My Block: Houston Rappers' Five Best Neighborhood Shout-Outs
Photo by Rob McDonald
To hear others tell it, Houston is the fattest city in America. It's the ugliest. It's the most mosquito-ridden, hellishly hot metropolis in the country.
All of these people who don't live here and know nothing about us sure can't keep our name out of their mouths. Where I come from, we call those people haters.
If you've somehow been infected by these diseased thoughts, here's a prescription for what ails you. Listen to as many Houston rappers as possible. Take as often as needed. You'll not only be cured within hours, you may start entertaining thoughts of running for mayor.
No one loves Hustletown better than the rap artists who call it home. Pick practically any release by practically any local rapper -- famous or not -- and you're bound to come across at least one track showing love for the hometown.
Even better, this unofficial image enhancement committee often narrows its focus to the streets and locales of the Houston neighborhoods its rappers hail from. With so many to choose from, these five songs stand out:
5. "5th Ward," Willie D Willie D makes good on a promise to represent The Nickel on this throwback to 1989. The requisite nods to the area's significant places - check. Rhymes about guns, crack and getting jacked in the Bloody Fifth -- check. Love and respect for the neighborhood -- hell yeah.
I once saw Willie D box at Hofheinz Pavilion, long after he'd already established a successful rap career. Did he win? He dropped those Fifth Ward b's on his opponent, so what do you think happened? First-round TKO. He's a man of many talents.
The last half-minute of this song -- advising against coming to The Ward "thinking you gonna run something with that ho shit" -- may have been predictive of Willie D's future as an advice columnist.
4. (tie) "Straight From the Clarke," Big Mello/"One Day," UGK I live in the suburbs now and often, when I'm out mowing the grass or enjoying a beer on my deck, some kid or another will cruise by banging Screw. That always makes me smile and reminds me of my own neighborhood, Briarwick, in Hiram Clarke.
Growing up, I went to Dick Dowling Middle School, ordered Lukenburgers, took books from the Vinson Branch library and ate loads of brisket and shrimp from Beef N Bun on W. Fuqua.
I couldn't decide between these songs. Everyone knows you have to go with Big Mello, out of respect to the late legendary rapper from The Clarke. I considered "Macs Drive Lacs" because it gives a shout out to Waddell's Food Store on W. Orem. But, I chose this eight-minute jam on the strength of the chorus, which leaves no doubt where Mello (RIP) hung his hat.
By the time "One Day" dropped, though, Bun B and Pimp C were rap royalty, thanks to "Pocket Full of Stones." Having a nationally known act like UGK mention your neighborhood and one of its places (the Come-N-Go!) in a song was thrilling. I bragged until people begged me to shut the hell up.
Aside from being a bit prophetic (R.I.P. Pimp C), it has one of the catchiest hooks of all rap songs and it still goes HAM, nearly 20 years from its original release.
3. "That Mo," Z-Ro
Q: How many rappers love their 'hoods more than Joseph McVey loves Mo City? A: That's right -- Z-Ro.
"Mo City Love," "Mo City Streets," "The Mo City Don" -- not to be confused with the classic "Mo City Don" -- all are nods to Houston's far-southwest burg. And there are many others that don't feature "Mo City" in the track title.
But on "That Mo," 'Ro sums up why he loves Missouri City in the first few lines, when he says he's "laid up in jail, plus spilled and lost blood" for it.
I love this one because there's geography to it, from "W. Fuqua to the S. Post Oak dead end." Ridgemont, Ridgegate, Briargate, Briar Villa, Chasewood, Hunters Glen - even Fresno and Arcola get mentioned by name before Z-Ro extends the love out to Houston at large. If you're from these communities, the pride swells up in your chest hearing arguably the best rapper to ever come from Houston give them a shout-out.
Additionally, that string of "fucks" at the end of the chorus is really fun to rap along to.
2. "H-town State of Mind," Lil' Flip Lil' Flip loves Cloverland so much he donned leprechaun gear on the cover of his debut album. That took a huge pair, but that's the apparently the kind of confidence Flip acquired while coming up in his southside neighborhood.
This song features only a cursory mention of Cloverland, but I include it in my list because it exemplifies how well Houston's rappers and neighboring communities get along. The city's rap scene is and always has been so beef-free it's practically vegan. Songs like this one, where a rapper gives propers to Houston communities outside his own, help grow those good vibes.
1. "On My Block," Scarface
No. 1 on the list is Scarface's classic ode to his neighborhood and all neighborhoods. While he's showing love for the southside, "from Holloway to Bellfort to Scott," the song is universal in its message that you might leave your neighborhood, but it never fully leaves you.
Among all songs that recall the good and bad stuff from back in the day, it's right up there with Stevie Wonder's "I Wish." That piano hook, the heartfelt sentiment, Scarface rapping in Spanish (comprende?)... it's so good, kids today still play it to claim love for their own neighborhoods.
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