Rapper and style icon Billy Dean Thomas uses beats and fashion to bring cultures together for a massive late-night party at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.

3/15/19 – MFA

Sneakerheads in rare blue and orange Nike Air Max trainers and matching track jackets stood shoulder to shoulder with runway accoutered fashionistas rocking 10-inch black leather heels, structured bodices, and elaborate makeup. Something special was happening, a coming together of cultures that rarely happens in Boston, a city still known for cultural segregation, and one where taking fashion risks is often spurned by the masses. That night, 4,000 rap fans in every type of fashion and fabric bounced together in the 60-foot tall enclosed glass casing of the Shapiro Family Courtyard, staring up at Billy Dean Thomas, the master of ceremonies at their personally curated late night MFA event, Hip Hop and Haute Couture.

“I just wanted something that could bring everyone together,” Billy Dean told the audience. “I wanted it to be a shout out to queer fashion and hip-hop, DJs and rappers.” The crowd was exactly what Billy Dean was going for: a true blend of styles bringing people together to celebrate hip-hop in the foreground of MFA’s latest exhibition, “Gender Bending Fashion.” As different as all of the looks were, there was a cohesive positivity in the room; everyone was dressed to the nines and donning contagious smiles.

Like a hip hop ring leader, Billy Dean appeared on an elevated stage in a custom red denim suit with a superhero-like cape. Billy Dean told us, “This was a collaboration with my designer, Villada Michelle, who wanted to create a statement piece for the show that would represent my power color, red… it totally personifies the superhero aesthetic as well as the spirit of going from nothing to everything with a look.” The outfit was paired with custom white Converse high-tops with their face covering the sneakers like stickers—a collaboration with Converse and designer, Anthony Russo. “He gave me the freedom to make exactly what I imagined and add a more personal touch with my handwriting which was brilliant,” Billy Dean explained.

They showed a similar level of style and ferocity in their two performances that night, directing the crowd with a practiced professionalism. Backed by a full band, including the rising star Anjimile on guitar and vocals, Billy Dean put out a hard-hitting blended rock/rap bounce, pumping out danceable hip-hop beats while at the same time calling out to the audience to start a mosh pit, a combination rarely seen in hip-hop. But then again, hip-hop culture blending was what the night was all about.

Billy Dean debuted a new song that night, “Tina TurnUp,” which fired out like a blowtorch, with lightning-fast flows that focused the crowd, putting them in a trance. Billy Dean later explained: “The song is a moment to honor Tina Turner’s comeback, my comeback moment, and the perseverance of black women in America. Although I do not identify as a woman, I share synonymous experiences with women and, as Eddie Maisonet puts it best, am ‘woman adjacent.’ When I am in the studio lately I have been trying to channel my pain and oppression through dance music. It truly lifts my spirits no matter how difficult the content is to hear. I am hoping to drop the track within a month or so to digital platforms.”

Billy Dean ended their second set with a surprise performance by dancer and model, Neon Calypso, who descended a floating staircase to arrive onstage dancing to Missy Elliott. Calypso burst into a blaze of hip-hop moves, popping and locking with splits galore, followed by a closing set by DJ Slick Vick, who Billy Dean said is “absolutely killing it in the Boston DJ scene. She is everywhere and inspiring woman DJ’s on panels, events and is just the nicest person to work with!”

The night’s high turnout definitely showed that Billy Dean Thomas has cultivated a large, eclectic (and well-styled) audience in Boston, and they rewarded their fans by bringing this event to life for the city. It’s clear that Billy Dean has a positive impact on Boston and is building socio-cultural bridges through hip hop, moving us forward, together.

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