The Majestic Ride of Le$'s Steak X Shrimp Vol. 1
Oh New Houston Rap column, where did you take a complete left?
Well for starters, Kim Kardashian tried to #BreaktheInternet. Then Solange got married, took a wedding photo that looked like the Final Boss fight in Knowles Mortal Kombat and that supposedly broke the Internet. Then the Smith kids, Willow and Jaden, gave The New York Times a fascinating profile interview, spouting off more yearbook quotables than anything ever put into space. We're inching closer to a world where Jaden offers the best rap disc of the year, and you really can't do shit about that.
But that's giving too much credit to things that exist outside of Houston. City-wise, every week brought forth something new, but music-wise somehow I finally ran into a brick wall and wanted to hit reset. Sensory overload; fatigue from hearing rap cats throw metaphors and similes towards their own idea of material things; hell, my own personal life -- unless you look in the right areas, you can get jaded as hell about this sort of thing.
That's a funny way of saying writing about rap music can be a bit of a chore. At 26 years old, I'm amazed every day that a new, fresher crop of MCs shows up willing to try their hand at verbal fisticuffs and dominate their way through call and response. It's like watching someone work his or her ass off at a science project and hope he or she has all the right materials to make something blow up.
In less than three weeks' time, we're going to recap a glorious Houston rap year. My brain is going to run back so much great material that no doubt I'm going to piss someone off. Which is fine, because we got at least two weeks of new rap to sift through. Ready for a super-column? Because we're definitely going to have to break this bad boy up in two.
MIXTAPE OF THE WEEK: Le$, Steak X Shrimp Vol. 1 Every weekend for the past month, Curren$y and his Jet Life Recordings group have dropped off new material. It may be group-related in the same vein of those rugged No Limit releases of nearly two decades ago or it could be a release that focuses on one singular star. Steak X Shrimp Vol. 1, the latest in what's already a rather impressive catalog of material from Le$ (16 tapes and counting), is another moment where the rapper capitalizes on his strengths and refuses to steer himself in any other direction.
By now you should get where Le$ is at mentally. He's back in his native New Orleans, rapping with someone we've long compared him to and doing his best to create the sort of superhero music that people, namely young people, can get behind. If Curren$y made rapping about copping sneakers and laying back playing Goldeneye a pretty fun sport, Le$ can ably tell you about the most laid-back aspects of his day in such a toked-out drawl that it throws a blanket over you.
There's no getting away from his voice, no matter if it's pressed up against Cardo's shimmering, glossy production ("Sweet Jones", "Ride Dirty"); Mr. Rogers' handclaps and '80s R&B mock-up ("Forever Trill"); and Stunt N Dozier's hazy, late-night cruise material ("Ridah", "My Chain").
The thing about Le$ is that he rarely raps about pains, or the pains he does rap about seem about as mundane as you can get. Spill jelly on your shirt? You're ready to fight the world. Le$ spills jelly on his shirt? He just swaps it out for one branded Steak X Shrimp and keeps it moving.
He's more concerned with the cops and women wrinkling up his clothes than anything else; all Le$ wants to do is rap and indulge in life. What's the point of dwelling on anything that may seriously take you off your edge?
Best Track:"'96" feat. Max Minelli, Paul Wall & Ronnie Spencer. By now, you should know that 1996 yielded the greatest rap release in Houston rap history in UGK's Ridin' Dirty. It's also the most interesting piece of material found on Steak X Shrimp Vol. 1, as Le$ gets to dig into special raps with Baton Rouge underground favorite Max Minelli over sleepy production from another underrated Houston maven in Happy Perez. The Ronnie Spencer chorus and background vocals are just cheating here, adding emphasis to a time period that sonically, everyone in the city wants to bring back. Download Steak X Shrimp Vol. 1 here
KAB Tha Don, Bully On Tha Beat 2 Two years ago, KAB Tha Don damn near threatened everyone within shouting distance that his Bully On Tha Beat tape was here to make noise. It did for a little bit. KAB understood that outside of his girth, his best instrument was his voice. It's a rather unavoidable thing.
