Local rapper Kyle Hubbard just can’t stand the thought that you might forget about him. Or maybe he just can’t stand the thought of you bumping stale beats out of your trunk. Either way, he’s debuting some new hip-hop tunes today, and the price is right: completely free.
It hasn’t been so long since Hubbard last dropped a project. Last September, he delivered Majestic Hotel, a comeback album that was written and recorded after a self-imposed Arkansas exile from the rap game. It was the debut release from Roologic Records, the label headed by longtime local DJ Ruben Jimenez, and it looked like the beginning of a fruitful H-Town partnership. Alas, it was both beginning and end; Hubbard and the label have parted ways.
The rapper says that the separation was amicable, with both sides headed for bigger, better things. And to prove it — to himself, perhaps, as much as anyone — Kyle Hubbard celebrated his renewed independence by hitting the studio with some buds last weekend and putting in an all-nighter. The result is a group of four new songs that he’s released on his Bandcamp page today titled Four Free.
Hubbard says that some of his closest colleagues, such as his live collaborator DJ Discipline and his fellow MC Guilla, encouraged him to get his name back out there on a new playlist. Initially, at least, it was a hard sell.
“DJ Discipline, when we were rehearsing for South By Southwest, he was like, ‘You really need to put more music out,’ the rapper says. “And at first, I was like, ‘Dude, fuck that. I don’t have the time; I don’t have the willpower. I’m not into that at all right now.’ And then, the thing me and Roologic happened and I thought, ‘Well, I need to do something. I need to kind of reassert myself and show everybody that everything is going to be operational as usual.’
“So, I hit DJay Cas up and ran the idea by him, and he pretty much ran with it instantly,” Hubbard continues. “It was one conversation, and then Cas was giving me four beats.”
Djay Cas has been Hubbard’s go-to producer for some time now. The two met years ago, posting opinionated bullshit together on the same rap message board. Before he could talk himself out of it, the rapper booked time at the iMix studio on the Southwest Side last Saturday and got to spittin’. The final product would have to be ready in a week, before Hubbard takes the stage tomorrow at Guilla’s album-release concert at Raven Tower.
“It happened, like, in two weeks, which is insane for me,” he says. “I work very good with a deadline; if I don’t have a deadline, I dick around. Recording everything in one session in one night is something that I didn’t know I could do. It’s not something that I would have even thought about doing had it not been for such a strict deadline that I put on myself.”
It might have been understandable if Hubbard had chosen to go it alone on the new project, in that weird way that newly single people refuse to date anybody for a while. But for Four Free, Kyle went in the opposite direction, calling in features from local standouts Fullmetal and T2 the Ghetto Hippie as well as Mississippi’s Fred Nice.
And naturally, Hubbard had DJay Cas in his corner, who dusted off a couple of old beats for the project and put together two new ones just for the occasion. Typically, Hubbard is a pretty hands-on guy when it comes to putting tracks together, but this time out, there simply wasn’t the time for second-guessing.
“I’m lucky to work with someone as dope as Cas, because when it comes to something like Four Free, where I have to essentially put my fate into other people’s hands, I know that I can do that with him,” Hubbard says. “He was essential to having the idea that I even could do something like this in such a short amount of time, because I knew that I could let him take the wheel completely and I’d still be happy with what he does for me.”
A perfect example of that trust working out beautifully is Four Free’s best track, “Same Old Song.” Every Kyle Hubbard release seems to contain a love letter to Houston, but this one is a lot more syrupy than he’s ever dared before.
“Normally, Kyle will come to me with a concept and we’ll map it out from there and he’ll have me switch up pieces, but this was something that I kind of sold him on,” says DJay Cas. “I don’t want to say it’s a brand-new sound, but I think it’s a new form of our sound. It’s the next level.”
“Same Old Song” is heavily indebted musically to the swang-and-bang Southside anthems of yore, but lyrically, Hubbard refuses to play the gangsta. With sterling assists from T2 and Fred Nice, the rapper manages to pay his respects to classic Houston hip-hop while still acknowledging life in the city far beyond the confines of MacGregor Park.
“The hook was already on the song when I heard it, and it’s straight-up H-Town,” Hubbard says. “I was like, ‘Dude, I love this kind of shit, but I don’t know if I’m an accurate representation of that side of Houston.’ Cas really sold me on the way that I need to approach it. It’s for every Houstonian in every corner of the city. It’s not just, like, the draped-up/dripped-out or the backpacker kids. It touches on every subculture that makes Houston great.”
By pushing Hubbard just a bit outside his comfort zone, DJay Cas helped to create one of the rapper’s best songs yet. And now that Kyle Hubbard is a free agent again, expect to hear plenty more new explorations from him and his merry band of collaborators real soon.
“We’re just going to keep the ball rolling,” DJay Cas says. “We have more to come, but this is just to hold people off for right now.”
Recommend you savor the new one while you can—the next one might just cost you something.
Kyle Hubbard unveils Four Free live on Saturday night at Raven Tower for Guilla's Chidren of the Sun release party, with Guilla, Bizzythowed, Mojave Red, iLL-Faded and Mark Drew. Free Admission. Doors open at 6 p.m.