Maybe it's because they hold down the concept of traditional Houston rap more than anyone else, but today nothing typifies that late-'90s, hazed-out lull of street rhythms combined with Mike Dean-like church organs more than the Hispanic rap crowd. And now we're in the age of the inevitable: the slow return of a buzz-making Hispanic rapper from Houston escaping the city's walls and moving on to something bigger.
Dat Boi T exemplifies the Screwed Up Click for anyone who grew up in that era, right down to his retro-future-sounding mantras among the newer class of established Houston acts. A bevy of talent below him, such as Doeman (owner of the tightly wound DYNA EP), iLL LiaD and Young G, seem to straddle a similar fence lyrically, but never in a way where the influence of Houston rap's extensive '90s and early-'00s legacy doesn't show.
GT Garza, however, may be the perfect union of what Houston was to a lot of outsiders once upon a time and what many within the city see now: a punchline lieutenant deeply indebted to what makes traditionalists enjoy the "new sound" Houston has to offer.
But the title of his new The Legacy of Ritchie Valens mixalbum is a bit of a misnomer. While Valens, the third member of "The Day the Music Died" plane crash alongside Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper, gets an acknowledgement in a radio clip after "Intro (The Coin Flip)," Garza doesn't think much at all about the album's namesake except for the fact that Valens died just as he was becoming a legend. Legacy, however, gets over on Garza's ability to weave together a song by constantly referencing the Houston legends he grew up and still listens to -- and he likes it that way.
For all the change Houston rappers have undertaken in listing off their inspirations, Garza's don't even land outside of the 610 loop.
On the guitar-string throwback device that is "Screens Fall," it's not much of a shock that Garza packs in as many references to Houston's forefathers as he can, men such as Lil Flip, ESG and Pimp C. "Texas is all that I jam in my whiiip, and this is the way that we ball got me feelin' like Fliiiip," he sing-songs, somewhat like Kirko Bangz, "...and Fat Pat is still my favorite rapper of all time."
Production-wise, Trakksounds may have a finger on how Garza works better than anybody else on Legacy, mainly because of how easily he can return to that Dean-like pattern of piano loops, pronounced but subtle drums and circular snare work. "SLAB," the single currently jockeying for chart position on local radio, is an example of Garza at his best -- a Hispanic rap superhero who doesn't completely blow away the competition one wide-eyed stanza after another but triumphs in composition. It's Houston rider music for a new age, and Garza's flow is so steady and guided that he never seems to fly off the handle.
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Legacy does one thing better than a lot of tapes these days: expresses its underlying religious message even when not explicitly stating as much; Garza clutches his faith in the same way he'd grip a wood wheel. His rosary keeps him warm and makes frequent appearances ("Hallelulah," "Big Deal") and he knows what keeps him standing on his own two feet.
He'll forever have an awareness of the streets because that's what a Houston rapper of his mold is supposed to do, and will readily champion his heritage without hesitaion. "Vatos" is nearly in the same lexicon as Killa Kyleon's trunk-rattling "ESE" of a year ago, with 808s chomping at the bit, and Garza is ready to bookmark any descriptive analogy of his family, friends and whomever else with a bit of positivity.
In the short run, Legacy marks an important step for Hispanic Houston rap. It continues to show that the likes of Garza can get an intriguing project onto the streets without any major-label histrionics or puppet strings. For Garza himself, it's another footprint from where he left off with Brown By Honor. Sticking and moving with Z-Ro on "Still Rollin," bringing the best out of MUG on "Up On 3s" and more, Legacy finds itself riding shotgun with plenty of other notable Houston rap tapes released in the past couple of years, easily digestible and enjoyable without any real compromise.
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