New Houston Rap

Why Drake Is Officially Rap-Game Hillary Clinton

I want to believe Drake isn’t a Hillary Clinton-ass panderer who uses Houston’s societal charges from the people to the strip clubs as a platform to show love and affection. I’ve wanted to believe it for the past three Houston Appreciation Weekends. I’ve wanted to believe it when complete strangers visit the city and ask the all-important question: Why exactly does Drake love Houston? He selectively closed out his two most recent Houston shows with “November 18th,” a song that lifts DJ Screw’s “June 27th” (and by proxy Kriss Kross’s “Da Streets Ain’t Right”). He hasn’t performed the song anywhere else on this tour.

Because Drake is a politician, more than anything else.

Last Monday, Drake spoke of The Ballet, his upcoming strip club that isn’t truly a strip club even though we all know it is. He assured people that it wasn’t a strip club, but you still knew it was. Why? There were still naked women in neon fishnets with their breasts exposed, women swinging from hoops à la VLive and more. Yet there was Drake, playing politician with the best of them. His cashmere sweater could have doubled for one of Hillary Clinton’s business suits had you looked hard enough.

“There's a culture out there of dancing, and it's not about no strip-club shit,” he told the crowd. “It's about these amazing women that we've got in one spot, the music that we've got, and the Houston culture that we got. And I just wanna let you know that, me, I'm going to bring it to you in the most honest and genuine way possible.”

This Houston culture that we got.

Is it truly your culture if you aren’t exactly from here and only swoop in as a guest? It can’t explicitly be your culture if the tiniest of Houston Astros tattoos adorns your arm. Can it actually be your culture if within that we, there’ve only been references to Houston landmarks as in a glorified Yelp review? It’s not culture; it’s frequent tourism that will forever sound like a political stump speech.

Inconsistencies abound with Drake’s professed love of Houston - where it’s always select people reaping the benefits. Foundations and charities are easy ploys, things that people can’t necessarily protest because if you protest a foundation, you’re doing the equivalent of hating ice cream. But musically, the actual thing that brought Drake to the table? There have been no branches extended in that regard, not since ESG casually hopped on a song that sampled his own “Swang & Bang” from Take 2011. Since then, Drake has covered Atlanta pretty extensively from Future, Migos, ILoveMakonnen & more. YG has benefited from most of the West Coast love with “Who Do You Love” and “Why You Always Hatin’.” Houston’s place on the Drake Stimulus Package program? Almost treated like No Child Left Behind.

That isn’t an indictment of the current rap class looking for a handout or a Drake remix to blow; quite the contrary. It’s watching a lack of acknowledgement that the scene even exists and the city running on the same G-Funk-inspired hues and colors of the ‘90s and ‘00s. I wouldn’t want the Houston rap class to worry about another man putting them on anyway, because Drake’s entire pathos is to catch a wave just as it's ascending. See the initial rumors of the “Too Legited” remix. And you know how that ended.

Drake is a politician with a disingenuous smile, the kind of smile that makes him more likely to be one of Hans Gruber’s crew of Eurocentric villains from Die Hard rather than John McClane. Drake is not the hero you root for; he’s the hero you secretly despise as he turns around, like Michael Jackson in Thriller, and runs away with your style. Your wave of success that you built all your own? Here comes Drake’s Boppin’, Heel-Toein', Hotline-Blingin' Ass to Columbus all up and down that shit.

But Drake kind of is Hillary Clinton when you really consider it. A name that has only grown to Too Big To Fail levels because no one has been willing to check them less lose a false sense of credibility. War against them, you’ll either fade away into a “Whatever Happened To...” conversation or merely sound as if you have on a Tinfoil Hat. The scandal that would have doomed them (emails vs. ghostwritten raps) has only instead been shrugged off by the general public and their staunchest antagonizers merely flap in the wind against them. They flip flop to whatever serves them in the current moment and considering how hard Drake smiles when paired next to LeBron James versus whenever he’s rooting for his hometown Raptors? You’re well ready made and aware that Drake’s a chameleon, a guy who’ll literally buy your house if you complain about the noise coming from his house. That’s not just some Cape Fear type level of scumbaggery, that’s superbly high villainy.

