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Rap Boom Reload

In 2005, rappers put Houston on the map. Then the spotlight moved on. Some musicians are working hard to turn it back this way.

Houston was viable. Better, though, its rappers were ready.

A brash young group of cultural attachés — Mike Jones, Slim Thug, Paul Wall and Chamillionaire, all artists on the local label, SwishaHouse — had spent the years prior cultivating their own variation of Houston rap, trying to gain the attention of the rap world.

In 2005, the labels every rapper coveted came to Houston to find them.

"After I signed to Interscope," remembers Slim Thug, "they [record labels] started signing everybody."

Perhaps galvanized by Lil' Flip's success, Chamillionaire was the only local titan to land a feature on Undaground Legend and Will-Lean was the only Houstonian to be featured (on U Gotta Feel Me), they unleashed a firestorm of hits and megahits on the nation, shifting national rap's zeitgeist almost overnight.

• Mike Jones, a decent rapper but a preternaturally gifted businessman, released Who Is Mike Jones? ("Still Tippin'," "Back Then") in April of 2004. Two months later, he was celebrating its platinum rating.

• After Slim Thug had risen to king status in Houston's underground, he signed his deal. Superproducers The Neptunes (Jay-Z, Snoop, Kanye, etc.) put their hands on his debut album, Already Platinum ("3 Kings," "I Ain't Heard of That"). It was released that July, sold 130,000 copies its first week and ultimately moved more than half a million copies despite heavy bootlegging.

• In September, Paul Wall's The People's Champ ("Sittin' Sidewayz," "They Don't Know") sold 176,000 copies in its first week. The unconventional white rapper who first hustled his way into SwishaHouse's favor by handing out party flyers and putting up posters had his major label debut settle into the number one spot on Billboard's Top 200 chart. Platinum.

• Chamillionaire released his debut album, The Sound of Revenge, in November, then watched as it went platinum too, along the way earning a Grammy ("Ridin'" featuring Krayzie Bone; Best Rap Performance By a Duo or Group) and a thicket of other awards.

The universe had gone from 1992 to 2002 and seen only two Houston rappers produce platinum-selling records (Scarface's The Diary, 1994, and The Untouchable, 1997; Lil' Troy's Sittin' Fat Down South, 1999). There were three over the course of eight months in 2005.

Then the bottom fell out.

V. 2011. 2.

The difference between rapping prior to 2005 and rapping now is as different as the Internet then and now. Fundamentally, the idea is still the same (get information from one place to another), but the contexts are entirely dissimilar, which breeds a key singular difference between Houston's last rap surge and this potential new one:

"The Houston sound is more diverse," says UZOY, a talented young rapper with the gall to have a vagina instead of a penis. "I think everybody making music doesn't sound like they did before because it's not like before. I just make music that comes naturally to me. I appreciate the Houston culture. In the music I make, you won't hear it, though. I don't feel like since you're from somewhere you should like something. You should be who you are."

Incidentally, this is exactly the thinking that shapes a culture.

"When we first started advertising or shouting out, 'New Houston! New Houston!' people were upset about that," says Kane, a rapper/party promoter who's been an instrumental component in the development of the younger rap generation's burgeoning professional presence.

"What they didn't understand is that we weren't saying, 'Oh, New Houston,' like, we were wanting to change the city's identity. No. I love the city. The culture is the culture. It's gonna be that. 'New Houston' was a phrase meant to categorize the new artists in the city. It's irresponsible to ignore what they're doing. And you're starting to see those gaps bridged between a Kirko and a Slim or a Propain and a Bun. There are a lot of people doing a lot of things."

Houston's buzz, were you to measure it, is not furiously high outside the Beltway. Presumably, it is no better off than Cincinnati or Idaho or any other dot on the map that nobody who doesn't live there cares about. But right now, that's sort of the point.

"Most regional movements start off just about nonexistent to out-of-towners," explains Jayson Rodriguez, executive editor at XXL magazine. "[It stays that way] until the point it saturates its local market, then bursts onto the next city, then the following, etc., till it feels like it exploded overnight."

