The 14 Best Houston Rap Tapes of 2014

At present count, over 3,600 words have been given towards looking back at 2014's year in Houston rap. Even if the year just ended a week ago. To sum, Houston rap not only added two radio stations in 2014, it saw a vast increase in radio play from some of its local favorites, a heavy influence of club/street related tracks and fourteen solid tapes that decided to bend but not break.

Some of these tapes wound up getting praise outside of the state, and the top pick was so celebrated that it reached heights that not even its creator(s) thought possible. In short, it was a damn good year for Houston on wax.

14. Tony Del Freshco, Red October

There are many shades to weirdo rap. Some channel it from being rather unorthodox behind the microphone, others bray and yell and contort their voices into different shapes and sizes to get a point across. Tony DelFreshco used his long delayed Red October tape to be a weirdo about fashion, low and high-brow.

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The crux of Red October lies in how much DelFrescho discusses his mode of operandi. He'll quickly joke about rappers at certain levels but also flip ideas around copping new shoes, upgrading from a tired baby mama to a new one and seeking and overall higher quality of life. Houston's version of a drunken boxer may pop pills sometimes to get away from it all but he knows what he wants to be, a flyer than you rapper who may feel like a '70s superhero at times.

13. GT Garza, The Legend Of Richie Valens

Despite being one of a few who has made his music strictly for purchase, GT Garza understood what the fans wanted from him in 2014 - more of him. He treated fans to freestyles, videos, anything that involved him rapping and making people aware of his punchline heavy style. His March release, The Legend of Richie Valens didn't pay much of a homage to La Bamba, instead it recognized a talent that was taken just as he was ascending to a certain status.

Garza, religious right down to the rosary is a Houstonian born and bread. Tracks like "Screen Fall" pick up the names of Houston greats while comparing them to current contemporaries and his flow never wavers throughout. He's a self-proclaimed "Vato," one that can hang with Z-Ro on wax and pilfer great guest verses out of anyone. Such a shame The Legend Of Richie Valens didn't get its proper due until now.

12. Boston George, Trappin In Traffic

Boston George may be one of the originators in this new wave of the flossy, trap heavy Houston rapper. He's gotten into shootouts with people to protect his life, drives a flashy Yellow lambo wherever you may see him and over the course of the past few years carved out hits for himself with "Molly" and guesting on Chedda Da Connect's "Flcka Da Wrist".

He's a lovable goon, same as French Montana is in New York City rap circles. He'll never turn into a massive lyricist, that's why he has Marucs Manchild on his AMG imprint. Trappin In Traffic came a year after his surprising Drug War tape with Jeezy affiliate Boo Rossini. It may have been simple, goofy and ego driven but those are the things George excels at anyway

He can rangle Rick Ross and Slim Thug on "Greatness" and neither of them discuss who is the true boss is. Instead, his wacky, yet assured persona wins over everything. Some rappers live off their own charisma and execute with the least amount of effort. Making a drug dealing rap record in 2015 doesn't take rocket science. You just need a plug who happens to be Mexican and be well versed in prices, that's it.

11. WhyJae, Timeless

At last glance, Timeless was the last mixtape of any actual weight to arrive in 2014. It slipped beyond recognition in our weekly New Houston Rap column because it fell in the usual dead period for Houston rap tapes. The last one to cause any sizeable dent in the rap listicles of past was Propain's Dangerous Minds some three winters ago.

Of note, WhyJae is a rapper's rapper and Timeless is proof of it. He arches high a narrative of dreamers and success under the guide of perseverance. "Drifting (LIFER$ Anthem)", "Get Dough" and "Summer Nights" were only small glimpses into what Jae could pull off when properly motivated. Considering our initial introduction to him came via that great but short-lived Headwreckas duo he shared with Nino Gotti, Timeless proved that constantly putting fans first and matching your own drive with theirs can pay off.  

Slim Thug
Slim Thug
Photo by Marco Torres

10. Slim Thug, Thug Thursdays 2

If Slim Thug made Thug Thursdays 2 as so much as maybe four years ago it would be considered as just another mixtape on the road to an album. Instead, Slim's been walking down this road, where big releases are proper and stout in his own universe. He's still arguably the most visible Houston rap act from 2005's halcyon days in a national sense but tying himself into the new class has extended his profile even more.

Thug Thursdays 2 capitalizes on a new-age trend, collecting new and old freestyles and mixing them in with original tracks. The "0 To 100" freestyle, going back to the days of the original Boss Hogg Outlawz with "Grindin" and reverting back to the days when the Kappa was a prime spring event with "TBT Freestyle Medley". However, his rip on Yo Gotti's "Errrbody" not only making us forget the original but giving the Sauce Twinz a Houston look.

