The shittiest thing about Houston Rap, the big, glossy picture book put out late last year by Sinecure Books, is that it isn't 11 million pages long. A ten-year labor of photographic love by documentarians Peter Beste and Lance Scott Walker, the book is an absolute treasure trove of snapshots capturing H-Town rap culture that instantly became a primary portrait of the city's hip-hop scene. For hardcore music and history buffs, the only disappointing part of the book is reaching the end.
The good news is that Walker has foreseen our frustrations. Last week, Sinecure released his 283-page companion piece, called Houston Rap Tapes. The new book contains more than 40 interviews that Walker conducted over the past decade with Houston hip-hop movers and shakers large and small. Many small slices of the new book's interviews were woven into the photo narrative of Houston Rap, but Houston Rap Tapes offers up the longform stories, conversations and musings Walker collected from the likes of K-Rino, Z-Ro, Lil' Troy and Paul Wall that offer a richer, deeper perspective on the city's rap culture and legacy.
"Once we started putting the pieces together, sometimes there was stuff that produced a great quote for Houston Rap, but maybe that interview doesn't read quite as well," Walker says. "Or maybe sometimes it was the opposite: There was nothing you could really pull out of an interview that could fit into Houston Rap, but the conversation was great.
"There's so much history that gets explained in just the little things that people say when they're telling stories or they're recalling things," the author continues. "And that stuff was so important because we really wanted to fill in so many of the blanks of the history."
Houston Rap Tapes fills in far more of that history from the folks who made history than any other project attempted thus far. Some of the most fascinating stories belong to the more obscure names that Walker sought out for the book.
"I think the most heartbreaking story in the book is Wood's story — Wood from the Screwed Up Click," Walker says. "He was a crack dealer at a really young age, and his home situation became a crack house. He was dealing crack to his friend's mother, and his friend was dealing crack to his mother so they weren't dealing crack to their own mothers.
"It's just an enormously heartbreaking story, but he dug himself out of it and he's built a life," Walker adds. "He's got this perspective that's so important, because it's this perspective that you just can't fathom. Most people can't fathom that something like that might happen in their lives."
Such remembrances read all the more powerfully because they're presented in each interview subject's own words. The author and his collaborators formatted the book into direct transcripts of each conversation, allowing the artist's or scenester's own unique voice to shine through clearly.
"From an editorial perspective, I wanted to keep it as bare-bones as possible," Walker says. "It's really important that this story be in the words of the people who lived it. I don't want it to be my voice. I felt that anywhere my words are appearing, somebody else's words are not appearing."
Even with more than 40 interview subjects over nearly 300 pages, there are still a lot of worthy people's words that don't appear in Houston Rap Tapes. Walker conducted nearly three times that many interviews for the project, and there were still many more local rappers, DJs, promoters and pimps who rebuffed his repeated overtures. The book is about as comprehensive a document as we're likely to get on the subject, but there's a lot left to say.
Even with the release of Houston Rap Tapes, is it possible that we could read still more of the author's stockpile of tales in the near future?
"It's not my final word yet," Walker says. "There's too much out there, and there are too many stories that didn't get to be told — of people I was never able to track down, but I have access to them now because of the fact that the books have gotten so much notoriety. I think it would be a drag if this was my last word. I've definitely got more to say, but how it's going to actually manifest, we'll have to see."
Since Walker and Beste began their chronicle ten years ago, enough has changed in the Houston rap scene to fill another book, with digital file-sharing and social media helping to spread the H-town sound across the globe. With the local hustle shifting from CDs sold out of the trunk to downloadable mixtapes and DIY YouTube videos, Walker says it will be interesting to see how local artists respond to new media and distribution.
"I don't know if Houston pride kicks in and these people continue to build on the Houston sound, or if they strive to reach a more global audience and change up their sound," he says. "But with the attention that seems to be drawn to all this now, it seems like a good time to sound like you're from Houston."
Just in time for St. Paddy's Day, here are Houston's Top 5 Irish bars.
5. SHAY MCELROY'S IRISH PUB
This downtown pub is legitimately Irish — owner John McElroy had the bar flown in from Dublin — and will make you feel as if you're back across the pond. The fenced-in patio is not technically in the street, but it still seems like you're brushing shoulders with the business district's foot traffic. The crowd here might appear more reserved than those at other Irish bars, but that should go out the window once the Bushmills or Jameson starts to flow.
909 Texas, mcelroyspub.com
4. KENNEALLY'S IRISH PUB
Good old Kenneally's. We'd love this place whether it was an Irish pub or not, but the fact that it is an Irish pub makes it all the better. If you've never had its epic pizza, perhaps you should try some at Kenneally's 30th Annual St. Paddy's Day Party on Monday. Yep, 30 years. Kenneally's has obviously been doing something right.
2111 S. Shepherd, irishpubkenneallys.com
3. MOLLY'S PUB (DOWNTOWN)
Molly's once made Tom Horan's list of the Top 10 Irish Establishments in America, and rightfully so, because it's a true Irish-American pub. The food is fantastic, the drinks are always on special and Molly's is the place to be on St. Paddy's Day. It's packed from floor to, well, second floor with boisterous folks taking in the Irish dancing or downing Blind Russians. You should go, stat.
2. LUCKY'S PUB
Lucky's is so built for St. Patrick's Day, it takes two locations to hold the sea of folks who flock to them. The Cypress-area spot is pretty cool, but the massive original just east of downtown simply can't be beat on March 17. Multiple rooms and bars mean plenty of space to squeeze your happy ass into the crowd, but Lucky's also rocks a huge patio if you need some air. With a full four days of festivities (starting Friday) including a golf tournament, green beer, a parade, leprechauns, bagpipers and more, Lucky's has about all the chaos you could ever want in a St. Paddy's party.
