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It Was What It Was

Amid a wash of national phooey, plucking Houston rap's pivotal 2009 moment is easy.

:/
For you non-texters out there, this emoticon more or less means "meh." Indifference. That's the kind of year 2009 was for rap. There were good things that happened, and there were bad things that happened. But mostly it was a whole bunch of :/ .

On the national landscape, it was like there was a contest going on to see who could partake in the daffiest nonsense.

Atlanta's Gucci Mane, an otherwise uneconomical, warble-tongued gentleman, convinced a whole bunch of people that he might be a genius. He's not. Matter of fact, outside of about nine songs, he's pretty intolerable, although that appears to be the crux of the case for his genius too. Go figure.

But Mane's album The State vs. Radric Davis became a little too literal, and he's now left to sit and hope that his latest incarceration doesn't dim his luster too much. Sadly, Gucci's imprisonment represented a wayward trend among the South's most prominent rappers. T.I. got sent away. Lil' Boosie got sent away. Jail time looms for Weezy F. Baby. Now we're left with Young Jeezy at the head of the table.

Chris Brown beat up Rihanna and we all feigned anger until he went back out on tour again.

Drake, who stepped perfectly and managed to flip a mix tape into mainstream dominance, became the de facto representative of the Internet rapper movement, the most noteworthy lobby group of the year. Of course, because of this, everyone not directly making money off of him pretended like they hated him, even though we all jammed that version of "Successful" that Trey Songz didn't ruin.

The 40-year-old Jay-Z released The Blueprint 3, an album that appeared tritely ironic because it had wandered so far away from its own blueprint — it features non-thuggish rappers Drake, Kid Cudi, Kanye and J. Cole) but actually ended up serving as yet another display of Jigga's innate understanding of the evolving memes of hip-hop (it features non-thuggish rappers Drake, Kid Cudi, Kanye and J. Cole).

Speaking of Kanye, he spazzed out a few times, inspiring an episode of South Park that ended with his having sex with a fish. He didn't release any actual albums, but Kid Cudi released the purposely enigmatic Man on the Moon, and he's essentially Kanye Lite, so we had that.

Asher Roth popped in momentarily to release Asleep in the Bread Aisle and then promptly disappeared. It was less a new musician materializing solely to make some profound artistic statement and more someone joining a group of people who are having a conversation, farting and then scurrying off before anyone realizes what's just happened.

Eminem released Relapse and people went nuts for it. About a week ago, Soundscan revealed that Em had sold more total records than anybody else this entire decade. Everybody but him was surprised.

Soulja Boy's swag got turned on, the 50 Cent era officially began its descent, Rick Ross turned out not to be a drug dealer, 808's and Heartbreak got gassed by the Grammys — the same Grammys that nominated Drake even though he never officially released an album) — and a bunch of rappers and DJs died.

The ones who didn't wrote at least one song titled "My President Is Black." It was a weird year.

In Houston, things were saner.

Lil' Flip hustled like he did pre-2005. "Kim Kardashian," his blatant ploy at cashing in on the wacky dance craze, was just awful, but his latest music has hinted at an uncommon modesty. And Flip's contribution on "Southside," from Z-Ro's mysterious Cocaine album, is the best work he's released in at least two years.

Speaking of, save for Cocaine and the forgettable all-freestyle mix tape Relvis Presley, Z-Ro looked to be wrestling with Rap-A-Lot for the majority of the year, hardly what anyone was hoping for, particularly since label representatives claimed 'Ro had no less than two proper full lengths on the way in 2009.

Chamillionaire demanded he become a top trending topic on Twitter before he released Mixtape Messiah 7, the endpoint of the monumental Messiah series. His campaign was successful — not enough to make everyone forget that he told us next proper album Venom would be released this year and never was, but successful nonetheless.

Slim Thug returned home with Boss of All Bosses, a wickedly heartfelt LP aimed at addressing claims that he'd abandoned his fan base with 2005's Already Platinum. Naturally, Boss didn't receive near the support that it should have, even though it was one of 2009's finer Texas rap albums. (He seemed to gain more attention when he cut off his braids.)

Poor Mike Jones gave us The Voice. We're still waiting to meet someone who bought a copy.

Paul Wall's Fast Life wasn't all terrible, but kind of the same way having deadly pneumonia isn't all terrible because you get to take some extra days off work. Okay, okay. "Mama Raised Me" hinted at something a little more substantial than he's given us as of late, and that was promising.

Trae released The Incredible Truth, a mix-tape prep for 2010 LP Trae The Truth. Having survived the fallout from the Trae Day shootings, he's as ready as he'll ever be for national acclaim. Trae will carry the weight of the city's expectations on his broad shoulders into the new year, and we suspect he's just fine with that.

Killa Kyleon's Purple Punch 3 was full of goodness. Yung Redd allegedly had labels in a bidding war over his Eviction Notice 3, a tape that displayed the full strength of his girthy flow. K-Rino satiated his fans with the ethereal Solitary Confinement.

The legendary E.S.G. released the auto­biographical Everyday Street Gangsta. Coast's Thinking Out Loud Vol. 2, highlighted by one of the year's best songs in "I Can't Complain," represented the most enjoyable work from a Latino artist this year — even though the squeaky Lucky Luciano walked away with something called the Texas Latin Rapper of the Year award.

Hollywood F.L.O.S.S. and Dustin Prestige, mere infants last year, grew by leaps and bounds in just a few months' time. The G.R.I.T. Boys leaked G.R.I.T. Boy Gang and reminded everyone that they are not to be slept on. Swishahouse began riding its young horses towards independent prominence again. And Lil' Keke meandered around, not providing anybody with near enough music.

Oddly, a few of Houston's star alt-underclassmen followed suit.

Houston's reigning underground prince, Fat Tony, let the entire year pass without releasing so much as a mix tape's worth of new material. Nosaprise, who has an unspoken battle going on with Tony that only we seem to acknowledge, and experimentalist B L A C K I E did the same. (Expect new music from all three soon.)

There are tons more names that should be dropped, way more events and trends that should be mentioned. But most of them are already moot, because even with all that happened this year, pinpointing 2009's most important moment for Houston hip-hop is easy. Easy because it came from a familiar name: Underground Kingz.

UGK's mesmerizing UGK 4 Life was, unquestionably, one of the top albums of the year. (Metacritic score of 84, bitches.) It's the first and only posthumous UGK album, carrying with it a mountain of validation and closure. The duo's eighth full-length came 22 years after the group's ascent, 15 months after Pimp C passed and is the third-best album they ever made.

There's no significant numerical roundness to cleverly attach it to. It just exists. One day UGK for Life wasn't here, then the next day it was. And that's the way it had to be.

Once again — possibly for the last time — Bun B sits atop the list of Houston's important rappers, Pimp C posthumously eyeing the scuffle for top-notch status among an iPod's worth of others.

Even when nothing important is going on, something important is going on.

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