9. Yves, Sincerely Yves

The year'smost boisterous EP still wanted to flex its muscle into the end of the year. The momentum Yves held with Sincerely Yves proved that even being a touch traditional in your approach succeeds. There's bits of old school boom bap ("Juice"), brainy, distorted thoughts made clear and a singular topic - the always working mind of Easy Yves Saint.

When he spoke on the EP back in May, the consistent theme of it was that he had something to say. Something to prove. He'd already garnered top honors for penning The James Kelley LP with The Niceguys. With Sincerely Yves, he decided to let each facet of his persona breathe a little bit: the New Yorker who is tired of being considered an outsider, the partier, the friend still haunted by death. It's all Yves. All at once.

8. Doughbeezy, Footprints On The Moon

At the mid-point of the year, Doughbeezy held firm on having one of the strongest tapes made available with Footprints On The Moon. As long as we've been writing about Doughbeezy as a thing in rap, FOTM showcased everything we already enjoyed about Dough while polishing off a few things made clearer.

He's always had a penchant for anthems, "I'm From Texas" being the tape's benchmark. He's also found it fun to sneer and flip off people who don't believe in him ("Feel Free," "Tippin"). However, the more Dough rounded out what people loved about him, the more people took notice. He'll forever be a charming rapper of wit, where gross punchlines and metaphors will be his specialty. There's always a story behind the rapper, radio rounds with "She's On Top" & "Cruisin" with Slim Thug notwithstanding. Those stories however get muted, the character and rapping madman gets amplified with every waking day.

FOTM decided to be peak Dough, even when you knew there was more Dough just to be heard.

7. Sauce Twinz, In Sauce We Trust

The current Houston rap act in the city dropped two tapes in the space of seven months. Judging between Sauce-A-Mania and In Sauce We Trust is almost like picking a favorite kid. Both do things for you but in the cause of ISWT, one decided to be a little bit louder and better.

There are radio singles galore on ISWT, albeit repetitive moments of gun talk, street endeavors and a general nihilism for modern establishment. The Sauce Twinz could care less about '80s babies, rappers, your girl's boyfriend, hell anything that they haven't dripped upon or found in Splashtown, Texas. If "Legited" was star-making for Sauce Walka, "Black On Black Crime" made him human, a close descendant of J-Dawg's impassioned pleas and bravado. You may love to hate the Sauce Twinz, but they're going to be here for a little while. That goes for any of you chocolate cookie ass non-believers.

6. DeLorean, Look Alive

The longer you begin to realize DeLorean may be one of the more consistent acts in the city, the more you're going to realize how underappreciate he is. We touched base on whether or not the ghetto boy who splits time between Missouri City and Katy these days as overrated, underrated or properly rated but Look Alive proved something: he's still underrated.

Where Grace powered along thanks to big features and DeLo ready to assume a mid-level Mafioso everyman approach (a misnomer but go with it), Look Alive brought him back to Earth, back to creating music for the little guy as well as a big boss waiting to completely take a chunk out of everything.

"Ghetto Boy 2" and "Lately" are tinged in the kind of stuff that made Hood Politics a worthwhile three-tape trek. "Gotta Eat" and "Focused" put DeLo right back in the shoes of someone who hasn't made it yet, even with big co-signs from the likes of Big K.R.I.T., Slim Thug & Bun B. Everything with DeLo is simple, and then it's not. A rather complex individual who is at his best when he sits down and surveys all that surrounds him.  

Photo by Nathan Smith

5. Travi$ Scott, Days Before Rodeo

If you scan the production notes to Travi$ Scott's Days Before Rodeo tape that was released in August, you'll find names. Big ones. Lex Luger, Metro Boomin', DJ Dahi, Kanye West, Mike Dean. Scott has been a sponge to the majority of these acts, Dean and West specifically. The choice to mix his own brand of chaos and Houston eclecticism with that of those acts from Atlanta and beyond created the druggy gumbo which persists throughout.

Scott treated Days Before Rodeo as a prequel album, one that was set to be for free yet contains some of his best work yet. "Mamacita" & "Skyfall" took Young Thug's already incredible mid-aughts Lil Wayne yelp act and made it decipherable. "Sloppy Toppy" with Migos and Peewee Longway is a strip club anthem of the filthiest decree. "Drugs You Should Try" may stake its claim to being the best track on a tape littered with them and yet, the main takeway you get from Days Before Rodeo is that Scott is much like West is.

