The Five Greatest Duos in Houston Rap History
This past Saturday, Slim Thug decided to break plenty of hearts among Houston rap fans.
He announced on Instagram that his King & a Boss album, that long-awaited disc between he and enemy-turned-BFF Z-Ro, wasn't coming out. Thanks to timing, the proposed project had lost a bit of its luster from when it was originally announced on the heels of recent collaborations "Summertime" and "Lovin' You."
They still paired off together perfectly; imposing figures on two fronts. You weren't going to duck around a Slim Thug verse without Z-Ro punching you in the throat via a chorus or verse of his own.
That's kind of the novelty of a pair-up, though. For every Killer Mike & El-P that brings us joy via hard-hitting beats and rhymes thicker than a cowboy's belt, others lack that strong chemistry or otherwise turn out formulaic. Chemistry is key when passing the baton off to another rapper; it may be why we don't have a ton of duos in Houston anymore, with all due respect to the likes of Dirty-N-Nasty, R.I.M., Rob Gullatte & Show, WhyJae & Nino Gotti, and others. Even those duos who aren't necessarily together, like Gullatte & Show, still hammer home the importance of ebbing off one another.
In lieu of one duo not coming together for a disc that no doubt would have whetted the appetites of Houston rap fans everywhere, it's time to reminisce on the greatest rap duos in the city's history. All apologies to the Geto Boys (a trio); Mike Jones & Magnificent (whose time together was brief, but yielded humorous results); and Big Pokey and Big Moe, obviously the largest tag team to be omitted from this list.
You can also apologize to Ro & Slim, since that combination is still in a fertile stage thanks to their four noted outings together, from "Gangsta" to now.
5. Slim Thug & ESG Around 2003, Slim Thug and E.S.G figured your everyday street gangsta and a Northside veteran should pair up. If you think about it, outside of probably Lil Keke, E.S.G. is one of Houston rap's glue guys, able to create with damn near anyone regardless of what side of 45 they lived on. Looking at them paired together makes a stark contrast. One has limbs that stretch like branches and a baritone that could lift a room. The other is short yet raps like he's ten feet tall with a piped-up voice that fills any arena you put it in.
Slim and ESG represent the first and second wave of Houston rap, typified by their 2002 collaboration album Boss Hogg Outlaws. "Getcha Hands Up" was their personal anthem, before they rounded out the album's 17 tracks with an all-star cast of characters from Bun B to Lil' O to Daz Dillinger.
Although their potential for future greatness was up there, Slim has been involved in crews from the beginning of his career but is a soloist at heart; same for ESG. At least we got a great album out of it, a colossal throwback jersey collage and even a second big single out of it, "This Is For My" with T-2.
Z-Ro and Trae (background) at the ABN Reunion show in November 2012
Photo by Marco Torres
4. Trae Tha Truth & Z-Ro Related or not, Trae Tha Truth and Z-Ro gave Southwest Houston an identity and then some with Guerrilla Maab. "Fondern & Main" still remains one of the greatest, yet still underrated, Houston rap songs in existence. Whether they were at each other's throats or indifferent to one another, the pair worked like Kobe and Shaq in the 2001 NBA playoffs.
Their crowning achievement as a duo will forever be their 2008 album It Is What It Is. If there was a Houston rap album equivalent of a 15-1 run to the title, this is it. Z-Ro and Trae knew one another's tendencies; namely how Z-Ro's drowsy take on isolation matched with Trae's knack to creep like a silent assassin in the background. It's a double-time rap album made between two men who have obviously been through hell and back in the years since.
The opening three tracks -- the guitar groans and threats of "Umm Hmm," the punched-up "Still Throwed" and "Who's The Man" -- are arguably the best three opening moments on a Houston rap album since UGK's greatest work, 1996's Ridin' Dirty. "Who's The Man" continued a time-honored Houston tradition of working a Lil Keke verse around a DIY mantra. "No Help" took Mary J. Blige's "Your Child," summed up everything you already knew about Ro and Trae, and then amplified it -- doing dirt all by their lonely, and feeling remorse for those they've lost along the way.
They're fourth all-time due to mostly what could have been. In the years following this 2008 masterpiece, Trae has become an ambassador for the city across the country and Ro has been transfixed by the idea being our version of The Wire's Omar Little. No more, no less.
