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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.

The city was hip-hop's ruling class.

The world listened, became infatuated with the slow-mo culture, loved it, championed it. And then, same as had happened in L.A. and Atlanta and St. Louis and so on, they stopped. Hard.

Paul Wall retained the most inertia initially. He released Get Money, Stay True in 2007 and it sold 92,000 in its first week; still impressive, and good enough for 8th on Billboard at the time, but not nearly as influential or significant in the pop culture canon. When Heart of a Champion, his fifth studio album and arguably his most dexterous to date, came in 2010, it lived undisturbed on shelves. It sold 7,600 copies in its first week, a 96 percent drop-off from his 2005 album.

Kirko Bangz has gone from YouTube to a major label record contract.
Photo by Marco Torres
Kirko Bangz has gone from YouTube to a major label record contract.
Fat Tony, three-time winner of the Houston Press Best Underground Rapper award, tinges alt rap with Houstonisms. And Hennessy, apparently.
Photo by Marco Torres
Fat Tony, three-time winner of the Houston Press Best Underground Rapper award, tinges alt rap with Houstonisms. And Hennessy, apparently.

Chamillionaire released Ultimate Victory to better-than-modest numbers in 2007, too (79,000 first week), but it somehow seemed paltry, shadowed alone by the surreal success of the single "Ridin'" (Grammy, MTV Video of the Year, cited by Rolling Stone as the third-best song of the year, more). Afterwards, he was the victim of a messy label dispute that prevented him from releasing any proper music.

Jones failed to release his self-hyped follow-up LP The American Dream as a full-length album. Instead, he offered it as a retread EP, supplemented with a movie of the same name that was almost unwatchable. When he did manage to release an album, The Voice (2009), it flopped. More than two years later, it has sold less than 65,000 copies. Jones disappeared from Houston, and is rumored to have moved to Atlanta. He has only recently begun popping up online again, filming awkward video interviews and tweeting about an upcoming mixtape appropriately titled Where Is Mike Jones?.

Slim Thug, who was unjustly criticized by Texas loyalists for having out-of-towners create the atmospherics for Already Platinum, didn't release another album until 2009. When he did, it was a moving, monstrous, menacing ode to the dynamism of Southern hip-hop, all swollen hooks and trunk destruction. It was the most honest, most open work of his life. It sold 32,000 copies in its first week.

Nearing 2010, only Bun B, consistent as the letter "E," and Trae, primed to be Houston's next breakout star, were making national headlines. But Bun B was a proven commodity, the legacy of UGK long secure. And Trae's name wasn't ringing out for his music, but rather a lack of it. He was banned by one of the largest radio corporations in America following a verbal altercation with a DJ and subsequent mixtape disses. He had moved back to the D-I-Y circuit, still attaining successes, but not those he was perhaps in line to receive.

V. 2011. 3.

"It's cool to be country, but not if you're from the country," explains rapper Killa Kyleon. "The shit backfired on us." Two minutes into the conversation and his mouth is already sprinting to keep up with his brain.

In a city full of outsized personalities, Kyleon, a hip-hop historian with an affinity for art and talking shit, is especially so.

He is elaborating on the notion that it's now unacceptable artistically for rappers from the South to mimic and/or regurgitate the Southern rap tropes that they created (grills, Syrup, Screwed music, etc), but it is okay — groundbreaking, even — for rappers from other parts of the country to do so.

Most famously, Drake, a Canadian who has shown a candid appreciation for Houston rap culture for the duration of his career (he even managed to record a "June 27th" homage that he called "November 18th"), did so.

And most recently (or egregiously), A$AP Rocky, a Harlemite with tenuous-at-best ties to Houston, has done so.

When Drake signed with Lil Wayne's Young Money label, he reportedly received a $2 million advance. When Rocky signed with Sony/RCA sector Polo Grounds Music, he reportedly secured a hefty $3 million advance.

"I honestly believe we're the trendiest city in rap," says Kyleon. "Shout-out, A$AP Rocky."

Growing up, Kyleon's mother was an employee of Harris County Probate Court, his father a laborer at a plumbing supply company.

During the school week, Mom raised young Killa, born Kyle Riley, in Trinity Gardens, an austere neighborhood on the north side of Houston. On the weekends, Dad raised him in an equally baleful section of concrete, the poetically named Dead End neighborhood in south Houston.

Kyleon was planted square in the center of Houston's North-South civil war during his youth, loyalties to both sides. He flourished in the ferocious, learning how to hustle, how to breathe with confidence, how to understand what people needed and wanted. He moved at warp speed. Rap came easy to him.

Underground legend K-Rino is heralded for having recorded all 17 of the tracks on his 2006 album Time Traveler in 21 days. Kyleon once recorded 23 songs in a single day.

"People say Houston fell off after '05," spurts Kyleon, always full speed. "It's been alive and well, way before and beyond 2005."

It doesn't feel immediately natural to classify Kyleon as a new artist. He was already part of the professional rap community during Houston's boom, watched the whole thing happen from the inside. He had even signed with Interscope alongside then group member Slim Thug. But he never officially released any music under Interscope because, as Kyleon explains it, "it was new to them, they didn't know what to do with the music or how to market it to the public." He spent a substantial part of his career waiting for his contract to expire in 2009.

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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?

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

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

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"..

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.

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.

Shea Serrano
Shea Serrano

Thanks. Might I ask: What mistakes, sir?

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!

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

Because this article is about a new wave of rappers.

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

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.

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

 
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