This time last year, Kyle Hubbard was preparing for the biggest gig of his life. Two years after recording and releasing his critically acclaimed album, You're Not That Special, and after clawing his way to respectability as a young white man in Houston's underground hip-hop scene, Hubbard had been tabbed to share the stage with none other than Slick Rick on the rap legend's 25th anniversary tour stop at Warehouse Live. It was a position 100 other local rappers would have killed to be in. If Kyle Hubbard wasn't on top of the world, he certainly seemed on his way.
But despite any outward appearances, Hubbard was frustrated and lost. He was worn out. And soon after his gig with Slick Rick, he officially gave up. He retired from hip-hop.
"I just got to a point when I didn't want to do it anymore," Hubbard says. "There's so much that goes into doing music and the music industry. It's just so draining and not me -- the politicking and high-fiving people that you don't really like. Trying to make it or whatever, trying to blow up, made making art almost difficult for me. My thought process totally changed, and I had to walk away from it."
So, Kyle Hubbard moved from Houston to Hot Springs, Ark., and enrolled in college. A young artist experiencing a little hardship, growing up, and leaving it all behind? Not exactly a new story, there. So why are we still talking about Kyle Hubbard at all?
Because Kyle Hubbard is back. And because Kyle Hubbard is dope. Have you heard You're Not That Special? It's like no other Houston rap out there. When he hit the trails, the local rap scene lost a unique voice that was special, indeed.
But in his drive to be different - his drive to be dope - Hubbard found himself burning out. After devoting all of his energy to becoming Houston hip-hop's next big thing, Hubbard began to experience every lyricist's worst nightmare: writer's block. For months, it lingered. Before he hightailed it to the Ozarks, he'd been working on follow-up material to You're Not That Special with his frequent collaborator, DJay Cas. It wasn't working.
"DJay Cas put together this amazing beat," Hubbard says. "He got a saxophone player on there; he got this dude Chuck Norris from Philadelphia on there. Everything was good. I just had to write the hook, write the verses.
"And I started to do it, but every time I tried writing the song, I was just writing a worse version of a You're Not That Special song," he continued. "I just couldn't finish it. This song became, within my mind, this huge mountain that I didn't have the capability to climb."
His creative dead end, coupled with the increasing pressure he was placing on himself to succeed, convinced Hubbard that he had no right to continue pretending to be a rapper. He packed up and put H-town in the rearview, hoping to leave hip-hop behind and find something new.
But the itch to command a mike never went away. Before long, Hubbard found himself climbing the same old mountain again. And whether it was due to the distance or the fresh air or the distraction of school, he was finally able to find his voice once more. The unfinished song that had broken his will to continue was completed, at last. The new track, called "Rip the Page" and featuring Truck North, suddenly appeared on social media in late January.
It was Kyle Hubbard's first new record since 2012. Now, he says it was only the beginning.
"The writer's block goes away and the flood gates open, and you're like, 'Oh, shit!'" Hubbard says. "It's like, I haven't written anything that I've liked in a year and some change, but I think I just dug through all the bullshit to get to the center of my creativity. I do feel like I've become so much better, and I have a much better grasp on the artist that I am now, compared to who I was in 2012."
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Hubbard will be debuting more of the new tunes he's been working on this Saturday at Walters Downtown, where he'll be opening for longtime bud Roosh Williams. It'll be his first time home in about a year, let alone his first time onstage.
Expect a new EP to drop soon, produced once again by DJay Cas. And in case you need further proof he might really be back, know that he's also put in for a transfer to the University of Houston in the fall.
So yeah, Kyle is really back, with new music, new shows and possibly a new zip code soon that starts with two sevens. But what's to say he won't get fed up again in six months? The rapper says his time away from the game, spent from the outside looking in, has changed his perspective on hip-hop dramatically. His expectations are different. His priorities,too. Hubbard's fanatical ambition never left, but now, he says, it's focused on the things he can control.
"The idea of blowing up, becoming famous, or making rap my only purpose in life, I've let go of that completely," Hubbard says. "And having let go of that, I'm able to create freely again. I feel like it's fun for me again.
"I know you're not supposed to get high on your own supply, but there's something about creating something, coming out and executing the way you had imagined it, is truly the best high in the entire world," he adds. "And I need it, to a certain extent. I get the shakes without it."
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