Did Drake grow up watching The Simpsons? Did he imagine himself to be bearded Canadian Hank Scorpio and attempted to appease us with an album that’s exactly the mid-'90s Denver Broncos of pop-rap in Views? Probably. There’s a high matrix calibration that suggests Drake is a real-life Manchurian Candidate built from the same fibers and grounds that every snake-ass, hatin’-ass, Iago-from-Othello-ass person who secretly wants to steal your girl AND be your best friend ass individual would be born with.

It’s very true that Drake has amassed one of the more impressive six-year runs in rap. At the moment, he’s the longest-tenured mythical king of the genre. Whereas most rappers (see anyone from Jay Z to Kanye West to Lil Wayne) will run rap from two- to four-year peaks, we’re in the unprecedented sixth year of Drake's being unquestionably rap’s most popular act. He’s gotten there by not only learning from Jay Z (and taking some of his shrewd partnership ideals) but also keeping himself as safe as possible. Your mother knows Drake, while your homeboy tells you of a specific playlist you two have to play in the car not to appear soft.

But it’s clear, and has been for a good while now: Drake is Rap Game Hillary Clinton. The wrong people are just too bored or occupied with their own lives to call him out on it.

GT GARZA & FELO, While You Were Sleep
Right now, as you read this column, you’ve probably either heard about Narcos, the Netflix show based around the exploits of cocaine king Pablo Escobar and the men trying to bring him down, or you eventually will hear of it. The soundscapes of it are perfectly in tune with historic Colombia. Tweaks of salsa, cumbia, it marches in step with the drama, bloodbaths and downfalls of one of the world’s richest and most dangerous men.

GT Garza’s operation is so machine-like that he’ll only whisper and mutter a few lines about a freestyle or two before a full project arrives on your doorstep.  The classic salsa from Fruko y sus Tesos isn’t found on While You Were Sleep, a 13-track mixtape from Garza and Northside hardhead Felo. It’s perfectly fine. Felo and Garza’s idea of salsa dances around punched in drums, 16-bit synths and wound-up snare drums that rattle off like a money counter.

“I was thinking if I dreamt about it, I would wake up with it in the morning,” Garza sings in that nasally drawl that drags a second after you initially hear it. That’s from “Glory,” a celebratory track in which Spanish guitars morph into haunting chants and robust trap snares and heavy drums. Felo may have the best one-liner of this whole thing, casually sneering, “I’m slab ridin’, fuck a Uuuuber,” and he’s right. It’s far more run being in control of the aux as opposed to hearing a mundane conversation about the sun or something.

Duo tapes are hard to come by, but While U Were Sleep runs in the same ballpark as Slim Thug & E.S.G’s Boss Hogg Outlaws tape. It’s not wired the same, though; Slim & E.S.G’s work served mostly to unite the warring sides of Houston. The chemistry is there, though. They may be on opposite sides of I-45, but once united for a common cause, there’s nothing the two couldn’t pull off.

KIRKO BANGZ, Back Flossin
Without stating the obvious, Kirko Bangz has made 2016 a point to release the sort of music that appeals to all segments of his fan base. Playa Made, the ladies-centric EP, gave him another buzz-worthy single in “1:45” with Jacquees and another tour to hit the country with. Almost a full seven months after that, Kirko proves once again that he’s virtually a ready-made rap star with Back Flossin, an 11-track mixtape solely produced by Sound M.O.B.

