Inglorious Basterds

12 things we learned about Houston rap in 2012.

Early in 2012, I received an e-mail from a man who corresponds with me regularly. His message was a short 45 words. It wasn't a question, but it wasn't a declaration, either; I suppose you could classify it as a revelation, but that seems a bit melodramatic. Mostly it was just an insightful statement. With his permission, I've replicated it below:

"It feels like Houston rap is close. It feels like in the next three to six years, it will prove itself to be a rap powerhouse. But even if it doesn't, it doesn't matter. Because Houston is Houston, and no other city can say that."

Only a handful of locations in the United States can make similar statements: New York, L.A., the Bay Area, Miami, New Orleans, maybe Memphis and probably Chicago now. Houston rap is obviously proud, and its traditions are obviously rich, but it seems like each and every day, more and more people outside Texas are beginning to realize it.

The Niceguys at Houston's Wire Road Studios.
Photos by Marco Torres
The Niceguys at Houston's Wire Road Studios.
In August, the Niceguys (top) welcomed a few fans (bottom) to a listening party for their new album, James Kelley, at Houston's Wire Road Studios.
Photos by Marco Torres
In August, the Niceguys (top) welcomed a few fans (bottom) to a listening party for their new album, James Kelley, at Houston's Wire Road Studios.

Or maybe they're not. But even if they're not, it doesn't matter. Because Houston is Houston, and no other city can say that. Which is a big part of the reason that Houston's 2012 was so enjoyable to experience.

The 12 things we learned about Houston rap in 2012:

12. Paul Wall as an Old Man Is Wonderful: Slim Thug has seemed the most comfortable moving among the newer class of rappers in town, and Bun B has appeared to settle into the mentor role most seamlessly. But Paul Wall has seemed the most invigorated creatively. He hasn't reinvented himself — older rappers who attempt to do that are rarely met civilly — but has streamlined himself, peeling away all of the unnecessary pieces. Need proof? His newest tape, No Sleep Til Houston, is an unfettered, confident, interesting jumble of enjoyable paulwallisms.

11. Delo Is Sturdy as Oak: His Hood Politics Vol. 3 is way better than Hood Politics Vol. 1, as good as Hood Politics Vol. 2 and superior to nearly everything else that came out in Houston this year.

10. Nobody Is Paying Enough Attention to Houston's Female Rappers: They're just too good. And they're growing. The best of their group — Amber London, Tawn-P, UZOY, Just Brittany, TroubleSum — are capable of keeping pace with just about any of the guys in town. We won't be able to pretend they're not important for too much longer.

9. Killa Kyleon Has Become the Most Underrated Houston Rapper of All Time: Of. All. Time.

8. The Outfit, TX Made a Beautiful Album Nobody Was Expecting: In all likelihood, this is the first you're hearing of The Outfit, TX. That's totally understandable. The crew, for the most part, was basically invisible up until this year. But then, holy crap, they released Starships & Rockets: Cooly Fooly Space Age Funk. It is a brave, ambitious modernization of early-era S.U.C. rap, tinged with high fives and hat tips to some of Southern hip-hop's greatest acts, which somehow manages to be completely original. It is so thick and meta and enjoyably byzantine that there's always something new to experience when listening to it.

7. Street Rap Is Coming Back: With the popularity of more abstract rappers these past couple of years, street rap's collective grip on Houston loosened. But 2012 brought with it strong projects from Rock Show, Rob Gullatte, Yung Quis, M.U.G. and a few others. It's beginning to feel like the new generation of Houston listeners will not go without its own gangster branch.

6. Trae Tha Truth Is Made of Stone: Besides the usual bevy of accomplishments he squeezes out of nothing each year, Trae's most notable achievement this go-round was flipping his status as a Houston legend into a deal with T.I.'s Grand Hustle label. He is still banned by Houston's most popular radio station and all its affiliates. Naturally, he was as loud in 2012 as he's ever been. And he survived a gunshot wound.

5. Z-Ro Will Be Magnanimous In 2013: He is officially out of his contract with Rap-A-Lot. Praise be to the most high.

4. We Are All Watching Doughbeezy Turn Into Doughbeezy: To crib my own notes, via Rocks Off's countdown of 2012's best underground mixtapes:

"Doughbeezy has become Houston's arch-hustler, more an all-around experience than solely a rapper. He appears to actively hunt fame and recognition, singularly driven and superheroically inspired. It doesn't seem unreasonable to conclude that if he were banned from rapping, he'd just do the shit out of something else until people started giving him lots of money to do so.

"It's remarkable, really. That said, he is still a goddamn monster rapper, and the hearty, imaginative Blue Magic was nearly twice as good as his last tape, Reggie Bush and Kool-Aid. His fame seems inevitable, sure. But at this point, so too is his talent."

3. Kirko Bangz Is Officially a Star, Whether You Like It or Not: A small segment of Houston cheerleaders hoped the scene's first new breakout star would be one of its grittier, less sex-robot-like acts, somebody comparable to, say, L.A.'s Kendrick Lamar. There's at least a hint of logic behind that particular desire, but it is 98 percent ridiculous. Kirko's name rings out nationally: He is a radio regular and has become a coveted guest feature. His upcoming debut album carries with it no small amount of importance because it will, in part, serve as evidence for or against Houston's viability. Root for him.

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