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3. "South Side," Lil' Keke. For me this was the best of the 1995-2002 Dark Age of Houston Hip-hop, back when Rap-A-Lot was moribund, the nationals weren't in here lobbing checks around, and all of the rappers were self-producing their stuff and peddling it through Southwest Wholesale or out da trunk. This was the era of DJ Screw, Fat Pat, the Botany Boys, Yungstar, South Park Mexican and people like that, and musically, it doesn't hold up as well as the early days or the more recent stuff. Not that these people weren't every bit as talented as the people with the big hits today, but very little money went into production, and most of the records have a sound-alike quality -- the beats are often tinny and the keyboards all sound like Casios from Value Village. But it was an important time when our local rap scene first developed the sense of independence and hustling work ethic that has served Houston well since. Keke's "South Side" pretty much kicked off this era, and even today it transcends the cheap production and stands up relatively well, both musically and as a declaration of independence for Dirty South rappers. (Not to mention as an anthem for all points south of Buffalo Bayou.)
2. "Cooter Brown," Devin the Dude, To Tha X-Treme. No, it wasn't a smash hit, and it's not particularly emblematic of any kind of local trend or anything like that. But here is what "Cooter Brown" is: a great tragicomic tale told with incredible skill over one of the downright prettiest beats you'll ever hear. It's just wonderful, amazing hip-hop music -- billowing harps, a sped-up Willie Hutch sample and Devin's spot-on personification of the perpetually fucked-up title character, who really does mean well until he gets in the Mickey's 40-ouncers, Hennessy and weed. It's the only hip-hop tune I've ever personally taken the time to type out all the lyrics to, and sometimes I just pull 'em up and gaze in wonder. There's no use quoting a bunch of snippets here -- it's better as a lengthy narrative and you have to hear Devin's sly phrasing. One example will suffice -- the way he says "niggas lookin' at me thro-wo-woe is me" is pure genius.
1. "Mind Playin' Tricks on Me," Geto Boys, We Can't Be Stopped. Sure, I could go out there and pick something else, be all provocative and counterintuitive and shit, but I won't. This was a sensational track behind some incredible rhymes, and it showed the nation that Gulf Coast rap was just as good as the West Coast and East Coast stuff, if not better. And with Halloween rolling around, what better time to dig out your copy of We Can't Be Stopped(which features the most ghoulish cover of any album, ever). Even though Halloween isn't falling on a weekend, you and the Geto Boys can go out trick-or-treatin', and robbin' little kids for bags. Just watch out if a giant old man gets behind your ass.
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