3. Paul Wall & Chamillionaire Looking back now, Paul Wall and Chamillionaire were over-the-top goofballs on Swishahouse tapes, a can-you-top-this competitive streak that utilized the same flair Fat Pat and Lil Keke exhibited on their Screw tapes: Versace skeletons, buying fleets, outlandish balling on wax, which no doubt shaped the sort of goofy rhymes we get from RiFF RaFF on a daily basis.
Paul and Cham, along with Slim Thug, were the horses Swishahouse rode to national prominence. Whereas Screw tapes were released with a quickness and revolved around friends, Swishahouse tapes were halfway built on that No Limit cycle of album releases. Every major cultural event in the city needed a soundtrack, and Paul & Cham were the voices to some of those moments.
When the duo signed to Madd Hatta's Paid N Full, it was an early indie deal for two rappers who could have fought the world solo but sounded like Street Fighter's Ken and Ryu together. No one debut disc outfits itself quite like Get Ya Mind Correct, which even inspired arguably the greatest piece of Texans-related art in human history:
Though it only yielded one real single, "N Luv With My Money," Mind Correct displayed everything you needed to know about these two cocky, confident and brash men. Paul could catch boppers in a cab if he wanted to, while Cham was parking a Bentley in the hottest part of your neighborhood. It sounded like a bombastic cartoon, all flash with little moral lessons here and there like "The Other Day."
Since then, there have been rumors of Cham writing for Paul, about their beef and that unauthorized Controversy Sells album -- "True," featuring Lil Flip, is the only memorable thing on it -- and more. Even after the split, neither one fell off to a point of obscurity. Instead, Cham became pissed off at the world and delivered a performance like Denzel in Man On Fire on Mike Jones' Mixtape Messiah and became a national name. Paul continued the hustle, stretched his persona even further for The People's Champ and hit No. 1.
Such a shame, considering "N Luv Wit My Money" is a charming piece of nostalgia now.
Story continues on the next page.
2. Fat Pat & Lil Keke One would think Fat Pat & H.A.W.K. forming Dead End Alliance would hold much greater weight here. They're brothers, appeared on plenty of tracks together under the Screwed Up Click umbrella and remain part of one of the first families in Houston rap. But the Hawkins boys as a unit don't compare as tightly or fluidly as another internal SUC pairing.
Fat Pat and Lil Keke were the SUC's chief rappers, handpicked by DJ Screw himself for the collective's vanguard. They would double back and forth, each one trying to top one another. Screw's birthday tapes, traditional freewheeling mixes, no matter what the occasion or scenario, Pat would attempt to work his favorite "coming down" scenario into a more grandiose end.
Screw tapes bubble and hiss, and Pat's husky voice was one of the more prominent among them. Keke's thinner chops here forebode grim moments and other tales in Herschelwood. There's no outright moment of true happiness in his early freestyles, besides "Southside" introducing us to exotic women and expanding the Screw universe's lexicon.
The duo had only three years together, but they helped shape the fabric of Houston rap. It gave way to Pat embodying the Puff Daddy/Bad Boy method of hawking down a classic sample to create radio smash (Yarborough & Peoples for "Tops Drop") and largely becoming one of Houston's first outright legends.
Their last appearance together, right before "25 Lighters" began to pop on local radio and the most memorable third verse in local rap history (at the time) kicked off, is on Screw's 1998 tape It's All Good.
1. UGK "But they're from Port Arthur."
Know how far PAT is from here? An hour and a half, roughly the same amount of time you spend in traffic from IAH to Reliant on any given Monday during the heat of traffic. Know what you can listen to ease all that tension? A UGK album, so you won't curse out everyone in sight.
Pimp and Bun are the greatest duo who ever stepped foot in city limits and stayed for the sheer fact that their music grew up with them. Even if they stayed in a certain realm of street music, there was evolution, from Bun turning into an absolute rap monster in 1996 to 2005's Trill to Pimp's production; sounds that made Willie Hutch a staple in Southern rap. It's dealing with legends, these two. Ridin' Dirty constitutes as a Bible for many, a go-to rap album for anyone in the South and the perfect marriage of N.O. Joe and Pimp C's board work.
Here's what happened in the 17-year career of two of the best rappers Texas ever produced: a long-awaited No. 1 album (2007's Underground Kingz); Pimp and Bun becoming cult figures, with the former ascending to deity status; and the simple honor of being one of the best duos in hip-hop, ever.
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