The Foundation

An essential new photo book surveys Houston rap's origins.

Screwston, Texas

If this weather's got you interested in curling up on the couch with a warm blanket and a good book, you're in luck. Sinecure Books has just put out a great one: photographer Peter Beste's Houston Rap, a years-in-the-making picture book detailing the locals and locales that have defined the city's hip-hop scene for more than two decades.

If you're envisioning a few dozen pages of gold grills and Cadillacs, go ahead and stop right there. This may be a coffee-table book, but it's no superficial treatment. Beste set out to create a historical document of a very specific time and place in the American experience. Since 2004, he's been snapping photos in the streets, clubs, studios and living rooms where H-town rap has been and continues to be a way of life, and he brought in writer Lance Scott Walker to help collect an authoritative oral history of the scene and its major participants dating back to its earliest days.

The "Fourth Ward Tiger Woods" glares at the camera in the fast-gentrifying 'hood near downtown.
Photo courtesy of Peter Beste
The "Fourth Ward Tiger Woods" glares at the camera in the fast-gentrifying 'hood near downtown.
Houston rapper ESG mixes up an infamous purple-drank cocktail.
Photo courtesy of Peter Beste
Houston rapper ESG mixes up an infamous purple-drank cocktail.

Scarface and Mike Jones are in there, sure, as are plenty of guns, gold and drank. But you'll also find arresting images of boarded-up storefronts, after-hours strip joints, overgrown parking lots and the colorful people who populate such places. Houston Rap is the most intimate and detailed portrait yet of the faces, places and problems in Houston's oldest remaining black communities — not to mention the bass-heavy soundtrack to daily life there.

So how did a couple of white dudes living and working in New York City come to spend nearly a decade diving so deeply into such a closed-off, localized world? Turns out they were hooked early, as music-obsessed kids growing up on the fringes of what was once considered just another anonymous burb in the great hip-hop wasteland between NYC and L.A.

"Growing up outside of Houston in the early '90s, I was really attracted or mystified by a lot of the early Rap-A-Lot artists, like the Geto Boys and Ganksta N-I-P, Point Blank and people like that," Beste says. "And then years later, I started photography at St. Edwards University in Austin, and they had a strong emphasis on documentary photography. And that's really what spoke to me in terms of photography. I guess my interest in Houston rap came back up in those years, and it just seemed like the perfect documentary project."

Beste began working on the book in 2004, starting with pictures of H-town O.G.s K-Rino and Street Military. The more he shot, the more stories he heard. A rich narrative began to emerge of the evolution of Houston hip-hop, and that's when Beste gave Walker a call. One of the most intriguing aspects of the Houston rap scene to both men was the intense DIY nature of the movement. Much like their punk idols, the musicians Beste and Walker saw and heard in Houston were putting out their own records on their own labels, oftentimes selling them out of the trunks of their own cars.

"It was that really original, underdog world that I was attracted to," Beste says. "The DIY ethic that grew out of all of that, I have a whole lot of respect for. I come from a punk-rock background, so that DIY aesthetic was really ­attractive to me. It just made me respect them a lot, and it kept my interest for many, many years."

Interest is one thing. Access is another. It was a long and sometimes scary process to get players large and small in the scene to open up to a couple of outsiders. But the pair was determined to shine a light on a thriving hip-hop underground completely unknown to most people living a few miles away, let alone in another state or country.

"Houston has always been overlooked, dismissed," Walker says. "How many people do you know that you've talked to from out of town, and you tell 'em you're from Houston and they're like, 'Aw, I went to Houston one time; it sucked! Freeways and concrete and gas stations and strip centers.' Well, yeah, but there's so much beneath that.

"You kind of need a tour guide," he continues. "It's not the most welcoming city to visit if you don't know where you're going and you don't know anything about it. But that's also because Houston does its own thing. Houston is its own little planet."

A planet that can now be explored, courtesy of Beste and Walker, from the warm, cozy comfort of your trill-ass couch.

Music Bidness

A December to Remember
Toyota Center is in the middle of a blockbuster month.


For a venue celebrating its tenth year of operation, Toyota Center may have never experienced such high-caliber occupancy as it will this month.

In late autumn, the murmurs from inside the venue's marketing department could be heard all the way across the street at the George R. Brown Convention Center. While the Rockets were finalizing the smiling "H-TOWN" visage of center Dwight Howard and guard James Harden that now greets fans, two more names were added to the arena's December concert schedule.

Jay Z. Kanye West.

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