"Still Tippin'," the first single from Who Is Mike Jones?, is credited with having started the 2005 movement. And that's a fair enough assessment, because basically it did. But it was a hit in Houston well before then. SwishaHouse released it first in 2003.

National media wasn't talking about what Houston was doing in 2003 or 2004.

That's sort of the point, too.

V. 2005. 2.

The New York Times came. The New Yorker came. MTV came. BET came. XXL, The Source, USA Today, forward-thinking bloggers, people that liked soda, people that wore hats, people that didn't wear hats, everyone, more; they all came, came to see the golden(-grilled) geese that had finally figured out how to fully commercialize Houston rap en masse.

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28 comments
Robert Jones
Robert Jones

I already know I'm late, but I'm definitely diggin this article...I was livin in Pensacola FL from 2000-2002 and I witnessed them start gettin big on Lil Flip and I was doin what i could to spread as much H-Town culture as possible. And PCola is still big on Z-Ro, Trae, etc...but that's still the south. Many H-Town artists have had out of state success, but not much outside the southern region....

And oh yeah, Kirko's "Drank In My Cup" is the most H-Townish radio cut I've heard in a minute...and that's from someone who been jammin Screw since '96.....

Reno Carpet Cleaning
Reno Carpet Cleaning

Thank you for spending some time and sharing this information with all of us. It was in fact very beneficial and insightful.

vic
vic

still tippin didnt start the movement...lil flip did im, from ny and the only music that i really like is music from texas....and thats because of lil flip who was and still IS my fave rapper.

Mixtape_monster
Mixtape_monster

"Chamillionaire was the only local titan to land a feature on Undaground Legend" C-Note is a local titan also, right?

Shea Serrano
Shea Serrano

Local? Yes. Local titan? No.

Mixtape_monster
Mixtape_monster

International we see him like that with the solo work, Botany Boyz work and the SUC, maybe if you see it today Cham nowadays is the local titan, but around then he was just gettin his buzz up! Note's a vet, O.S.U.C.

Laylow
Laylow

Big Love and ESG.....#RealHouston

Brandondoc
Brandondoc

agreed with bill o really.

ofcourse from what i hear/heard this journalist isn't originally from houston so its no wonder he would point to 2005...but that is not relevant to point how weak this article is...

rap boom reload? really..what a weak title...

with all the mistakes this writer makes and the same couple of artists he CONSTANTLY promotes...im sure i'll be reading the day and a dream blog

Shea Serrano
Shea Serrano

Thanks. Might I ask: What mistakes, sir?

Joseph Graham
Joseph Graham

WHO?

H_e_x
H_e_x

Insightful comment of the year goes to!*opens letter**blows into letter**unfolds paper*Joseph Graham! Come on down, you wordsmith of the internet!

Bill O'Really
Bill O'Really

no offense to the author of this article, but if you really think Houston as a city arrived on the rap scene in 2005 you're sadly mistaken.

Rap-A-Lot has been a nationally known entity for years now. Scarface is still one of the most respected emcee's anywhere

Suave House (8Ball & MJG, etc...) was based in Houston.

UGK from P.A. but residing in Houston, has been on a national level since Super Tight dropped.

Then again, how old are you, because most of the younger folks think Houston rap started with Screw and blew up because of Watts and Swisha

rip dvd to wmv
rip dvd to wmv

You are pretty right, man! That is the truth about Rap-A-Lot.

Shea Serrano
Shea Serrano

Hi, sir. To address your concern:

Sure, Rap-A-Lot has been vaguely known nationally for some time (mostly to industry folk; most famously, Biggie Smalls). And Suave House was based in Houston. And Scarface is one of the greatest rappers of all-time. And UGK is one rap's most important, most influential, most brilliant acts. Those points aren't in question. I've written about all of them ad nauseum.

But the only time in the history of the planet when Houston was considered the important city in all of rap was 2005. Never before then. And not since.

That's what this article is about.

Thanks again for reading, and thanks again for taking the time to comment. I sincerely appreciate it.

