That Was the Year That Was

Looking back on the local scene in '06

Even though it wasn't the same type of feeding frenzy that prevailed in 2005, 2006 was still an insanely great year to be a rapper here. As for everyone else, save for R&B singers and zydeco performers, eh, not so much. On the rock front, Blue October had the biggest hit, with a song we wish didn't exist. The only other breakouts were on a much smaller scale -- it was a tremendous 12 months on the national stage for the freaky noise and psych rock contingent.

The local rap scene's underground-to-mainstream rags-to-riches story culminated this year. Folks, Houston's rap scene has peaked, and that is just a fact. This year, Chamillionaire's smash hit "Ridin'" was Yankovicked as the title track of Weird Al's White and Nerdy, and I can say with 100 percent certainty that there's no going anywhere but down after he parodies your stuff. Before that, though, Chamillionaire's The Sound of Revenge went platinum-plus and ringtone sales for "Ridin'" topped three million -- a first for a hip-hop artist. He also won Video of the Year for "Ridin'" at the MTV Video Music Awards and the Ozone Awards and was tabbed the Rookie of the Year at the BET Hip Hop Awards, among about a dozen other major nominations.

While Cham's sales and profile dwarfed all other local albums and artists this year, Rap-A-Lot continued to release great, if nationally slept-on, albums. This year's crop included Trae's Restless, Pimp C's Pimpalation and Z-Ro's I'm Still Livin'. (Special kudos to the producers on the latter two albums for managing to meld H-Town rap with samples and/or melodies from Tom Petty, Spandau Ballet, Barry Manilow, Pat Benatar and even Ludwig Van Beethoven.)

But it wasn't all onward and upward this year for H-Town hip-hop. On May 1, Big Hawk was gunned down outside his house by an unknown assailant. Hawk had just gotten married and was at work putting together a reunion album from the surviving members of the Screwed Up Click when he was killed. A posthumous album -- Black Hawk Down -- is scheduled for next year.

Next year figures to be huge. UGK's reunion double album, Mike Jones's The American Dream and Slim Thug's Boss of All Bosses are all slated to drop in February, and there are also as-yet undated releases coming from Lil' Flip (I Need Mine) and Paul Wall (Get Money Stay True). Even Chamillionaire has another album coming out next year -- his Ultimate Victory is supposed to be coming out March 27, and Wall, his old partner, also has a rap-rock project called Expensive Taste with Blink-182 drummer Travis Barker and rapper Rob Alston of the Transplants. Best of all, Devin the Dude also has an album coming -- his Waiting to Inhale comes out in March on Rap-A-Lot.

A trio of chanteuses -- two from the Destiny's Child camp -- led local R&B to a fairly strong year. Brooke Valentine, a Houston native and non-Destiny's Child singer whose career was launched in Los Angeles, toured steadily this year, building on the success of last year's Chain Letter, and creating buzz for next year's Physical Education. "Torn," the lead single from Letoya, the solo debut from Destiny's Child alumna/former Slim Thug squeeze Letoya Luckett, was a pop hit and an R&B smash. Since then, Letoya debuted at number one on the Billboard pop charts and has been certified gold.

Though her penchant for wearing furs and her treatment of baby alligators at a photo shoot ran her afoul of PETA, Beyoncé continued her charmed life of multimedia fabulosity. She began the year with another Grammy win -- this time for her Stevie Wonder duet "So Amazing" off the Luther Vandross tribute album of the same name. The Pink Panther, in which she costarred, opened in theaters the same month, and B'Day, her second solo album, came out later in the year. Though B'Day wasn't the same kind of worldwide, towering colossus that was Dangerously In Love, most artists would be content with worldwide sales of 2.3 million albums. And her next movie -- Dreamgirls -- will be in theaters by the time you read this, so there's no need to cry for Beyoncé.

While zydeco has long thrived in Houston, that fact has gone unknown to most people outside of southwestern Louisiana and East Texas. This year, Texas Zydeco, a book by Dr. Roger Wood and James Fraher, should go a long way toward correcting a few myths -- notably, the one that has it that New Orleans and not Houston is America's metropolitan zydeco hub. Here, as lovingly and painstakingly described in Wood's words and Fraher's photographs, zydeco is being stretched in every direction. Some, like J. Paul and the Zydeco Nu-Breedz and Nooney and the Floaters, are bringing in hip-hop music and swagger, while others, including Andre Thierry, Robert "Ra-Ra" Carter and Corey Ledet, took the music back in an old-school direction. (Because of them, it is hip again to emulate Clifton Chenier and Buckwheat Zydeco.) Meanwhile, 22-year-old Sealy-bred Cedric Watson continued turning heads with the new life he is bringing to what was thought to be a dying art form -- Creole fiddling. After moving to rural Louisiana earlier this year, Watson has been furiously studying and recording, and this year alone you can hear him on CDs by The Pine Leaf Boys and Les Amis Creoles, on which he collaborated with Beaumont accordionist Ed Poullard and KPFT disc jockey JB Adams.

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