That Was the Year That Was

Even though it wasn't the same type of feeding frenzy that prevailed in 2005, 2006 was still an insanely great year to be a rapper here. As for everyone else, save for R&B singers and zydeco performers, eh, not so much. On the rock front, Blue October had the biggest hit, with a song we wish didn't exist. The only other breakouts were on a much smaller scale -- it was a tremendous 12 months on the national stage for the freaky noise and psych rock contingent.

The local rap scene's underground-to-mainstream rags-to-riches story culminated this year. Folks, Houston's rap scene has peaked, and that is just a fact. This year, Chamillionaire's smash hit "Ridin'" was Yankovicked as the title track of Weird Al's White and Nerdy, and I can say with 100 percent certainty that there's no going anywhere but down after he parodies your stuff. Before that, though, Chamillionaire's The Sound of Revenge went platinum-plus and ringtone sales for "Ridin'" topped three million -- a first for a hip-hop artist. He also won Video of the Year for "Ridin'" at the MTV Video Music Awards and the Ozone Awards and was tabbed the Rookie of the Year at the BET Hip Hop Awards, among about a dozen other major nominations.

While Cham's sales and profile dwarfed all other local albums and artists this year, Rap-A-Lot continued to release great, if nationally slept-on, albums. This year's crop included Trae's Restless, Pimp C's Pimpalation and Z-Ro's I'm Still Livin'. (Special kudos to the producers on the latter two albums for managing to meld H-Town rap with samples and/or melodies from Tom Petty, Spandau Ballet, Barry Manilow, Pat Benatar and even Ludwig Van Beethoven.)



But it wasn't all onward and upward this year for H-Town hip-hop. On May 1, Big Hawk was gunned down outside his house by an unknown assailant. Hawk had just gotten married and was at work putting together a reunion album from the surviving members of the Screwed Up Click when he was killed. A posthumous album -- Black Hawk Down -- is scheduled for next year.

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Next year figures to be huge. UGK's reunion double album, Mike Jones's The American Dream and Slim Thug's Boss of All Bosses are all slated to drop in February, and there are also as-yet undated releases coming from Lil' Flip (I Need Mine) and Paul Wall (Get Money Stay True). Even Chamillionaire has another album coming out next year -- his Ultimate Victory is supposed to be coming out March 27, and Wall, his old partner, also has a rap-rock project called Expensive Taste with Blink-182 drummer Travis Barker and rapper Rob Alston of the Transplants. Best of all, Devin the Dude also has an album coming -- his Waiting to Inhale comes out in March on Rap-A-Lot.

A trio of chanteuses -- two from the Destiny's Child camp -- led local R&B to a fairly strong year. Brooke Valentine, a Houston native and non-Destiny's Child singer whose career was launched in Los Angeles, toured steadily this year, building on the success of last year's Chain Letter, and creating buzz for next year's Physical Education. "Torn," the lead single from Letoya, the solo debut from Destiny's Child alumna/former Slim Thug squeeze Letoya Luckett, was a pop hit and an R&B smash. Since then, Letoya debuted at number one on the Billboard pop charts and has been certified gold.

Though her penchant for wearing furs and her treatment of baby alligators at a photo shoot ran her afoul of PETA, Beyonc continued her charmed life of multimedia fabulosity. She began the year with another Grammy win -- this time for her Stevie Wonder duet "So Amazing" off the Luther Vandross tribute album of the same name. The Pink Panther, in which she costarred, opened in theaters the same month, and B'Day, her second solo album, came out later in the year. Though B'Day wasn't the same kind of worldwide, towering colossus that was Dangerously In Love, most artists would be content with worldwide sales of 2.3 million albums. And her next movie -- Dreamgirls -- will be in theaters by the time you read this, so there's no need to cry for Beyonc.

