Only in Houston
There are a lot of pastors in Houston. Very, very few of them can rap. And only one of them released an album last week featuring guest verses by Scarface, Bun B, Z-Ro, Paul Wall and Propain.
That would be Vaughaligan Walwyn, a married father of four and the pastor of Legacy Church, a 300-member congregation that meets at the Christian Temple Church, on the city's southeast side. Walwyn grew up five minutes away from the place, stopping by on Tuesday nights to play basketball.
As he grew into a young man, however, it wasn't the church that called out to Walwyn. It was the music of the streets.
"When I was young, LL Cool J came out with that 'I'm Bad' video," the pastor says. "I knew all the words to that, and I'd rap the whole video. I would go to DJ Screw's house to buy the tapes, you know what I mean? One of my guys at the school, his sister was actually dating DJ Screw, so we had access to the tapes other people didn't have! We were really embedded in the culture."
When an injury derailed his track scholarship to Rice University, Walwyn took the name Von Won and jumped headfirst into the Houston rap game, fueling all-night recording sessions with tons of weed and Timmy Chan's. After years of writing songs, producing records and doing shows, he had built a solid local network, working with artists such as Screwed Up Click mainstays Lil' Keke and Big Pokey.
After the Houston rap scene blew up nationally in 2005, it looked like he would get his shot.
"I had been to Sony in New York and to Universal," Walwyn recalls. "I was talking to Avery Lipman and got a couple opportunities to open bigger doors."
But even as his career was taking off, Von Won's life was a sad mess. When the rapper discovered that his father was dying of AIDS, he sank into a deep, dark depression. He turned to cocaine and alcohol to numb the pain, and his life spun out of control — culminating in a confrontation with police in 2006 during which, Walwyn says, he was beaten and tased.
It was a near-death experience that changed his outlook on life completely.
"Just in the midst of me releasing an album called Money Already Made, that same month, I got tased," he says. "So I never really got to put out the album like I wanted to.
"I call that 'shock therapy,' man," he adds. "That gave me a whole new direction. I went back to the church and started doing youth ministry. I started using the hip-hop to go into churches and things like that."
Needing to get away from his old rap lifestyle and hoping to focus all his creative energies on his faith, Walwyn reached out to a few guys he knew in the local Christian rap scene to see how they did things.
"Luckily, I was already writing songs for some of the Christian rappers in Houston and producing for them, so I had an idea of what it sounded like, an idea of what they did," he says. "But I didn't really take what they did seriously, you know what I mean? But when I got to the point where I said, 'You know, I want to live my life for God,' I already knew some guys."
Soon Von Won was hooked up with one of the bigger Christian rappers in town, Tre9, and the Much Luvv label. He put out an album called Answering the Call and began his new career as a Christian hip-hop artist. In doing shows at churches around town, Walwyn discovered his true calling: hip-hop worship. Monthly hip-hop services on Saturday nights at the Christian Temple turned into every Saturday. Walwyn turned his focus to preaching, and now leads worship on Sundays at Legacy Church.
But as his family and his church grew, new opportunities for ministry appeared that Walwyn found hard to turn down.
"This last project, here, it's just got to a point when it's been seven years, and the sound that I was going for at one point was kind of frowned upon in Christian rap, because they really don't want you to still talk about cars and money," he said. "They don't want to blend the two. But me, well, we grew up on the Southeast side!"
Through his old rap-scene connections, Walwyn reached out to the city's biggest rap stars, pitching a project capable of bringing Sunday school to the streets.
"Most of us, we've had something of a relationship or we've seen each other in the studio," Walwyn says. "They know what I do now, so I sat down with them and I honestly told them, 'I need your fanbase. I need a voice to the people that listen to you. I'd like to do a project that's clean enough for the church but real enough for the streets.'
"I think just in my transparency and my honesty — and me being a pastor — no one really batted an eye twice or was confused about it," he adds. "They knew exactly where I was going."
Still Bangin' Screw
A decade in the making, the Screwed Up Click's lost album The Take Over comes to light.
The dream seemed dead. John Hawkins, a man blessed with the voice of a preacher and the mind of a rap savant — much better known as one of Houston's boldest MCs, Big H.A.W.K. — was shot and killed in May 2006. A major cog in the machine that was the Screwed Up Click had been taken from the Earth, coming on the heels of DJ Screw's tragic passing in 2000.
Then, two years after H.A.W.K. died, his fellow SUC rapper Big Moe followed him, a victim of his own gargantuan physical presence and a noted addiction to codeine cough syrup. It seemed likelier than ever that the Click would become just a memory, emblazoned on T-shirts and heard on a litany of freestyles, quasi-official "grey tapes" and other recordings DJ Screw had left over the years. The surviving individual members would no doubt rep the SUC flag, but as a collective? Unlikely, if anything.
Then a funny thing happened. Slowly but steadily the Click was acknowledged as a fundamental cornerstone of Houston's musical landscape, one that even proved invaluable to the Houston rappers who followed in its wake. And late last month, the legacy stretched even further when The Take Over, an album that was supposed to see the light of day around 2005, arrived on iTunes and Spotify and at local retailers.
Tracking down someone from the SUC to discuss the project was a feat, but finally, Mike-D of the Southside Playaz gave us some insight. Sadly, a three-year prison sentence kept him out of one of Houston rap's more boisterous periods, but he was happy to comment today.
"Whoever killed H.A.W.K., that's what killed the drive," Mike told Rocks Off via email after phone correspondence proved somewhat difficult. "You'll have to ask whoever killed John Hawkins about that."
Mike can vouch for this. An original member of SUC, he had all but abandoned rap altogether after an early stint with Lil Troy in 1991 — until Screw, that is. To him, H.A.W.K.'s death in 2006 was the moment that broke the collective, leaving them weakened but not outright defeated. He doesn't even refer to them as a group, more like a band of brothers with a reverence for their fallen leader.
"Even if you had beef with somebody, Screw was there to unite everybody," Mike (finally reached by phone) says with a rattle of disbelief in his voice. "Wasn't no beef after you got around Screw. He said, 'We gon' screw the world,' and that's exactly what happened."
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But The Take Over is no relic. It's an astute lost SUC grey tape that features almost every man who ever went to Screw's house and jumped on the microphone. The Botany Boyz, Mr. 3-2, Z-Ro, Trae Tha Truth, Fat Pat, E.S.G., Lil Flip, Bun B, Big Moe, Lil Keke and even H.A.W.K. himself make appearances, bridged by the belief that not only the SUC needed this record, but the fans did as well. Best of all, Screw himself gets the final say on the album-closing "SUC Soldiers," alongside Keke and Pat (arguably the Click's strongest twosome) and H.A.W.K., one more time.
"It's like a verse in the Bible," Mike says with a chuckle. "You know how all the stories in the Bible took some time to build? That's what happened with this album."
His voice booms every time he even mentions the project, swaying with a tidal wave of joy.
"Even if I'm on the album, I'm a fan at heart," he says. "You know how bad I wanted to hear H.A.W.K. again? To hear Moe again? I felt renewed."