You remember how your mother called you by your full name whenever you were in serious trouble? KAB does that, but only with every damn syllable in the universe. He's practically the rap version of an angry mother you don't ever want to tell something bad to. Because he'll cause hell with every breath and every step.
Considering all that's happened to him in the past two years, you'd expect KAB to be completely pissed off at the world for its followup, Bully On Tha Beat 2. He hasn't had his first tour yet, even though his "Good Music" track predates the small ushering of considerable Houston acts from Kickback Sundays. He couldn't have missed with that single, a howling DJ Mr. Rogers production that threatened to choke everybody within arm's reach.
What do we get with Bully On Tha Beat 2? A man who is pretty much rapping because it's the only job that caters to his talents. During the down parts of the tape where KAB wears it all on his 3XL sleeves -- discussing locked-up friends, his own pitfalls and more -- it's as if there's no real bit of happiness in him at all, because every day is pretty damn shitty. He can get comical about hitting chicks who aren't above average ("Big Bad KAB") or flip's Bush education plan to discuss failed relationships with George Young and Sam Davis ("No Crazy Bitches Left Behind") but the best KAB is in two modes: somber or on assault.
He can drag sometimes; almost sleepwalk through portions of the tape, because unlike others, there's no relishing in success via material gain. Either KAB is strong-arming someone for respect or getting strong-armed by the law. There's no real in-between, even when he isolates himself and plants his flag on "Y'all Kind" with Lee-Lonn and Doughbeezy or matches wits with Dante Higgins on "Good Year."
Best Track: "The Lows" (feat. KDOGG) In an album that gets sullen from someone whose vocal power can only be truly felt by hearing it in person, this track finds a middle ground. KDOGG may be the skinner and more manic version of KAB, and putting them together is like Rocket Raccoon and his older, bigger and surlier brother. Both know of pain and struggle, self-inflicted and otherwise. Download entire tape here.
6 Demon Bag, Giallo The Mighty D-Risha and Purple Bastard reside in that area of Houston rap where you'll forever consider them underdogs. They don't stick out in hipster-rap periodicals because they don't really adhere to traditional Houston rap formats. D-Risha can talk the slang; Purple Bastard can morph his production from sludgey H-Town bass to psychedelic takes on Yarborough & Peoples. Still, neither aspect will grant them the kind of access they deserve because of two key components.
One, D-Risha raps in a rather unorthodox fashion. Not in a Silkk Tha Shocker sort of way but one where he'll be right on the beat then drop out for an aside or multi-syllabic catch-all and then come back. He'll be there but not completely there, and it always makes for an interesting listen. Secondly, Purple Bastard's production elicits more positive response from those outside city limits than within. It completely sucks, but that's why they're a fun pair together. Think Run The Jewels, but D-Risha could literally talk to you about Phase 3 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe as opposed to jacking you for your necklace.
On Halloween two weeks ago, the duo came back together for their long-awaited Giallo EP. For those not in the know, a giallo is an Italian thriller and Giallo in the EP sense finds D-Risha comparing himself to Casey Anthony and stringing a bunch of lyrical-miracle type bars together on opener "6 Demon Terror".
Even if the show is supposed to be about how many rhymes D-Risha can fit into a 16-bar verse, the real winner in this horror picture on wax is Purple Bastard. You can't loathe anything that sounds like Vincent Price on a mean acid trip, which is what we get on "Final Girl" and a percussion massacre on the super posse cut "Street Thunder." He could be Madlib digging into sparse production and sawed-off vocal chops a la Madvillainy, but here he'd rather strike fear in a FlyLo sort of way -- and it's beautiful.
