We’re well past the halfway mark when it comes to music releases in 2015. In a year where the city has banded together to promote whate ver music galvanizes people to swear allegiance, almost all sections of Houston rap has felt heard. Incumbents have treated the year as a proving ground to discuss either social change or the long-stated Rocky trope of battling yourself to get to the top. Newcomers have flown flags f braggadocio wrapped in stars and stripes earned on the streets. Other artists have sat back and watched how appreciation of actual rapping ability has noticeably fallen by the wayside. All of it’s happening at the same time, and it’s a rather glorious moment.
With the year already inching closer to August, we need take a look back at some of 2015's more underrated releases. These tapes we’ve either written about at length or, for some reason or another, haven’t managed to win over more than just select fans, friends and family.
Bigg Fatts, Snackin’ 4 Beats
Since March, Bigg Fatts has made it his personal mission to attempt to outrap every single person on Earth who happens to breathe. His live shows are always sweat-drenched affairs, where he grabs a microphone the same way Donkey Kong grabs a barrel and holds on for dear life. Even if he is positioned next to names that may be bigger than his (Dante Higgins), he only seeks company of those who decide rapping itself is an art.
Snackin’ 4 Beats never tried to make itself known by its song structure. It never wanted to chase radio or club fanfare. All Bigg Fatts wants is that noticeable grunt you make after hearing a bar that rattles your rib cage and makes you choke off air in a rush. That run-around, “OMG did you see what he just did?” that you mostly see from an audience during Dunk Contests and insane streaks of greatness on a certain playing field. S4B has 12 tracks. Three of them have major, major rap features by Higgins, Express and Rob Gullatte. The longest flow tackles The Notorious B.I.G.’s “Sky’s The Limit” as Fatts jokingly says, “They’ve been waiting on me to do a Biggie track, is it because I’m fat?” Choruses be damned, Fatts just vents for 45 minutes-plus; every time he yells like Tarzan ducking and dodging trees, another bar-heavy verse has been delivered.
Hot Peez, White Hall
There’s an undercurrent of Houston rappers who either were born in New Orleans, have moved to New Orleans to do music, or are somewhere in between. Hot Peez, much like C.I.T.Y. and Retro Kash before him, still bares New Orleans in his accent, his mannerisms and grin. Unlike C.I.T.Y., he doesn’t brandish political rhymes at almost every turn; unlike Retro Kash, he doesn’t puff his chest out by climbing on top of proverbial mountains to stunt with a West Coast-like drawl. Hot Peez is an everyman, someone who, thanks to Re'Al, could slide on top of the Carpenters’ “We’ve Only Just Begun” for his lead single "Cherish" and coast to tell stories from outside his window.
When Peez dropped White Hall in February, he held a listening party to celebrate not only his migration from being a New Orleans rapper attempting to gain acceptance in Houston, he was literally relieved that the project was out. He finds plenty of sides to display on the 12-track LP: Trakksounds turns in an imperial synth march for “I Been Known,” Peez twists up Kem’s “I Can’t Stop Loving You” for “Think About Us,” looking back at his New Orleans roots in a Dickie unit and Nikes. It’s active, jumping from high perches and swooping down when it wants to be introspective and flex its songwriting strengths. White Hall is Hot Peez celebrating and chasing his pains away all at once, wanting to be loved and isolated at different sections of the day.
Javon Johnson, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
If you have heard the story of Javon “X” Johnson, then you realize he has one of the more mesmerizing stories in rap. He grew up on Houston’s Eastside, near that connector that stretches I-10 to the rest of the world in squalor. He was constantly abused and found himself homeless in 2009; his early life before rap runs almost parallel with Scarface’s early upbringing — in and out of psych wards across the city. He’s released three projects in the past 14 months: Museum of Natural Science last summer; the Hermann Park EP in May; and now Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, which arrived earlier this year and may be the strongest of the three.
Those same jazzy yet hazy instrumentals that populated a wide range of ‘90s rap tapes reintroduce themselves on MFAH. Johnson carefully sets every line up in a slowed-down, orated style. “Why these motherfuckers staring at me? Don’t they know they bleed the blood I bleed?”, he asks on “9:15 AM,” juggling between possibly robbing someone and saving himself. “Playgrounds” details a relationship where he offers the best of himself amid the worst the world offers. He struggles moving away from being a cold, calculated rapper who knows the world can go from smooth to 'plex within a matter of moments. Why do people underrate Javon Johnson? Because the easiest comparison they can draw to his sometimes-monotonous flow is to that of New Orleans nomad Jay Electronica.
Killa Kyleon, #30Days30Deaths
In the mid-aughts, mixtapes employed one single, solitary job: to see how often a rapper could step atop different beats before falling off. Lil Wayne championed this exercise and Curren$y built his second act in rap this way, before others started packing more actual songs and concepts into their tapes. Crooked I (now KXNG CROOKED) may have legitimized the daily freeestyle series via MySpace and blog selections, so it’s a well-worn process altogether. With #30Days30Deaths, Killa Kyleon — he who has fashioned himself as one of the few rappers who finds comfort being one of the better punchline rappers in Texas rap history — reverts back to the style that made him a household name from those old Boss Hogg Outlawz tapes,
No rapper may love using metaphors and similies back to back more than Kyleon. He’s balling like he plays for the Rockets or maybe the Niners, stunning like Stunna Bam and that’s just within the first two minutes of his romp over Sauce Walka’s “2 Legited." The Talented Mr. Riley spent the better part of a month ripping through beats old and new. He’s through attempting to do things for new fans; it's why #30Days30Deaths sounds like an hour straight of Killa doing what he does best. He wants to steal the show every time out, even if he may use the same tools and setups to get there. If Kyleon’s rap style were akin to one in basketball, it wouldn’t be Russell Westbrook going warp-speed to destroy a backboard. Instead it’s more like a polished four, constantly playing with his back to the basket with a turnaround jumper that connects a solid seven out of ten times.
Reginald Gohnson, Don’t Smoke With Reggie
Back in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, the West Coast All-Stars presented a track called “We’re All In The Same Gang,” which denounced gang violence while also showing how intricate the West Coast rap scene was. Reginald Gohnson’s Don’t Smoke With Reggie — a long exercise in hazy production and Buddha-like wisdoms about Acres Homes and self-preservation — sort of fits this mold. The process here is rather simple: DJ Mankind handles all of the parts, whether it be the heavy-handed KAB Tha Don, the cutthroat bark of KDOGG, George Young’s low-eyed nod towards enjoying Houston through an empirical lens, or Hoodstar Chantz being the skinniest big shit-talker in the world. Gohnson hangs with rappers, some who may feel stronger than him and others who weave into the balance of creating good music. Gohnson doesn’t outwardly admit it on Reggie, but he wants the Northside to have the same reverence and recognition as a Houston rap hub as its Southside counterpart. Gohnson has a favorite shoe, a penchant for wanting to find rare throwback jerseys from television shows and takes little risks like daring to rap over Kendrick Lamar instrumentals at live shows.
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He’s also an owner of one hell of a unifying rap tape.
Rob Gullatte & Show, The Sophisticated Savages
We’ve covered why Rob Gullatte & Show’s joint tape deserves all the praise and kudos in the world. We’re also telling it once more that this particular tape deserved to slide into the logjam that is the 2015 Houston Press Music Award category for Best Rap Album/Mixtape.
Look, despite the fact that there are far more rappers in this for motivations that toe the line of serving themselves and chasing fame, these two simply arrive, rap their asses off about daily situations and then leave. It’s street material with a massive fanfare. Sometimes, that’s all that should satisfy the mind, no?