Mr. RickiLi was at home with his wife and three sons when he got the call. It was his producer J-Kut, and J-Kut was excited. He'd just come up with the perfect beat. RickiLi dropped what he was doing and headed to the studio. The 25-year-old Missouri City rapper has been in the business for seven years but rapping for only four with local shop Souf Hop Inc. His first single, "Bounce Slo," a bass-happy anthem tailor-made for back-seat subwoofers, got some local play. But this time RickiLi wanted something that could reach more people. As it happened, there were some girls from Prairie View A&M University on hand at the studio. RickiLi was going through one girl's phone. It was full of pictures of herself. "You really love yourself, don't you," he said to the girl. And his hook was born. "All this ice on me, tats on me, stacks on me, girls on me/ I got the Coogi's to the chest, J's on feet/ Lookin in the mirror, yeah I love what I see/ I love me some me, yeah I love me some me/ Love me some me, yeah I love me some me/ Love me some me, yeah I love me some me..." "It's like a chant," RickiLi says.
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Orian "Lump" Lumpkin, the revered local promoter who has taken on "Luv Sum Me," is convinced the rest of the city will soon be singing along. The song, he says, could snowball into Houston's next big hit. From his living room off Martin Luther King, where the walls are covered with personalized record plaques signed by everyone from Black Rob to 50 Cent ("To Lump: Thanks 4 Everything"), Lumpkin provided Rocks Off with his recipe for a dominant Houston rap song. It has little to do with being screwed and slow. "First of all, you gotta speak our language," he says. "We have a whole different vocabulary." From there the song needs a great hook - and it has to lead with it. "People really don't listen to content no more. They listen to [the] beat, and they listen to [the] chorus," Lumpkin says. "Cats in their 30s want hip-hop. But cats in their teens and 20s, they want rap." Even so, a strong beat can be dangerous. The rapper needs to make sure his flow isn't overpowered, and "marry the lyrics to the track." "You got to really own the track, because otherwise the music will take over and just beat you to death," Lumpkin says. The final trick, and the one that can be most difficult to pull off, is making the song accessible to a wide audience - from regular guys on the street to girls in the club. RickiLi remembers hearing his last song on the radio; it was cut and bleeped so much that it was hard to recognize. "Luv Sum Me" is entirely clean. "It's a party record, that's a street record, that the thugs can identify with, that the women can identify with," Lumpkin says. Lumpkin has been promoting in Houston for 14 years and sticks to an old-school method. In addition to radio stations and clubs, Lumpkin hits up clothing stores, beauty salons, barber shops and mom-and-pop record stores. If the reception is good in these places - and at the local strip joints - he knows he has something special on his hands. And if a deejay won't play the record, Lumpkin will go right to the clubbers, banking that eventually the requests will take care of it. "Hit records don't start on the radio," he says. "They start on the streets." But if Lumpkin really wants to gauge a record, he says, he gives it to some kids. Recently, in fact, he was sitting in his 1991 Chevy Suburban at a gas station down the road, going through his Blackberry, with "Luv Sum Me" blaring through the 2,000-watt-powered 15-inch speakers in back. The teenage girl working behind the counter ran outside to ask what was playing. Lumpkin gave her the CD. "It's really just coming up with themes that people can relate to," RickiLi says. And it's easy to love yourself. RickiLi's debut album will be out this fall.