[Photo: The Sauce Twinz & Drake]
When the world thinks about Dallas two things come to mind: the Cowboys and the Mavericks. But you never hear anything about the hip hop community, a community that places more weight on music that makes you dance than music that makes you listen, a community I grew up in.
Yet, there was a moment in the mid-2000s when Texas' distinct hip-hop culture, specifically the music coming out of Houston, was front and center. No matter what part of the state you were from, if you didn’t know the lyrics to “N Luv With My Money” by Paul Wall and Chamillionaire or Mike Jones and Magnificent’s irrefutable classic freestyle from First Round Draft Picks, you were either in a coma or dead.
Houston was making its voice heard loud and clear across the state and I’m sure other parts of the South as well (what else are people in Oklahoma City going to listen to?). Then it finally happened. Houston finally poked her shiny, grilled-filled, codeine-crazy, southern drawl into the mainstream when the DJ Screw-pronounced Freestyle King, Lil’ Flip, broke the airwaves with “The Way We Ball.” As corny as that song was, it was as Houston as it could be.
"I'm still sippin lean, I'm still watchin screens / I love wearin platinum but my favorite color's green
I'm hopin out Ferraris, my house is three stories / I'm still independent cause Jive couldn't afford me
The meetings, were boring, for real I was snoring / The VP was fine, yeah she made me kinda horny
But that's another story.”
Everything you wanted to learn about Houston and its culture was laid out in one of the most comedic and simple ways you could ever ask for. Completely different from Nelly’s midwest bum rush, Atlanta’s budding hip hop scene or Harlem’s takeover of NY, something different was on the rise, something unapologetically from Texas.
Houston bubbled quietly for roughly three years, then came and slapped the shit out of hip-hop in ’04 and ’05. Mike Jones, Slim Thug, Paul Wall and Chamillionaire helped create Houston's footprint on hip-hop, a footprint that so many current hip-hop stars are currently standing in.
From A$AP Rocky to Drake, there aren’t many of your favorite new rappers who haven’t been at least partially influenced by Houston's culture. Yet, as I scroll through my iPhone playlist and see names like Beatking, Maxo Kream, Express, Dustin Prestige, the Sauce Twinz, Propain, Doughbeezy, Q. Guyton and more, I can’t help but think about how the hip-hop community has accepted the Houston culture (even exploiting it at times) but there's not a single rapper who currently resides in Houston's who's truly "on."
It’s easy to bring up Riff Raff or Travi$ Scott, but neither of them made their name coming out of Houston the way Slim or Paul did. This doesn’t take anything away from what they’ve done so far, it just places them under a different context. Houston’s influence, yet lack of representation, is the elephant in the room that is southern hip-hop, and by extension hip-hop on the whole.
So how the hell did the south’s largest city fall from hip-hop's graces? There’s no reason why Houston shouldn’t still be mentioned with the likes of LA, Chicago, and Atlanta in regards to young talent infusing the hip-hop's future. Hailing from Dallas, but currently residing in Houston has given me an interesting perspective on why no rappers seem able to truly blow up from Houston anymore. The honest truth? The city's own vanity.
Houston loves Houston. It's one of those cities where people often go their whole lives without leaving the city, some people never leave their neighborhoods. There are people who live on the Northside who will never even see what living in Mo City or Pearland is all about. You can love your city, rep your city, but you can only strictly stay there for so long before it's time to venture out.
Still, after the big boom of the mid-2000s, you would think at least one artist would have made the transition from regional hero to the national spotlight to legitimate, longterm star, but it's never happened. If you take a look at the guest features of Slim Thug, Paul Wall and Mike Jones, you’ll see that there isn’t much regional diversity. Slim’s features seemed more label motivated, Paul Wall shined on Kanye’s “Drive Slow,” but everything after that was lackluster, and Mike Jones…well…let’s just say Wayne didn’t do much for his career.
They fell into the trap of playing to the crowd versus growing as artist. Chamillionaire tried to grow and everything still went left, even though he won a GRAMMY and put out two really solid albums. It’s so weird seeing how much talent there is in the city only to find that the city could care less if it doesn’t fit into Houston's mold of what hip-hop should sound like.
Why does Drake get away with both repping Houston and going far outside it? Simple, he’s not from Houston. The expectations placed on homegrown acts are far higher than outside acts. It’s really unfair. As large as Houston is geographically, the mentality in hip-hop isn’t as open to change. That's why you see acts leaving not just the city but the state trying to find success.
I’m sure this issue, along with the plethora of others (politics, the “hustle” vs. the art, trying to stay out of trouble), are all issues any city faces. Maybe I’m naive to think that Houston should be established enough at this point that artists making good music wouldn't find it this hard to break out. Even with SXSW in our own backyard, so many Houston and other Texas acts are relegated to unofficial shows on some random street miles away from where the action is. It’s easier for a rapper from Atlanta, Chicago, or Cali to get on a official showcase than it is for a someone who’s actually from Texas.
It’s a joke, really.
Yet, as long as Houston rappers are making music for Houston, the city seems okay with that. It feels like it's all about to change soon though, and we can thank the Internet for that. Houston acts are starting to catch up to the rest of hip-hop and it’s only a matter of time before we find H-Town back in the fold. This time I’m pretty damn sure they won’t fall into the same trap from next time. Lord knows I can only tolerate acts like Riff Raff representing Houston for too much longer.
[By Reginald Davis, a lover of hip-hop, art and everything in between. His Twitter is @madblkman.]