Last year, Houston experienced a proper rap renaissance, likely its most inspired year since the paradigm-shifting exploits of 2005.
Standing near the center of this "New Houston" wave of young talent was the adenoidal Dante Higgins, a college football player turned rapper who had built up significant buzz by releasing four enjoyable mixtapes in less than two years.
Higgins is a hybrid emcee clever enough to freestyle in any cypher, a skill honed to a distinguished extent among nearly all of Houston's rappers. But he's also talented enough to give a song a distinct narrative without sounding contrived, a skill that only the upper-echelon rappers naturally possess.
8 p.m. Tuesday, March 6, at Warehouse Live, 813 St. Emanuel, 713-225-5483 or www.warehouselive.com.
Tuesday, he will release his official album, The Dante Higgins Story, with a concert at Warehouse Live. Chatter sat down to listen with Higgins, his manager and one of his producers in the rapper's Southwest-side studio. Higgins preceded nearly every track with, "This is one of my favorites."
An 8-bit Nintendo was hooked up to a television; somebody had been playing Super Mario Bros. But World 4-2, and the 60 coins that had been accrued, went ignored.
Chatter: So this is the first real album, huh? How are you feeling? How is this different from the mixtapes?
Dante Higgins: Man, with the mixtapes, those were good, but this is something else. When you talk to people about your music, or when you mention a mixtape, they always ask, "Well, what do you have that's original?" Everyone is used to everyone rapping over other people's beats. This is the first time we had [production] that was all original.
C: Are there any other rappers on the album?
DH: Big Pokey. [Singer] Leelonn is on there. [Another singer] Reggie Jamz. [Poet] Stephanie. But the only rapper is Pokey.
C: Where are you with this whole New Houston movement? It's been one of the more talked-about plot points.
DH: I don't think too much about that. I think everyone is just doing what they need to do. Nobody worries too much about that.
C: When you did your mixtapes, let's say with the Rhymes for Weeks tape and the School Boy Music tape, you seemed to have two different agendas. With Rhymes for Weeks, it was like you just wanted to go. There were parts where you'd rap for four or five minutes without breaking. With School Boy Music, it was the opposite. It was like you had an idea that you were trying to relay. Rhymes was more immediately enjoyable, but School Boy was more long-term viable. Where does The Dante Higgins Story rate?
DH: With this, I tried to do a combination of the two. There was one group of people that really loved Rhymes for Weeks, and this whole other crowd that liked School Boy Music. I wanted to combine them both.
He accomplishes this. The album plays out like one long story, highlighting points from various times and experiences of Higgins's life. But pieces of irreverence and unfiltered weirdness shine through, too. The passionate "Snotty Nose Bastard" uses rollerblades as a metaphor for women. He follows with "Blow Up 2.0," a barrage of nonsensical punch lines such as "I'm home eating chicken enchiladas / Wearing a shirt that say, 'I Can't Afford Lobster.'"
C: Are you feeling any real pressure yet? Like your fans, the "HigHeads," that base is growing. You can't release just anything anymore. Your reputation has grown. Do you feel that yet? Do you feel like, "Man, this has to be good"?
Dante Higgins: Yeah, I'm starting to feel that. It's like, anytime I go out with my girl to the club or bar niggas wanna come up and talk to me about music for 30 minutes. That wasn't happening before.
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Carl Spivey (Higgins's Manager): Dante has some really passionate fans. It's to now where it's like people are really listening to the music. Like, I was at the gas station and this car pulled up and they were jamming one of the tapes.
DH: That's been crazy.
C: So what is the point of this album? What's the ideal end result?
DH: I just want people to listen. We need more HigHeads.