Houston hip-hop is its own universe. In 1991, the Geto Boys were becoming Houston legends by refusing to be stopped, but the hip-hop establishment was so obsessed with the east and west coasts it largely overlooked the entire South. In 2004, Houston exploded onto the scene when the world realized the city had built a candy-painted culture unlike anything else in hip-hop. Over the last three or four years, a new generation of superstars have openly mined Houston' sound, desperate to bring something new to their own predictable native lands.
But throughout it all, all the years when the national spotlight was burning brightly on the city and the years the city was essentially ignored outside its own borders, Houston's always only cared about Houston. And now a new generation of young H-Town artists are carrying on the city's tradition of non-fuck-giving, with BeatKing emerging as its stripper-loving comedian king.
BeatKing is building his own universe within Houston's universe, and my first glimpse at his world came when Dave said, "You've got to hear this dude rap about ebola and strippers.'"
It was one of the strangest things to ever enter my my eardrums - the man had my attention. A little research revealed BeatKing had built a following by flipping viral videos into hilarious songs, and I was content to think of him as a kind of ratchet Weird Al Yankovic. But then I heard "Rambunctious," a cut that was at times unapologeticlly funny ("pull up to the club smellin like a hashtag") but was also a seriously agressive banger. And that opened the door to checking out his Underground Cassette tape with Gangsta Boo, a project that's exactly zero percent comedy and four-thousand percent raw, pure Southern rap. Now BeatKing really had my attention - I had to talk to him. So I did.
"I've been me for the last five years. My fans know I'm not going to let them down, so when I drop something new, they're ready."
Like so many from Houston, BeatKing grew up on a steady diet of Three Six Mafia, ESG and Swishahouse, but like any artist, it took time for him to find his own voice independent from his influences. Early in his career he tried to be a more lyrically driven emcee, but he learned he wasn't really built to be live in someone's headphones. His natural personality was too big, too energetic, to be crammed into dense lines, but that energy found a perfect home in the club. It was an epiphany. He could try to cram himself into a box he'd never fit into, or he could embrace his seemingly natural habitat. He had found his own lane and he was going to ride in it. He became the Club God.
During our conversation, BeatKing made it clear that he doesn't think there's any shame in being funny - making someone laugh is every bit as valuable as making their head nod. "I've got respect for comedians," he said. "It's a gift like music, an art form, so I make sure the comedic side is part of my music." Those two sides of BeatKing, the club enforced and the class clown, has interestingly produced two fan bases that mirrors a lot of the trap music explosion of the last two years, when Young Thug is being listened to both in the streets of Atlanta and college dorm rooms.
"I've got two fan bases, the white underground and the black ratchet side, and for the most part those two fan bases don't know each other."
BeatKing's mission in 2015 is to bring those two fan bases together, and he plans to do it the old fashioned way - putting videos on MTV - but whether hip-hop's larger spotlight swings his way or not, he's determined to remain unapologetically himself. His latest album, Club God 4, is a snapshot of Houston hip-hop in 2015, and Club Godzilla's train seems to be picking up more momentum by the day. Love him or hate him, like so many Houston rappers before him, BeatKing's creating his own universe, a universe I'm learning it's much more fun to be inside of.
And as an added bonus, you can check out the audio of my interview with BeatKing in this week's podcast. (Fast forward to about the 20 minute the mark if you don't care about my rambling.)
[Nathan S. is the managing editor of The DJBooth and a hip-hop writer. He also occasionally talks in podcast form and appears on RevoltTV. His beard is awesome. This is his Twitter.]