More often than not, Houston rappers are only too happy to wear their local influences on their sleeves: a drip of Lil’ Keke here, a drab of Scarface over there and, if they’re doing it right, a fine dusting of Pimp C sprinkled over the top. And Guilla is no different, even if he sounds nothing like your average “Houston rapper.” It’s just that his influences stretch a litter farther than the usual Southside suspects.
Like, all the way to NASA.
“I’ve been a sci-fi fan my whole life, and I’ve always been into space,” says the producer and MC, who saw plenty of planet Earth traveling from place to place growing up as the son of a military man. “I’m into metaphysics and esoteric thought and all that, so I wanted to drop a project that incorporated all that stuff.”
This week, that project left the launch pad. Guilla’s new album, Children of the Sun, is a love letter to the far-out imagination and heart imbued in spacey flicks like The Fifth Element — his number-one favorite. Even before you hit play, just the song titles alone, like “Super Novas,” “Saturn” and (duh) “Outer Space” let you know where you’re headed: a wider universe beyond the Rap, Trap, and Drums that defined Guilla’s last full-length effort.
The artist says that Children of the Sun was inspired in part by the steep trajectory of his career over the past couple of years, which has seen him rubbing elbows of late with some of the brightest stars in Houston’s broader constellation of musical talent.
“Before, I was hanging around a lot of rappers,” Guilla says. “You kind of learn to rap your ass off on everything that way. But then, I started hanging around a lot more songwriters and musicians, like Fat Tony, Kam Franklin, iLL-Faded, Catch Fever — a lot of actual musicians throughout the city. Over the last year and a half, I feel like they’ve influenced my direction more than anything else.”
To be sure, Children of the Sun is a very personal project for Guilla; he wrote and produced the whole record himself. But the fingerprints of some of those folks he mentions are all over it, too. The ladies of “soul folk” trio Say Girl Say brighten up the hook on “Super Novas,” while the Suffers’ Kam Franklin smooths out the frenetic drums of “Cosmic Heartbeat.” Houston Grand Opera soprano Alicia Gianni lends an ethereal glow to the lyrical “Death of Tomoe.”
Basically, every tune on Children of the Sun sounds like it belongs to a different genre of music. And that’s exactly what Guilla was going for.
“There are different influences throughout the whole project,” he says. “I have a Spanish guitar on one song. I have a breakbeat song on there; I have a trap track on there. It’s not about the genre, it’s about the feel. It’s about the vibe that you’re in my head, that you’re in outer space.”
While the eclectic nature of Children of the Sun may make it seem as though Guilla is branching out a bit from his musical roots, it would be more apt to say that he’s exploring his deepest roots more fully. The MC grew up in a very musical household: his father was a DJ; his mother is an opera singer. He was exposed to a great breadth of sounds during his formative years. Much of what stuck involved the juxtaposition of modern beats and production work with more traditional — even ancient — musical modes.
“My dad had this Pure Moods CD when I was a kid,” Guilla says. “It was like New Age music, but it had bad-ass beats behind it. I remember as a kid being obsessed with that, wondering, ‘What the hell is this? Why is some Indian dude chanting Native American chants with a cool beat behind it? This is fire!’ I remember having that CD on repeat as a kid, and then eventually getting all of them.”
Bjork soon become another musical touchstone, not to mention the alien opera scene in The Fifth Element. Even as his appreciation for dope beats and slick rhymes deepened, Guilla remained attracted to the fearlessly sublime strangeness of those sonic expressions that touched him as a child.
“Musicians, and not just in hip-hop, will corner themselves to a little market, a little niche,” he says. “If they go outside of that, they think that they’re doing something corny, or think, ‘Oh, I’ve got to do something that everyone else is doing.’ They’re afraid to even go with their gut feeling. My approach—not that there’s a right or wrong, because it’s all philosophical—is just to go with what feels good.
“I hope that there’s a clear, distinct message in the project that it’s ok to have free thought,” he adds. “It’s OK to use your creativity.”
Guilla gives fans their first taste of Children of the Sun this Saturday at his record release show at Raven Tower. Bizzythowed, Kyle Hubbard, Mojave Red, iLL-Faded and Mark Drew will appear in support. Doors open at 6 p.m. Free.