By Justin David Tate, Life & Arts Editor
The venue is empty at 7 p.m. Aug. 29. Only a bartender and lady at the door are present at Club Dada. A rapper and his associates sit on stage going over a setlist for the rapper’s hip-hop performance that’s set to begin at 10 p.m.
Sporting a complex cumulus cloud of black hair, bordered by a green scarf wrapped around his forehead and a purposefully subtle wild scruff of facial hair, one of the hottest local rappers in Dallas sits on stage awaiting his sound check.
His name is Topic and he’s a perpetual earlybird, not yet a victim of the kind of success that leads better-known artists to show up 40 minutes to an hour late as that night’s headliner would eventually go on to do.
Topic was there to open for legendary founding member of the Ultra Magnetic MCs, Kool Keith. Topic’s set was only meant to last for an hour, but due to Kool Keith’s tardiness, Topic was able to extend his set into a two-hour extravaganza of energetic call-and-response sessions and mellowed confessions of emotional truths, such as his mother not accepting his work. By the time Kool Keith showed up a few hours later, the audience had fizzled down to a handful of inebriated patrons at the bar barely aware of Keith’s presence.
The audience filled the once empty venue by 10 p.m. Pumped and ready for whatever may come, many did not know what to expect. Topic kicked off the evening with the energetic “Supa Cool,” a breezy, catchy tune highlighting the day of a penny-pinching kid on the grind.
“My phone is off/ I think I lost my wallet/ It’s hard to keep a smile/ but I still got it.”
Topic tends to dwell on the struggles of the everyman, endearing himself to an audience of 20- and 30-somethings paying off college loans while juggling rent, utility and phone bills.
The humble artist reserves his braggadocio for the topic of his rhyming prowess and intense hustle in the studio in songs, such as “Broke.Black.King.Rap.”
“Featherweight to heavyweight/ ‘Bout to buzz in every state/ I don’t f— with everybody/ Lyrically I segregate.”
He often breaks from performing to discuss his journey as a musician and how he came to form a team of artists and musicians known as the Team From Nowhere. This prompts said team to leap onstage from the audience to join in dance, chants and freestyles.
His ability to engage and surprise continued throughout the show as he backflipped offstage. Later, he ran from one end of the stage to the other dancing and trading playful kicks and punches with his album designer and friend Joonbug, a Dallas artist best known for his absurdist cartoon album art.
Where Topic most touches his audience is when he sits on the edge of the turntables to deliver personal songs where Topic renders a hall of once-jumping, half-drunk concertgoers into sobered, intense listeners.
“Noid” begins with an ominous low piano key being struck repeatedly before Topic’s quivering voice begins rhyming as if his mouth is full of splinters, each long enough to lodge itself through his heart and out through his tongue. He removes one with every line he manages to get out.
“The ones close always hurt the most/ You plan a suicide, they’ll f— around and bring the rope.”
“Noid” covers the desertion of stagnant friends to achieve success and the backstabbing nature of the music industry. Before Team From Nowhere, Topic was part of a movement that “didn’t move much so I had to go on and move it/” as mentioned and described in the song. The failure of once strong relationships and bonds nearly brings the Dallas native to tears, yet he makes it to the end.
He then tells the audience he’s had enough of “sad s—” before delving back into something to get hands in the air.
His limbs toss and flail as the bass rattles and fans contort their faces while bringing their hands to their mouths and collectively coughing the phrase “ooh” in reaction to his lyrical depth. It’s astounding to witness.
There’s a reason Topic opened for both multi-platinum selling R&B artist Erykah Badu in July and current hip-hop heavyweight Kendrick Lamar on Halloween last year. His creativity is boundless and ranges from the angry verbal and lyrical ju jitsu of his 2013 EP entitled “Time to Feed the Birds: Stories of Dead Kings” to his laidback everyman 2011 classic debut, “Finally Confident.”
His sophomore album, “Be Good & Do Well,” comes out in November, followed by a tour. If he can match the energy and rawness of his performance at Club Dada, he’ll be touring internationally for a long time to come.