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Last Night: Lil Keke & Friends All-Star Birthday Bash At House Of Blues

Lil Keke
Lil Keke
Photos by Marco Torres

Lil Keke & Friends All-Star Birthday Bash House of Blues March 28, 2012

Screwed Up Click veteran Lil Keke has been helping shape the sound and style of Houston rap for better than 15 years. That's long enough to make a lot of friends in the game, and a whole bunch of them showed up onstage at House of Blues last night for Lil Keke's Birthday Bash.

Don Ke is either a truly terrific guy or the kind of man owed a lot by a lot of people. Maybe both. The show featured a who's-who of local rap luminaries, easily packing out the venue on a Wednesday night.

After well-received sets from openers Propain and Marcus Manchild, among others, DJ Michael "5,000" Watts took over the decks and the H-town superstars began hitting the stage one by one.

First up was Keke's S.U.C. compatriot Lil' O. Street bangers like "Back Back" and "I Can't Leave Drank Alone" served to seriously whet the crowd's appetite for a night chock full of familiar Houston hits, one that the astonishing number of artists on the bill came fully prepared to deliver.

Paul Wall hit the stage next, riling the crowd up with his 2007 collaboration with Lil Keke, "Break 'Em Off."

Paul Wall and Slim Thug
Paul Wall and Slim Thug

The crowd really went nuts, though, when North side boss Slim Thug was brought out on stage next in a wheelchair, fresh out of surgery and wearing protective boots on both feet. If your partners show up to your birthday party even though they can't walk, you can probably feel pretty good about yourself, Keke.

Thugga's flow needed no medical attention as he promptly stepped on his classic verse from "Still Tippin,'" the track that put Houston back on the national hip-hop map for good back in '04.

The birthday boy himself arrived next, showing off the flow that he perfected working alongside the legendary DJ Screw. The audience nearly crapped its collective pants, however, when he was followed on to the stage by none other than Z-Ro the Crooked, who eschewed the night's informal dress code of T-shirts and caps for a stylish black silk suit.

It might've been a birthday bash, but the intimidating Rother showed up dressed for a mob funeral, instead.

 

Z-Ro
Z-Ro

From there, the assembled H-Town all-stars began trading verses on a few of the many collaborations featuring two or more of them. Highlights included Lil Keke's "Chunk Up the Deuce" collabo with Paul Wall and Slim Thug's fearsome "Gangsta," which features one of Z-Ro's coldest hooks of his career.

In typical fashion, only snatches of each song were performed, leaving the crowd screaming for more until the beat to the next regional hit dropped in.

Love for the city of Houston was thick in the air. The majority of the night's music was by Houstonians for Houstonians, and the constant urging for the crowd to "put your 'H' up" did not go unheeded.

As has become something of a ritual at the city's biggest rap shows, UGK alumnus Bun B dropped by, too. Rather than favoring the rabid audience with his verse from "Draped Up," though, he elected to lead the crowd in a raucous rendition of "Happy Birthday," instead.

Lil O
Lil O

The special guests didn't end there. J-Dawg appeared and joined Slim Thug for "First 48," and Lil Keke even brought out Dopehouse Records mainstay Baby Bash for a verse or two of "Wiggy Wiggy." By this time, there were more people crammed on to the stage than attended my last five (okay, ten!) birthday parties.

Whether it was for his fly attire or his inimitable flow, Z-Ro was possibly shown the most love of the entire assemblage as he (ironically) tore through "Still Get No Love," and the only jeers of the night were heard when the hard-hitting Texans anthem "Houston" was cut short before his verse.

When Lil Keke blew into "Ballin' in the Mix" and "I'm a G" back-to-back, the latter featuring the fantastic opening line, "Lord have mercy, Momma done raised a real thug." Keke may not have been the biggest star at his own bash, but he proved to have more than enough street favorites in his repertoire to stand comfortably within the pantheon.

Before encouraging the crowd to head over to the afterparty at nearby Scott Gertner's, Don Ke thanked just about every rapper in Houston history, included the young cats that opened the show.

"Fifteen, 20 years later, we're still standin,'" he said. "As long as we got young (gentlemen) like Propain and Marcus Manchild risin,' we gon' be here forever."

 

Marcus Manchild
Marcus Manchild

It was quite the party, and pretty much drama-free, too--I didn't see a single fight break out or any negative vibes of any kind all evening. Part of that was probably the copious blunt smoke blowing all night in every direction. More than that, though, it was a tribute to the power of Houston's rap icons to unify neighborhoods from all over town under the banner of local hip-hop.

It might have been Lil Keke's birthday, but it was a celebration of the city's considerable rap legacy, too. Given the way the younger cats were embraced, that appears to be a gift that'll keep on giving well into the future.

Personal Bias: I squealed a little when Slim Thug was rolled out in his wheelchair. It was a pretty awesome sight that diminished him not one bit.

The Crowd: Lifelong Houstonians on a great deal of Hennessy.

Overheard In the Crowd: "Z-ROOOOOOOO!!"

Random Notebook Dump: "The funeral Z-Ro is dressed for could be our own."


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