You may not have realized it yet, but Houston is in the middle of a genuine rap renaissance, with talented MCs and DJs dropping new tracks almost daily, and another must-have mixtape about once a week. We asked the Houston Press's main rap writer, Shea Serrano, for his choice of Houston's choicest lyricist, and he said it had to be Dante Higgins, who first appeared on our radar back in January with his School Boy Music tape. Higgins, says Serrano, "is among the fiercest talents in the New Houston rapper movement. Examined within themselves, his words are wonderfully nonsensical and bizarre ('I'm so used to my sofa!'; 'I ain't goin' nowhere! But if I go somewhere, it'll probably be Miami.'). Pieced together, though, when he webs them together into a single narrative, it is as close to watching a book as you're going to get."
No one tops the annual Dance Salad Festival for sheer star power. Curated by dance phenom Nancy Henderek, the festival runs three days, with each featuring a different lineup of performances by members of select world-class dance companies. Henderek travels the world, visiting companies that are presenting the most cutting-edge works in contemporary dance. She then hand-picks the groups to be featured in the festival, and it's always a stellar lineup. Last April's festival included exciting performances by China's Beijing Dance/LDTX, France's Ballet National de Marseille and Germany's Staatsballet Berlin. The National Ballet of Canada, Royal Ballet of Flanders (Belgium) and the Jasmin Vardimon Company of England also performed. While not onstage, the dancers — and this year, musicians (the Ahn Trio performed onstage with Korean choreographer Nai-Ni Chen) — filled the audience, as eager as the fans to see what marvel would be unveiled next.
You have to hand it to Commie Hilfiger. The four-piece group goes all out to help the proletariat among Houston's live music scene lose the shackles of oppression via Stolichnaya-flavored punk rock. The second half of their name is just as important, because these guys know their threads, too. It's not every day you see a band perform in full WWII-era Russian Army uniforms like they did at this year's Summer Fest, but the singer said they didn't mind the heat because "Moscow is fucking freezing!" From what we saw, even a czar could pogo along to their songs of solidarity, revolution and a hilarious ode to their beloved 1987 Yugo, "My Car Keeps Stalin."
Alamo Drafthouse Cinema-West Oaks
The Alamo Drafthouse at West Oaks Mall has been perfecting the art of the communal living room for years now. The movie theater, which has a full bar and menu, aims to pull people off their couches and their NetFlix queues to experience film and television events with other people. Along with the usual first-run feature fare, the Alamo also has been getting into more adventuresome offerings, like showing anime on the big screen and dishing out those hokey Lifetime movies that we all end up getting glued to while hungover. Just remember: You can't push Pause, take your pants off or fart during the movie.
National Museum of Funeral History
Yeah, we love Picasso and dinosaur bones and all the traditional museum fare, but there's something particularly awesome about a museum whose slogan is "Any Day Above Ground Is a Good One." Since 1992, the NMFH has given us a glimpse into a world that most of us who haven't crossed over into the Great Beyond are unfamiliar with. The museum is currently featuring exhibits on Civil War embalming, fantasy coffins, the Day of the Dead and other deathly delights. And the folks behind the museum know their stiffs: As the Web site points out, "We have professional advisers who are prominent leaders in the funeral, cemetery, cremation and funeral supply industry, all available to assist with your every need." These folks have consulted for Six Feet Under, Kill Bill: Vol. 1 and Gangs of New York, among others. You owe it to yourself to check out this unique Houston treasure.
The Petrol Station
The epicenter of the craft beer movement in Houston is here at Petrol Station, where beer nerds assemble nightly in their efforts to take beer to the next level. But whether you're a connoisseur or a newcomer to the world of beer, Petrol Station has something for you. Interesting and extraordinary kegs and casks are brought in daily, so you never know what you'll find. And if you drink something you just can't live without, Petrol Station will let you take a growler of the stuff home for later consumption.
If you have anything more than a passing interest in the history and/or soul of Houston, you owe it to yourself to pick up this book. Former Press staff writer (and occasional theater critic) David Theis has done yeoman's work in rounding up this anthology of writings about Houston, ranging from Cabeza de Vaca's accounts of miserable wanderings here through the first Anglo settlement and on down, to the boom/bust years of the late 20th century and Houston's inauspicious entry into the 21st, with an excerpt from Mimi Swartz and Sharron Watkins's account of the Enron meltdown. It's not all nonfiction, either: Theis also features fiction and poetry from natives like Donald Barthelme and Vassar Miller and temporary Houstonians such as Larry McMurtry and Mary Gaitskill. Until now, these writings have been as scattered as the city that inspired them. No more. Theis has slapped together much of the best into one 2.4-pound package.
F Bar
Freshly opened F Bar is the new favorite hangout of the fabulous, gay Montrose set. Crystal chandeliers preside over an elegant black interior dotted with white marble columns. Mirrored accents lend F Bar an upscale brasserie air. But with drag shows, karaoke nights and happy hours galore, this is still a place to let your hair down. When the dance floor reaches saturation, an outdoor patio with a fire pit and bar are a breath of fresh air. Though the F doesn't mean anything official, it certainly doesn't stand for "frumpy," so dress to impress.
As a part of the Whiskey Brothers comedy troupe, John Wessling covers a mighty amount of ground. He's ubiquitous on the Houston comedy scene as the leader of the Houston Comedy Union, popping in at open-mike nights around town and rapping about our local sports teams, whose poor records and ways also give him and his comrades more than enough ammunition over on ESPN 97.5 FM The Ticket. On top of all this, you can find him on Twitter almost 24 hours a day, taking on all manner of current events and helping warp your home time-line ever so gently. He's also a family man, and he makes sure that his audiences get to share in his adventures as a father and a husband.
Blaffer Art Museum
This sprawling, video-packed show brought the work of Belgian artist Johan Grimonprez to Houston. The standout was the artist's stellar film essay, Dial H-I-S-T-O-R-Y. Collaged from the likes of archival news footage, Hollywood films and television commercials, the film presented the evolution of hijacking into a political and media tool. Smart, entertaining and darkly comedic, Grimonprez makes insightful and effective social and political points free of humorless harangue. The exhibition was organized by the Blaffer Art Museum's director and chief curator Claudia Schmuckli, and was accompanied by a reader that was one of the most engaging exhibition catalogues around. Filled with fascinating — and readable — writing about everything from the history of channel changing to stories about hijackers to an essay about ethnography, it was the kind of thing that even people who would never crack open an exhibition catalog would read. In the same way, Grimonprez's films are the kind of work that even people who hate artist films like.

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