And so the year has finally come to a close.
Unless you've been living under a rock, Houston rap has been in a rather weird place. More people (see Ugly God) have ducked the local to Warehouse to beyond route in obtaining viral fame. We’ve had releases in 2016 from usual suspects (Slim Thug, Z-Ro, Paul Wall), those moving comfortably into always-there territory (Doeman, Guilla) and canvased releases from about 45 different artists through the past 12 months.
We also lost Lil’ Will and Mr. 3-2, both of whom are legendary figures for completely different reasons. We still quote Lil Troy's “Wanna Be a Baller,” easily the most memorable Lil’ Will appearance. We quote plenty from Mr. 3-2 because he was such a tremendous, influential rapper who affected both Bun B and Snoop Dogg in different ways. Both are missed.
Before we get into the Top 10 Houston Rap Songs of 2016, a little Christmas bonus. Sure, this record would normally belong being discussed in our Sounds of the City report, but it’s Christmas; they need love all over the place. Mind you, unlike a certain Christmas song that is an outright lie to all Christmas songs, this is a bit more sincere.
CHRISTMAS BONUS: Tia Gold, “Lonely On Christmas”
The snow isn’t falling in Texas. All the work Tia Gold has put in this year may be all fine and dandy but when it comes to the holidays, all she wants is a little love. Red and green lights, people flying across the country to be with loved ones, Christmas is essentially the second most put-together “fall in love” holiday next to Valentine’s Day. Gold’s “Lonely On Christmas” packs all the melancholy feels of a Christmas record while also making you wonder how exactly she wound up in this predicament. Chris Rockaway provides the soundscapes here and what we’re left with is a smoldering ballad that conjures up feelings similar to those in Luther Vandross’s “Every Year, Every Christmas.” Only not as depressing as Luther Vandross’s “Every Year, Every Christmas."
HONORABLE MENTIONS: Every year we get beaten over the head with a ton of great rap singles. They bully their way into your head or stick around on your Spotify and Apple Music playlists. Sadly, when you have to pick a select list of ten, you're left with a few tracks on the cutting-room floor. For example, Lyric Michelle & Fat Tony's "Directions" spoke to life as an immigrant with a restrictive background in regards to the arts. Le$'s "Desires" found a passion to be not only autobiographical but a perfect hair-in-the-breeze record. Z-Ro's "No Justice, No Peace" was one of the more fiery records of the summer for being honest about the divide between minorities and the police. Don P's "Magnificent" was a fun dash to the Texas/Louisiana state line, where the world's most perfectly ratchet club exists. Close records that pretty much secured how diverse and on top the year was. Got it? Good.
And now for the 10 Best Houston Rap Songs of 2016.
10. Tim Woods, “Bak N Town”
Tim Woods’s Pushing Daises circled around a singular concept: What if Tim Woods died and you never got to pay respects? “Bak N Town” is a hippie’s paradise, a bouncy piano record on which Woods provides the soundtrack for an epic kickback.
9. Dante Higgins, “Black Lives Matter”
Every time Dante Higgins wanted to escape the world, its hypocrisy brought him back. The Black Lives Matter movement hit Houston and beyond in ’16. All Higgins could do was turn his eye to his own Southlawn, his community, and wonder why the same emphasis on protecting lives wasn’t embraced by those same people.
8. Show Louis, “Mahalia”
On his strongest tape, Show Louis combatted all of his demons at once. Losing a good friend in Marie Sesay scarred what may have been the best recording year of his life. “Mahalia,” with its gun near the Bible references, toed a line of part confession, part push in the face of defeat and despair. Nobody wants to lose in life. Show has done too much of it to go back.
7. Maxo Kream, “Big Worm”
Nobody in Houston maximizes on a double-time more than Maxo Kream. On the grime-infused “Big Worm,” the Kream Clicc leader told you he was serving to the dealers and listed all of his ups and downs and faults. Only Maxo could admit he was a piece of dirt while making you laugh about Big Worm and Deebo punch lines.
6. Kirko Bangz feat. Z-Ro, “Money On the Dresser”
Pitch-perfect Kirko Bangz can create pretty amazing moments for radio. Angsty, unsure of the world and still carrying a burden on his chest Kirko? Probably the most enjoyable Kirko. “Money On the Dresser” mixes plenty of disrespectful bars before Kirko surrenders to his own painful regrets. Ro shows up to punch you in the throat because that’s what he does. But Kirko’s last verse? Easily his best since “The Vent.” And maybe his most personal yet.
5. Doeman, “American Me”
The Barrio God made his Outer Body Experience a thing. “American Me” packed the entire Southeast behind Dodi and he turned it into a call-and-response anthem during his live shows and more.
4. Slim Thug, “Real”
Donnie Houston helped give Slim Thug’s Hogg Life Vol. 4 plenty of soul under the hood. “Real” slices up The Dramatics' "Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get” and allows Slim to do what he’s done best for the past four albums or so — glide and talk big about his life while acting like his version of Joel Osteen is better suited for the people.
3. Travis Scott feat. Kendrick Lamar, “goosebumps”
Kendrick Lamar had plenty of high moments in 2016 from a feature perspective; completely owning “goosebumps” was more of an internal argument on Birds In the Trap Sing McKnight. If Travis Scott is the conductor, what does he do when both Lamar and Andre 3000 show up to completely wreck it?
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2. XO feat. Rizzoo Rizzoo & Sosamann, "Off the Lot”
Imagine how often you tried to escape “Off the Lot” this year. You couldn’t. The singsong record effectively made stars out of XO and Rizzoo Rizzoo, and confirmed that Sosamann was the perfect addition to Wiz Khalifa’s Taylor Gang imprint.
1. Cooley Kimble, “Higher”
I’ve been talking about this record all year. Last year, Slim Thug effectively won over the city and padded his Hall of Fame résumé with “Chuuch." “Higher” is on the same wavelength thanks to James Brown and a solid belief in self.