Debate on whether there is such a thing as "Houston hip-hop" has been going on so damn long nobody knows where or how it began. Truth is, there isn't any hip-hop scene -- just one giant radio station and a couple of clubs that play hip-hop. No performers. No performance clubs. And one unproved, nationally distributed label (Dope House). That's it.
Sure, there are rappers from Houston all over the damn place. Can't swing a stick round these parts without hitting an MC who can go on and on about how much of a pimp/playa/baller he is and who can program a drum machine. But as any rap/hip-hop enthusiast will tell you, hip-hop is more creative, inventive and imaginative than its in-your-face tendencies indicate. Just because some rapper talks about weed, hoes, syrup and life "in the game" doesn't mean he's down. Hip-hop is more than just words and baggy pants.
Lo and behold: Just before all hope is lost and everyone succumbs to the ways of the screw tape, along comes a trio of local whippersnappers known as the Drew Sparx Project. They want to slap that Three 6 Mafia CD out of your hand like Dikembe Mutombo on John Starks and invite you to partake in some homegrown shit.
The Drew Sparx Project
The Drew Sparx Project
On their debut, the three men that make up da Project -- MCs Drew and Joe Sparx and DJ Akshun Kid -- bounce off their soundproof studio walls like Superballs. What's so surprising and captivating about this album is how it doesn't sound regional. They lace up beats that are just as eccentric (read: goofy) and original as their rhymes. The only Houston- or Texas-specific things about the work are the occasional name droppings. The folks at Cardi's will be pleased. Vernon Maxwell will not. And unlike every other gamer/lifer/pimp in town, the Drew Sparx Project gives love to its city, not its clique or set. (Or, let's be blunt, its gang.)
And like all rappers, the three boys obviously want to prove their worthiness on the mike, going so far as undermining the reps of their hard-core competition. On "Who Wins in the End," the Project attacks local hip-hop "celebrities": "Who goes to restaurants / And waiters giving him a damn tip / Who keep niggas feeling little / Like Troy, KeKe and Flip."
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Though most of the tracks work as rap, some of the best material comes from the un-numbered numbers. Intriguing instrumental interludes or side-splitting skits, such as the gospel slam "Mama I'm White," are enjoyable. And the last two untitled bonus tracks are real keepers. They're both lackadaisical exercises in hip-hop funk, complete with lyrics that are truthful ("Some rap cats / They wallow in greed / Ain't giving shit back / They eat the fruit and swallow the seed") and mercilessly funny ("I'm like Martin / Brandishing weapons / In busy intersections / In total control"). Rough around the edges but still too vigorously vibrant to ignore, the Drew Sparx Project is a rap group that should be applauded for breathing life into Houston hip-hop. Hearing these boys proves that there is still some hip-hop blood flowing in this syrup-sipping city.