The Stories Behind Five H-Town Rap Anthems
You know the song as soon as the beat drops. You rap them better than the artists themselves do at concerts. You'll slap your little brother for butchering the lyrics. But do you know the real life stories behind these five H-town rap anthems?
Pull up a chair, grab a bag of popcorn, and a cold beverage. Dig in, it's sweet.
5. "Wanna Be a Baller," Lil Troy (1999)
You can call Lil Troy a one-hit wonder, but one thing you can't call him is "phony." When Troy said he was Sittin' Fat Down South, he wasn't kidding around. Dude kept it real in the streets and reaped huge dividends from his supernova hit. Fueled by the success of "Wanna Be a Baller," Troy moved 1.5 million units of his debut, outpacing Puff Daddy en route to national fame. Then it all came crashing down.
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The Story: Troy was one of those rappers who adhered strictly to hip-hop's "keep it real" mantra. Like Jay-Z before him, Troy's street dealings enabled him to fund his own music career. As he was riding the wave of success, the alphabet boys popped him for his clandestine street activities and sentenced him to 18 months in the pen.
"Everybody was saying when I went to jail, 'Man, why you selling drugs and getting in trouble when you're all on TV selling records and stuff?' Man, that happened before I done sold nann record," Troy said after his release. "I had to get the money to put the music out."
4. "Still Tippin'," Mike Jones (2004)
Loud and languorous, "Still Tippin'" captured the essence of dirty south hip-hop in 2004, as the Texas triumvirate of Slim, Mike, and Paul traded rhymes about Southern comfort.
The Story: Unbeknownst to observers outside Space City, the original version of "Still Tippin'" featured Mike Jones, Slim Thug and Chamillionaire. When Mike and Cham got crossways, Jones yanked Chamillionaire from the recording and gave his spot to Paul Wall.
That's how Cham missed out on an opportunity to be on one of the most important songs in Houston hip-hop, but he would go on to record a ubiquitous hit of his own, the Grammy-winning "Ridin'," a couple years later.
Show of hands if you bought Trae's Restless and cussed out your stereo as soon as Track 10 came on sporting a different beat. While it's now widely available on the Web, the version of "Swang" that once terrorized radio with a gorgeous "Lady in My Life" sample never made retail. The version you heard on the album is actually a remix. Yes, a remix.
The Story: If you guessed that Trae's camp couldn't clear that Michael Jackson sample, go ahead and give yourself a round of applause. But it wasn't MJ that held back on the joint. The song's publishing ownership had changed hands so many times that, by the time Trae came calling, the final decision was now in the hands of British songwriter/musician Rod Temperton.
"It was a dude named Rod Temperton or something," said Trae at the time. "He just don't clear samples. He only cleared it twice - for L.L. and Boyz II Men. What I did was I came back and remixed it once. My vibe wasn't there [the first time]. We remixed it a second time and that was it."
Bonus Fact: The original "Swang" had four verses, including two from Trae. Trae later erased his second verse and gave that spot to Hawk.
2. "Doobie Ashtray," Devin the Dude (2002)
Devin is known for propagating green gospel. Usually when he does so, it's because he has trouble on his mind. When he's down and out, his doobie is all he has. But when you take away his refuge, it's like stealing a fat kid's lunch. Luckily for us, some mean bastard took his doobie away and Devin lived to tell the beautiful tale of "Doobie Ashtray" possible.
The Story: The story goes that DJ Premier heard a pre-release version of Devin's album Just Tryin' Ta Live and fell in love with "Doobie Ashtray." Says Devin: "He called me, like, 'Man, I like that 'Doobie Ashtray', that's my song." Unfortunately, Devin ran into sample clearance issues and was forced to cut Premier's favorite song.
When Devin relayed the news to Primo, the Houston-born DJ/producer wasn't too happy. "Premier was like "What?" and we talked about it not making the album," Devin told UKHH.com. But like the tale in "Doobie Ashtray," this story has a fairytale ending.
He said, "Aww man, well just shoot it to me, shoot me the a cappella mix. I sent the a cappella mix to him, man and he freaked it." Premier even sprinkled some cuts on it for good measure. Ain't that a beautiful thing?
"At night I can't sleep, I toss and turn/ Candle sticks in the dark, visions of bodies bein' burned. Four walls just staring at a nigga/ I'm paranoid, sleeping with my finger on the trigger." Those are the opening words on the only No. 1 single of the Geto Boys' influential career.
The brooding paranoia of "Mind Playing Tricks" was a metaphor for the mental disillusionment that often accompanies inner-city angst. There's no way a song that dark and disturbing should've made it into heavy rotation. That it became a huge success has as much to do with Scarface's surrealism as Bushwick Bill's suicidal mindset.
The Story: The harrowing vibe of "Mind Playing Tricks on Me" was no accident. Actually, it was. A near fatal experience may have set up the song's horrorcore tone. In May 1991, a drunk, disheveled, and suicidal Bushwick Bill began egging on his girlfriend Tameka to shoot him. When she declined, Bill threatened to toss their baby out the window.
According to his account of the event on "Ever So Clear," he literally forced her hand and somehow managed to pop a cap in his own right eye. As Bushwick was being wheeled down to the hospital hallway, he made sure to take a photo of his blood-drenched eye for the Geto Boys' album cover.
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