S

H_e_x
H_e_x

I think people read the title and went straight into the comments. I refuse to believe people could have such utterly shitty reading comprehension skills.

Bill O'Really
Bill O'Really

Hey Shea,

The truth that's lost in translation, is that Houston has been an important city in Hip Hop since "Minds Playing Tricks on Me" went national.

Houston, along with Miami were the first Southern cities with any respect in the rap game, followed soon after by Atlanta, Memphis, and New Orleans. The early respect merited "Relevant" status in the genre, period/the end

Without that "relevant" status people wouldn't have even been paying any attention to Houston for guys like Flip, Slim, Paul, Koopa, and Mike Jones to blow up.

Outside of that saying Rap-A-Lot is vaguely known nationally, thanks to a lyrical reference from Christopher Wallace is almost laughable. No disrespect, but that's just plain, flat out wrong.

KING
KING

Unfortunately, I think a lot of people missed the point of your article, bruh, bruh.

Shea Serrano
Shea Serrano

Hahaha. I'm not certain why you put "your" in quotation marks (are you questioning that I wrote them?), but that's cool. Thanks again for the time. I look forward to hearing more from you.

S

Bill O'Really
Bill O'Really

I'm down, and will definitely check out a few of "your" other post.

One last opinion before I up my productivity for the day:

Historical analogues are all important in Hip Hop. It's kind of like "what neighborhood are you from?" on a grand scale. If nobody's ever heard of/met the O.G.'s from where you reside, it's much harder to get a "pass" from anyone. Much less the fickle masses, who still rely on cosigns and or facebook likes.

Shea Serrano
Shea Serrano

Two things:

1. Relevant? Of course. Again, that's not in question. Everyone is aware of Houston's rap pedigree. But it was never THE most important city in rap before 2005, sir (which, incidentally, is nearly the entire thesis of this story). Surely you will concede that point.

2. "Without that 'relevant' status people wouldn't have even been paying any attention to Houston for guys like Flip, Slim, Paul, Koopa, and Mike Jones to blow up."

Historical analogues are of no concern during the coronation of national darlings into the pop canon, less so when talking about success within it. The 2005 class was influenced by their predecessors, absolutely, but their success was only tied to them tangentially. Nobody said, "Let me give X a record deal because he's from Houston and that's where Scarface is from."

I enjoy this. I hope you stick around to comment on more things. Please check the music blog. Active commenters are the best. Mostly, I just receive emails/comments that use the wrong form of "your" while insulting me.

S

Jacob
Jacob

Good article. I wish you would of talked about how money laundering helped the big 2005 boom too.. can't get famous without an "investor"..

Acres Homes
Acres Homes

Zro was not even mentioned.

H_e_x
H_e_x

Because this article is about a new wave of rappers.

Lunchboxrox
Lunchboxrox

The writer naively breezed over UGK and Bun B's influence on the Houston and Global rap culture. No other rapper has had a declaration of his own day like Bun did recently by Mayor Anise Parker for his positive contributions in the city. This writer is obviously fresh out of college and hasn't recognized that there are some of us that were intrical in bridging the early ninties to the present scene by keeping the local support for rap and live performances strong. Promoters like CeePlus, Adam Rapp, Lunaface, and others like myself, kept the flame burning throughout the era's that are broken up in this article as if there were dark ages in between. Wish this article would've served a more meaningful purpose and dove into the real history of how hip hop and rap really survived and thrived in Htown.

Shea Serrano
Shea Serrano

Sir, this is not an all-encompassing article about the history of Houston rap. Were it that, it'd have been 350,000 words. This story is about what's happened since 2005. From then to now there has not been as impressive an assortment of rappers in Houston's underground scene. Sorry about the confusion. Thank you for reading and taking the time to comment. I appreciate it.

S

KING
KING

About time. The Houston re-up has been needed since December 4th, 2007.

Blueballs03
Blueballs03

Good shit. Had trouble opening up to New Houston at first. Propain helped me get over that. Now I bang the new and the old.

 
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