While zydeco has long thrived in Houston, that fact has gone unknown to most people outside of southwestern Louisiana and East Texas. This year, Texas Zydeco, a book by Dr. Roger Wood and James Fraher, should go a long way toward correcting a few myths -- notably, the one that has it that New Orleans and not Houston is America's metropolitan zydeco hub. Here, as lovingly and painstakingly described in Wood's words and Fraher's photographs, zydeco is being stretched in every direction. Some, like J. Paul and the Zydeco Nu-Breedz and Nooney and the Floaters, are bringing in hip-hop music and swagger, while others, including Andre Thierry, Robert "Ra-Ra" Carter and Corey Ledet, took the music back in an old-school direction. (Because of them, it is hip again to emulate Clifton Chenier and Buckwheat Zydeco.) Meanwhile, 22-year-old Sealy-bred Cedric Watson continued turning heads with the new life he is bringing to what was thought to be a dying art form -- Creole fiddling. After moving to rural Louisiana earlier this year, Watson has been furiously studying and recording, and this year alone you can hear him on CDs by The Pine Leaf Boys and Les Amis Creoles, on which he collaborated with Beaumont accordionist Ed Poullard and KPFT disc jockey JB Adams.

On other fronts, there was lots of bad news. Cactus Music and Video closed down on March 31 and has yet to reopen elsewhere, despite rumors that it will soon. After years of ladling out cheap drinks and funky music near the Med Center, the Gallant Knight shuttered in the fall, though it is said to be reopening on Morningside in the Village early next year. Elsewhere, noise complaints made lots of headlines. Who can forget the noise complaint-induced Great Walter's On Washington Two Gallants Taser Jamboree? Meanwhile, NIMBY-ism also closed down Helios as we knew it, though that club's demise was offset by the recent reopening of No Tsu Oh.

In other bad news, Blue October had a huge hit with "Hate Me," thus disheartening all of the better bands from Houston that haven't made it nearly as far. (Once, decades ago, some music writer or other wrote this about Uriah Heep: "If this band makes it, I'll have to kill myself." That's kinda the way I feel about "Hate Me.") Also, Los Skarnales called it quits and Hayes Carll signed a major-label deal (Hey, great!) and moved to Austin (Waah!). And after sweeping several of our major prizes at the Houston Press Music Awards this year, the mighty Spain Coloured Orange seemed to lose some momentum.

Meanwhile, look for either Scattered Pages or the precocious kids in the Dimes to break nationally with Pitchfork Nation next year. And Million Year Dance might just make it on Buzz-type stations from coast to coast, if the band can come up with the perfect single that matches their vibe and if those stations pull their heads out of their collective asses.

Houston noise/psych rockers turned in their strongest year in recent memory. One year after legendary local recluse Jandek came out of seclusion, Daniel Johnston played a spate of local shows in the aftermath of the well-received Infernal Bridegroom Productions rock opera Speeding Motorcycle. Charalambides reunited and came back to town for a show at Rudz, and after moving to Los Angeles, Indian Jewelry -- the current name of the discordant musical universe that revolves around Tex Kerschen, Erika Thrasher and Rodney Rodriguez -- started to turn some heads nationwide. So it was a pretty good year for the people you used to see in Rudyard's every week, and next year don't be surprised if you hear from Aaron Loesch -- another former Rudz regular -- in a big way. (In the meantime, don't miss Loesch's band Jug O' Lightnin' at Rudz on December 30.)

In addition to Big Hawk, there were a few other notable deaths on the Houston music scene this year. Big Robert Smith, best known recently for his co-lead vocals in Grady Gaines's Texas Upsetters, died in April of prostate cancer at 66 years of age. In addition to his work with Gaines, Smith also lent his almost frighteningly powerful pipes to his own band Big Robert and the Ravens and had worked with the El Orbits, Bobby Bland, Ernie K-Doe, Millie Jackson and Joe Hinton. Former local blues stalwart Jerry Lightfoot passed away shortly after playing a memorable gig at Fitzgerald's. And LaMarque-bred David Schnaufer, a popularizer and reinventor of the mountain dulcimer, passed away in Nashville of cancer at 53 in August.

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