The Outfit, TX's Latest Project Appropriately Puts The Group's Dynamic On Blast.
Just a little over a year after the release of their highly-praised Starships & Rockets: Cooly Fooly Space Age Funk, The Outfit, TX has returned with a free-to-download, sophomore effort called Cognac/Four Corner Room. The release serves as the first two installments in the group's planned, five-part Texan Chronicles series.
This time, though, very much in Outkast's Speakerboxxx/The Love Below fashion, the group's two founding members — Mel Kyle, the group's lead emcee, and Dorian Terrell, the group's lead producer — explore their own solo ideas personal aesthetics in what is basically a double-disc release conjoined at the hip.
Early in Mel's Cognac the track “Purple Diamond Tea,” the rapper tells the listener, “This is how it feel when you ridin' in that South. How it feel, ni**a? Too trill, ni**a.” As with Starships & Rockets, Cognac capably proves The Outfit, TX's comfort with the southern rap sound — a sound previously perfected by acts such as UGK, Three 6 Mafia, 8 Ball & MJG and Outkast. The Outfit, TX has this down to a science at this point, but the group continues to put a wholly unique stamp on it thanks to Mel's delivery and his hooks, which are as smooth as it gets in hip-hop.
Cognac does feature several tracks that go beyond the southern sound, though, thanks to a little experimentation on tracks such as the eight-minute “Drunk Sex” and the instrumental “Feeling.” The standout track of Cognac, however, is “isyagonshakeit?,” a track that pairs heavy, booming horns and bass with a smooth, signature hook from Mel. More impressive, though, is that Mel departs from his standard syrupy drawl for a bit on the track and then spits off a quick run of bars. It's a quintessential The Outfit, TX styled-track still, but also a fine showcase of Mel's previously unseen versatility.
Cognac begs to be listened to during a long, slow ride around town. The 14-track project is well over 60 minutes and, while it may make any average Joe feel like a true southern player, Mel and The Outfit, TX don't take themselves too entirely seriously, offering up interludes and skits that provide quite a bit of comic relief. As much as the player lifestyle is on full display on his portion of the release, Mel mixes in some moments of vulnerability, touching on the heartbreak and lost love that shaped him into the player he describes himself as on Cognac.
The second half of the release, Dorian's Four Corner Room is a departure from what's become The Outfit, TX's staple. As the group's producer, Dorian crafted Starships & Rockets' southern-fried sound but made few vocal appearances on that disc's tracks. Here, however, he delivers a well-crafted, wide-ranging flow on tracks that tell the story of the group's past, present and hypothetical future, showing off a strong storytelling ability that the group's earlier efforts have been missing.
Four Corner Room begins with “Hourglass,” a heavy, menacing and foreboding track that introduces the dream and time perspective of the release with Dorian's hypnotic repetition of the “hourglass” hook. As addictive as The Outfit, TX' sound is on Starships & Rockets and Mel's Cognac, Dorian's Four Corner Room offers up production the group would be smart to continue to build upon in future projects.
“Lonely Soul” is the first real look at intimate storytelling by the group, with Dorian rapping about lonely nights, personal demons and conflicts with the life pursuits he's chosen. Raps Dorian on that track: “Got me out my zone, man. Though I like my privacy at time, it gets so lonely, and no one ever likes to be a prisoner in they own brain. So I end up writing everything that's in these songs, staying hard as a stone, cause I'm just a lonely soul, man.”
As introspective as some of these tracks are, Dorian also explores the risks in pursuing the riches of the success in hip-hop on the tracks “Everyone's For Sale” and “Appealing,” the latter of which surprisingly works as a banger, even if only to prove a point about changing for success.
Obviously missing from the project is the third member of the group, JayHawk Walker, who makes appearance on two of the tracks but is currently recording his own project, according to the group.
As a whole, The Outfit, TX have proven themselves one of hip-hop's most formidable groups — Dallas-dwelling or otherwise — by filtering the Houston-influenced, southern rap aesthetic through each member of the group's distinct skill set.
But, more than that, Cognac/Four Corner Room's affording each member of the group the chance to explore his own ideas and strengths should open up the already-stellar potential for the group to even greater possibilities.
Cover photo by Karlo X. Ramos.