounced and shouted and threw condoms and money in the air. The Memphis rapper is 38 going on 21, having befriended a new gang of 22-year-olds who’ve gotten rich off a model he helped create. This is part of the reason Juicy has staying power. Many of the young producers who dominate rap radio and mixtapes — especially in the south and in Chicago’s drill scene — are working off a foundation created by artists such as Three 6 Mafia, Juicy’s older group.
Of course, rap will always have its plain-Janes, like J. Cole, whose solid performance outweighed his easy-listening catalogue. But then there are artists like Yung Nation, a Dallas-based duo whose combined age is less than that of Juicy J’s. These kids are a treasure, an important link between the weirdo Tumblr rap and the city’s brand of catchy boogie, which is seemingly the only subgenre that manages to plunk onto national airwaves. Yung Nation are balls of energy, making tunes that take radio rap into strange places without isolating the listener.
The flows are ramped up and off kilter and the 15 minutes or so that they bounced about onstage was one of the day’s highlights. Other highlights were largely predictable, not that that’s a bad thing. Each artist performed to a crowd that was largely receptive and refreshingly bereft of the cooler-than-thou patron who would rather stand with his or her arms crossed than dance.
The event, which lasted from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m., brought thousands of Dallasites to the downtown core that likely wouldn’t have spent their Sunday there otherwise. And all of the typically profane rappers — sans Juicy J – even made an effort to censor themselves when it came time to rhyme their four-letter words to protect all the pairs of infant ears peppered throughout the convention center. And if that didn’t succeed in conveying organizers’ desire to turn in a positive event, there were free HIV screenings and complimentary condoms.
All photos by Andi Harman