Best Track: "Street Thunder" feat. Rob Gullatte, Fullmetal F Dot, Noon OneHunnidt & John Dew This is the longest track on the tape at five-plus minutes, and takes five different flows from a whole heap of artists in order to fully round into shape. Fullmetal F Dot does his best to think it's '93 Memphis with his Three 6 Mafia homage, OneHunnidt and Rob Gullatte just seem pissed off for the pure sake of it and John Dew, the most all-around member of T.H.E.M., makes good and certain that you realize where he is and where he exits. Buy Giallo here.
More new rap on the next page.
TRACKS OF THE WEEK
Paul Wall, "No Favors" Paul Wall's apex came in 2005. This is not to say that he hasn't produced better moments on wax, because he has. This is also not to suggest that he's peaked, because he's still going to release material and come up with more metaphors for crawling. This is merely to remind people that Paul Wall was one the best part of a Kanye West song about driving. That "Drive Slow" verse in more ways than one has solved worldly issues.
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Now, onto "No Favors," the June James-produced cut where Paul does his best to keep talking about hustling and making money without literally saying these things.
The slim (in the physical sense) arc of Paul Wall's career has found him doing these type of singles, nonthreatening and true to Houston's own version of the Monroe doctrine. Our favorite grill-slinging Grammy ambassador has built a career on DIY mantras. Even if you know the lesson brought on "No Favors," you're still sticking with it, right?
RiFF RaFF, "Tip Toe Wing In My Jawwdinz" In order for a RiFF RaFF album to truly be memorable, you need one completely bizarre yet impossible-to-ignore track. "Tip Toe Wing In My Jawwdinz" is that track, a sparse, synth-led number where RiFF can just be himself but also find different ways to take Jordan culture to absurd new heights.
His hair matches every sneaker he chooses to wear and if he wasn't cooler than a polar bear's toenails already, he erases every dirty and terrible thing that Mike WiLL Made It and Miley Cyrus' "23" was a couple years ago.
Roosh Williams, "Staring at Me" When discussing "Staring at Me," Roosh Williams declared it was his minor Z-Ro/Nate Dogg moment of singing on the hook in a sort-of depressing, monotone sort of way. That's fun and all, but here's a better subplot to the story: this track was released less than a few weeks after Roosh got into it with ESPN's Michelle Beadle over his Rockets.
Let that sink in, Roosh Williams is so damn competitive when it comes to basketball, he'll curse out ESPN personalities and walk away grinning.
"Staring at Me" slows down his flow to something everyone can keep up with, but the punches don't stop. Instead, Williams opts to go more "Sugar" Ray Leonard in his approach, setting listeners up with every crude remark before delivering a knockout blow about oral sex. Never change Roosh, never change.
Sauce Twinz feat. Propain, "Cannot Believe It" We said earlier this year that Sauce Walka was Houston's latest and greatest pimp turned rapper, correct? That his opening verse on Slim Thug's "Errbody" made us wonder if there was a higher peak for circus punchlines and screaming threats? OK, you get it then.
"Cannot Believe It" sort of slows the Sauce train down just a bit from the Sauce Twinz, but Sancho Saucy and Walka remain as proud and regal as ever, especially when Propain is backdooring things with his own celebratory verse.Soul Brothers feat. Jack Freeman, Doeman, Rob Gullatte & Hollywood FLOSS, "White Gold Chain"
A few weeks back, we spotlighted four Houston producers that you needed to hear. The article elicited plenty of positive response and the general amount of Twitter rancor. One of those names mentioned, Donnie Houston decided to capitalize on not only the mention but also the fact his "soul brother" Jett I. Masstyr was paired with him and bless us with the first Soul Brothers track, "White Gold Chain."
You may want to break out the meanest fur coat and herringbone on this, as Rob Gullatte & Doeman pair as a rather impressive duo for a first time out, and Hollywood FLOSS' usual batch of rhyming about being on the verge is key. Jack? I mean, Freeman could pretty much sing about the busted-up couch I used to sit with chicks on and I'd still think it would be some heavenly gospel.
Part two coming!
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