801 St. Emanuel, luckyspub.com.
1. GRIFF'S HOUSTON
St. Patrick's Day at Griff's is not a party, it's an institution, with six days of celebrating. With an Irish stew cookoff; St. Paddy's Queen contest; cornhole tournament; and Old Timer's night, with drink specials for the folks who like to sit around reminiscing about what St. Paddy's Day used to be, Griff's is all about the festivities surrounding this holiday. On the actual day, the area around the Montrose bar expands to 100,000 square feet of festivities, including bagpipers, bands, dancing leprechauns and a quantity of green-beer buckets that must be seen (or guzzled) to be believed.
3416 Roseland, griffshouston.net.
For lots more green, see our annual St. Paddy's Day insert after page 28.
Instant Armadillo Blues
Ohio rockers Buffalo Killers add more firepower for Heavy Reverie.
For those keeping track of kickass contemporary power trios, you've just lost one of the biggest and best. Cincinnati's Buffalo Killers has added a member, so writers will have to stop their comparisons to Blue Cheer and Mountain.
"Yeah, we added Sven Kahns. He plays second guitar and lap steel," says head Buffalo singer/guitarist Zachary Gabbard. The other longtime Killers are his singer/bassist brother, Andrew Gabbard, and drummer Joseph Sebaali.
"It frees all of us up," he continues. "When we were a three-piece, there was no room to step back for a minute. I feel more relaxed, and it's given everyone else a bit more breathing room."
And indeed, on their upcoming release, Heavy Reverie, the Buffalo Killers continue their crunchy, classic-rock-inspired music that includes bits of psychedelia anchored by Zach's distinctive nasally vocals.
The band approached Heavy Reverie, produced by Jim Wirt, a little bit differently than they did their previous five records. The band has been around since 2006, after the three original Killers dissolved their previous group, garage-rockers Thee Shams.
"We've recorded the previous records pretty much on our own with no one really questioning what we did," Gabbard notes. And while that may seem a slight to Dan Auerbach, the Black Keys front man has noted his minimal hand in producing the Killers' 2008 LP Let It Ride.
"For this one, it was good to have [Wirt] in the room to push us," says Gabbard. "We got really good takes but kept things simple."
He also says it took all of "five days" to record Heavy Reverie's ten tracks, since they went in "super-rehearsed" on the new material. In fact, the Killers already have another entire record in the can.
"Me and Andy write apart, then bring everything together, and this one was super-quick," Gabbard says. And after the recording, he was thrilled to find out that the tracking console they used was the same one Michael Jackson did demos for Thriller on in his home.
A more physical connection the Buffalo Killers have is with the Black Crowes, who took the Killers out on tour as an opening act in 2007, and the groups have remained close ever since. And since the Crowes's bass player is Sven Pipien, they both have members with that Scandinavian name.
"It was funny," Gabbard says. "When the Crowes came to Cincinnati last, we met them, and we introduced Sven to Sven. Everyone cracked up on the bus."
Speaking of cracking, Gabbard says that on the Houston date — a spinoff from the band's SXSW appearance in Austin — he's looking forward to cracking open a can of Lone Star.
"I imagine you can get it anywhere now. But I first heard about the beer when it was mentioned in a song by the New Riders of the Purple Sage," Gabbard says, referencing the song "Instant Armadillo Blues."
Indeed, the Gabbards soaked up a lot of their obvious classic-rock influence from their parents' extensive record collection and smattering of instruments that were around the house when the boys were growing up.
"They were always supportive, and we were always free to play music. It wasn't looked down upon by them," he reflects. "Mom and Dad didn't give a shit if we went to college or not."
The Buffalo Killers play Thursday, March 13, at the Continental Club, 3700 Main, continentalclub.com/houston.html. Doors open at 10 p.m.
Ask Willie D
The Boy Is Mine
Her boyfriend's female friends are trying one reader's nerves.
Dear Willie D:
I have been with my boyfriend for one year, and it's been mostly good times. We are both 18. He is an attractive guy, so of course girls flirt with him. He is also nice, so he has many femalefriends whom he sometimes talks to on thephone.
It's not that I don't trust him. I don't trust the girls he's friends with. One girl in particular, whom he dated before we met, is very attractive, and I just can't help but be jealous of her, being that they used to date.
I told him to delete her phone number and stop talking to her, but he refuses to. How can I get him to stop being her friend?
I can understand your need to protect your relationship with your boyfriend, but you're wrong. It's not fair for you to make demands on who he should be friends with. What if he tried to control who you should be friends with?
Granted, the main female in question is his ex and there's always the possibility that they may still have feelings for one another, but you have to let the chips fall where they may. He doesn't need you to monitor his phone calls to prevent him from cheating. If he wants to cheat, he will cheat.
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Basically, this boils down to trust. Your insecurities come from the fact that you don't trust your boyfriend. It sounds like he and his ex still care about each other in a platonic way. As long as there are boundaries in place, you shouldn't be worried. Don't ask him to betray a friend he knew before he met you just to make you feel better.
You're in a sticky situation. Having the capacity to accept the fact that your significant other continues to communicate with his ex when there's no child involved is not for everybody, and no one would fault you for moving on.
Sometimes exes make better friends than lovers. I have an ex-girlfriend whom I've been a platonic friend with for years. I was a pallbearer at her grandmother's funeral. I love her entire family. If I meet a woman today and she can't accept her, she can't accept me.
Ask Willie D appears Thursday mornings on Rocks Off.