The first time Rocks Off ever went to Houston's Show Palace Cabaret, we took eight tequila shots in a row in less than ten seconds (we have witnesses). Our friend Billy, who lost the tequila-shot contest, filled up three urinals with food he consumed that night and probably all the way back to the third grade. Two naked blond bombshells covered themselves in baby oil and played slip-and-slide on the stage. The guy whose bachelor party we were celebrating went home with a stripper. We didn't know him that well so we're not sure if he ever got married, but that's not the point of us revealing this part our life to you. Edgebrook product Aaron Miranda, known as "Lil Young" in the streets of Houston, is the reason we're letting you in on our The Hangover type of evening more than ten years ago. It's hard to be jealous of another man. That's a bone that's just not in our body, but we couldn't help but be a little envious - OK, lots of envious - of this rapper when he told us that as an 18-year-old high-school senior, he was leaving the South Houston High School campus and heading to Show Palace to DJ almost seven nights a week at that fine gentleman's establishment.
For most men in the world, that would probably be their dream job. For an aspiring H-Town Latino hip-hop artist, let us tell you about an even better gig: becoming the first Latino artist for the legendary Swishahouse music label. That's where Lil Young sits today. Two years removed from getting paid to play music strippers could bounce their asses to and selling his mixtapes between songs, Young is talking to Rocks Off sitting in a Southeast Houston studio next to a different kind of booth - one that records lyrics and could define his future. But before we step into the booth of the present, we need to take you back two years and into another strip club, The Perfect Rack. We need to do this to not only to tell you how Young got to be a groundbreaker in the Houston rap scene, but to help you understand why his signing with Swishahouse is historic. For years, young Meskins in Houston have looked to Swishahouse artists to push their speakers to the limit, to make their car floors messy with stacks of mixtape and album CD cases, to make Houston hip-hop important again in the national music scene when it had taken a decade-plus hiatus. Michael "5000" Watts and G-Dash, owners of the Swishahouse label, did all of those things. And despite being in a city whose growing Hispanic population will soon make up half of Harris County in just a few years, they captured the loyalty of this community without ever having to put out an artist that resembled them physically. For the record, we write that with 100 percent amazement and zero percent resentment.
But Lil Young changed all that when he forced himself in front of a camera while doing a show at The Perfect Rack, while Swishahouse was producing a DVD for Coota Bang and Archie Lee's Hood Theory in 2008. Young was one of the only Meskins in the club that night and he felt the need to represent his hood, his Hispanic community, his music and, hell, his strip club.
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"I got into the cameras and started talking that good shit," Young tells Rocks Off. Young left the club that night not knowing that five months later an out-of-the-blue crossing of paths would change his course. A dude with a shiny Swishahouse piece named Bigg Redd, who Young describes as Watts' right-hand man, saw Young at a club one evening and called the then-unsigned artist by name. Young couldn't understand why or how he knew him. It turns out that whatever Young said that night in front of the camera convinced Swishahouse to put him on the Hood Theory DVD and Red recognized him from that cameo. The interaction sparked a friendship. "[Bigg Redd] was DJing in the streets and in the strip club, so we talked the same talk and shared the same hustle," says Young. That relationship got Young opportunities to do shows with the Swishahouse crew, not as a part of the label, but as a tag-along trying to make a name for himself, and the right people took notice.
G-Dash, CEO of Swishahouse, called Rocks Off last night to tell us why he chose to sign Lil Young. Despite the racial dynamics of becoming the first brown artist signed to the label, Dash tells us that Young could have been purple and he still would have signed him. "Personally, I signed him because of his work ethic," Dash tell Rocks Off. "He was hustling, doing shows, promoting himself. Lots of rappers think they can sit in the studio and not do any leg-work. He was doing a pretty good job of doing all of it. I chose him because I liked his work ethic." It makes sense. The reason Houston rap pioneers affiliated with Swishahouse and the Screwed Up Click "made it" is because they learned to put up their own posters in the record shops and pop their own trunks to sell their own music, so it's fitting a rapper would be chosen by this label not only based on how good he was on the microphone, but by what he did to control his own fate. "Having Lil Young is definitely going to help expand our market," says Dash. "But we had a big Hispanic fan-base before Lil Young. It's not about race over here. If you a grinda' we gonna fuck wit ya'." He grinds indeed. We've been trying to nail down Young for an interview for a couple weeks now, like a drunk stripper chasing a floating dollar bill. If we were on our way to Houston, he was on his way to San Antonio. When we were trying to get him on the phone, he was prepping for a show in South Texas. We should have just asked him to meet us at the Palace. Young's next big project is an album with Mexican rap legend Kid Frost, From Tex to Cali, dropping sometime in 2010. He's actually flying out at 5:00 a.m. on Thursday morning to California to finish the album, but tonight you can catch him at Toc Bar for the first "Swishahouse Wednesday." If you don't make it to Toc, and happen to be near Spencer Highway, check out the Show Palace. But if you see a guy named Billy, bag back and give yourself 50 feet. You don't want to see that cafeteria cheese from his elementary school years. Rolando Rodriguez is the managing editor of www.redbrownandblue.com. Follow him on MySpace and Twitter.