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Zydeco Rap?

Houston's Step Rideau drags Creole music into the '00s

Rideau is also grateful for the support of another woman, his wife, Nena, who supported his decision to quit his day job and pursue music full-time. Ironically Nena appears on the new CD as the voice of the bitchy female nemesis in the mildly comical lead-off track, "You're Nagging Me." Along with numbers "Oh What a Habit," a spoof on cigarette addiction, and "For a Dollar," a note on the rising cost of living, an element of lighthearted social satire comes through on this disc. It's another shift of direction for Rideau.

"What I'd been doing in the past was real danceable music," he says, noting that early on he didn't really pay much attention to developing lyrics. But eventually the accordionist came to realize that "the best music is about telling stories."

In that respect, I'm So Glad is truly a breakthrough for Rideau, who wrote or co-wrote 12 of the 14 tracks. Many of them are fairly traditional in terms of theme, celebrating elements of Creole folklife such as community barbecues ("Fire It Up") and horseback excursions ("Step's Trail Ride"). But they generally offer lyrical depth beyond the generic standard and include startling references to contemporary amenities such as cell phones and pagers.

But the most progressive compositions obviously are those featuring guest rappers. On "If U Don't Use It, U Gonna Lose It," Rideau delivers some classic R&B-style testifying complemented by the slick poetry of a hip-hop ringer known as Swiff Haywire, Houstonian Vonnie C. Dones III. Following two lengthy verse-chorus cycles led by Rideau, Haywire takes the mike and builds on the song's nostalgic theme of learning from elders and holding on to what you've got. It's an energized yet mellow sequence, highlighting the value of paternal wisdom.

Though Rideau was initially a bit wary of the producer's suggestion to weave Haywire's rapid-fire rap into the mix, he now delights at the song's "inner message" as well as its impressive synthesis of disparate musical styles. "People don't understand what a lot of rappers be saying," Rideau says. "And then what they be saying is usually a lot of negative stuff." Haywire, however, wanted to keep it accessible and positive, and Rideau soon realized rap was "the key to the rest of the puzzle."

The rather unique fusion of hip-hop and zydeco on I'm So Glad makes for a tasty musical gumbo, precisely because the surprise ingredients don't overwhelm each other. "Now I'm not fixing to go total rap," Rideau says. "It's all about spice. That's how this rap thing got to be part of my work. It's just a spice that adds to the flavor of what I'm serving up."

Along with his partners, executive producer Lathan Johnson and attorney Lori Chambers Gray, at the independent label Bridge Entertainment, Rideau understands such experimentation to be organic, part of his musical heritage. "We're all for zydeco," he says. "But we're open-minded, and anything is possible. I haven't heard anybody originate anything like what we've done, made from scratch. But it's part of who we are."

For information on upcoming local appearances by Step Rideau and the Zydeco Outlaws, call the hot line number, (713)699-5615, or check the Web site at www.bridge-entertainment.com.

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