Certain artists have their favorite modes and ideas to conflate into something bigger. Kirko can twist up Young Thug’s serpent like flow for “Love 2 Trap,” in which his lady can pledge allegiance to Beyoncé’s BeyHive and he can continue preaching to the all-world talents of his lady. Dense, thick drums and bass lines are layered throughout Back Flossin as Sound M.O.B. trick a Ginuwine sample into “Drunk” and only add to Kirko’s living in the present and reminiscing on the past on women. Back Flossin isn’t as direct as Playa Made was in regards to women, but it’s damn close. Living life like a bachelor behind black sunglasses gives Kirko the aura of someone who relishes the fun of life far more than the lows. You know he’ll approach those moments on his Progression tapes, though. Playa Made and Back Flossin are far more lighthearted and streamlined. In other words, Kirko Bangz, Houston hitmaker, is still an effortless being who won’t be leaving anytime soon.

YVES, Freestyles Vol. 1
Two years ago, Yves released Sincerely Yves, an EP that offered glimpses into his ups, downs and lowbrow middle. It carried so much of Yves that even as an EP, it was criminally slept on. Records like “Juice” were analog distorted boom bap, while “Blur” washed up in the shores of Yves’s inebriation. He’s still his toughest critic; he’s still unafraid to just rap for the sport of it.

Not surprisingly, Yves littered his Soundcloud page with nine freestyles jumping on instantly recognizable beats. OutKast’s “Chonkyfire” gets dusted off for “Some Zero Sum Game"; D’Angelo’s “Devil’s Pie” still feels like guitar-funk meant for drug deals and hellish ascension. “24/7/265” walks up and down Dr. Dre’s “Still D.R.E.,” and Yves announces it as only a Queens-turned-Houston linguist could: “I get the feeling my humility is being mistaken as lack of utility/ to render niggas efforts as exercises in futility.” It’s not hard to gauge whether or not a freestyle tape is good; that all lies within the beat selection. Considering that Yves’s mind and pen run like Usain Bolt in the 200, everything he does is rewind-worthy, and, sadly, that may be a detriment for him. Not because he’s an anomaly in the Matrix, but because that kind of dedication to the craft of rhyming exceptionally is damn near an unappreciated lost art.


DOEMAN, “The Genocide”
A lot of people don’t appreciate rappers who can throw bars at you like an army. Doeman’s still waging his one-man crusade against microwave rappers who’d rather be everything but themselves.

Strip Club Junkies need love too. Mr. Wired Up is part of a collective who routinely make music solely for the booty clubs. BeatKing is the champion of this. Chedda Da Connect’s simplistic, raspy sing-song makes him a perfect candidate to join this growing pantheon. “She Want Me” is all about love, in a sleazy yet endearing sort of way.

PROPAIN, “Married to the Game” x “Pressure”
There’s not a reality Propain hasn’t seen, stared at or walked in. He’s a father now, which means there’s an added element of life in his raps. He’s also a black man who sees the world for what it is, and that’s an element that will never leave him. “Married to the Game” means Pro is back and he still can register honesty and frustration like a king still searching for more land to take. “Pressure” means Pro can ride Willie Hutch for a little protest music with Tupac to close it out.

No, the TSF family didn’t remix Snoop Dogg’s “Gz Up, Hoes Down,” but once more they decided that blessing the world with flavor was a necessity. Rizzoo Rizzoo remains the year’s most improved act; everything about him and Walka here is nothing more than celebrating the victories.

Producer Yung Knight helped propel OneHunnidt’s “Ain’t Mad” to heavy radio play a couple of years ago. Now he tips down into low-register bass lines and surly boom bap in the name of legendary Africa. “I had a dream that I was king, I think that’s a side effect of drinking lean,” he raps on “Mansa Musa,” named after the Lion of Mali who was worth $400 billion at the time of his death. The line itself is so touch perfect, a clever glimpse of ambition before real life snatches that shit up.

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Brandon Caldwell has been writing about music and news for the Houston Press since 2011. His work has also appeared in Complex, Noisey, the Village Voice & more.
Contact: Brandon Caldwell