For a while now, Kanye has leaned on a little help from his trust circle to create distorted acts of bombast and almost Christ-like grandeur. It seems his youngest protégé has picked up on those exact same traits.

4. Le$, Steak x Shrimp Vol. 1

Dealing with any year-end list with Le$ involves going back and listening to a year's work of material. He doesn't stop recording, obviously inspired by his Jet Life boss Curren$y and the work ethic of the likes of Tupac and maybe Bruno Sanmartino if we're talking in a wrestling sense. There was Ace in the summer, a slew of EPs under the Jet Life umbrella throughout the year but Le$ reigned it all in for his brand specific Steak x Shrimp Vol. 1 tape.

This is the sixteenth mixtape from Le$. This, features both Slim Thug & Curren$y on the same track in some sort of Boss Hogg/Jet Life union of holy smoked out matrimony. This would be the tape where Le$ decided his voice could at least drive away from Freddie Joachiem esoteric haze and continue riding shotgun with Cardo, Stunt-N-Dozier & longtime partner Mr. Rogers.

Le$ has always found a home dealing with the old school. West coast synths and hand claps are what make "Forever Trill" sound like an extension from his own QuikTape from year's previous. He even decided to pickup drowsy production from Happy Perez on "'96" where Baton Rogue's own laid back legend Max Minelli and our own po'd up poet Paul Wall make cameos. In short, Le$ was always about his when it came to his brand, now he's owning it in every facet.

3. George Young, Ventage

As much shit as we've given George Young over the years for holding on to Ventage, he decided enough was enough and released the tape on a random Saturday morning. Since then, all Ventage proved was that one could make a '90s themed mixtape without directly calling it one, or playing into the trappings of what a '90s tape should be.

This isn't Fabolous trying to reach into some fountain of youth for inspiration. Ventage understands the warm crack of certain snares and the shimmer of synths are a requirement for a summer day in Houston. You need the funk and Young provided it in spades from "Phat Beach" on to "How Sweet It Is". He usually plays tag team with Mike Red, one being Kenny Smith, the other being Robert Horry. The main purpose of Ventage resides in "Creative", the one track where Young fully embodies that crevice of life that Big K.R.I.T. sits in so well.

We've remarked on "Creative," it's our seventh best rap track of the year mind you. When you've got a shitty day and situation around you, there's always a bit of hope involved. Ventage gives us hope George may finally quit downing beers over the Texans missteps to give us more music.

2. Doeman, The Gold Blooded LP

The rookie. The underdog. Mexican-American rap in the city had its own halcyon day, before South Park Mexican turned into a creeper and went on trial for one of the more vile acts in this city's criminal history. Itz Dat Boi T, Young G, GT Garza and now Doeman are carrying that flag and tape wise, Doeman won out in 2014 with The Gold Blooded LP.

Gold Blooded capitalized on what his DYNA EP from earlier this year started. It continued the buzz and strengthened Doe's case for being one of the best newcomers in the city from "Jodeci" to "Andele" to "Hennessy Feelings" and the "I-IV" suite of rhymes.

I foolishly compared Doeman to J.Cole, despite the two of them being rappers who pick around their real life moments to relate to fans new and old. Whereas J.Cole does it and then back tracks with a throwaway bar or two, Doeman picks every word and rhyme in a rather meticulous fashion. Curse, punchline, metaphor. Doesn't matter, the Mexican rap superstar is going to plant his flag and smile while doing so. A hell of an uptick from the smooth faced kid who released The Understatement back in 2012.

1. BeatKing & Gangsta Boo, Underground Cassette Tape Music

Was there any other choice?

When your tape lands on a list from Rolling Stone as one of its favorites of the year, that means you did something. We've already gone at length about how UCTM bridged everything that was fun about Memphis era horrorcore pimp talk and Houston's bubble eyed knack for shining above anything else. We've already said how this one particular tape, even with a Lil Flip "Like A Pimp" flip from 2003, gave BeatKing a bit of a challenge in production and his own creativity. It allowed for Gangsta Boo to do things she's done for years but in a far more comfortable position than before.

Underground Cassete Tape Music was destined to be the best Houston rap tape of 2014 the moment Stunt N Dozier did their best DJ Paul & Juicy J impersonation with the swampy "Come Off Dat" and BeatKing abandoned his usual club flair and opted for more gun talk and a direct channel to Lord Infamous from up above. He can be witty along cracking production ("Fuck you loser, I been money since the PT Cruiser") and unite everything that makes Southern rap an intriguing mix of pomp, religion, circumstance and hedonism. A worthy number one for 2014.

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