Despite the flood of people arriving here for the first time every day, Houston has never been a tourist town. Ask anybody: the skiing sucks, the mosquitos are packing heat and the traffic is stressful enough to put one off the very concept of travel for life. As an added bonus, the weather is too unpredictable to reliably support human civilization.
And honestly, that's pretty dope. It's just us hustlers down here, with no goony vacationers feeding the pigeons and asking us how to get to the Buffalo Soldiers National Museum. But every now and again, you're going to have some out-of-town relatives and friends come through who are going to want to "see the sights." And for some reason, these people are not content with simply sampling some bomb-ass Mexican food.
For God's sake, do not take them to the Galleria. Be a real G and show them a side of city life that they're never going to see or experience in whatever shitburg they flew in from. Show them the important places where Houston's one-of-a-kind, world-famous hip-hop culture was draped up and drank'd out: the top tourist destinations of Houston rap.
You won't find any roller coasters, theme restaurants, or towering monuments at any of these spots. But you will find more than enough street food, souvenir T-shirts and bootleg DVDs to satisfy any tourist cravings you might be forced to reckon with. Bring a map, and maybe keep a strap on you -- just in case.
10. Corner of MLK and Bellfort It was on this corner, all the way back in 1987, that arguably the city's first, best and most influential rap collective was born. In the neighborhood of South Park, rival teenage rap crews from Jones and Sterling High Schools were drawing up battle lines. After a few light battle-rapping skirmishes, the two best rappers in the 'hood set a date to square off for once and for all.
In a parking lot on this neutral ground between the two schools, Sterling High champion K-Rino went verse after verse and rhyme after rhyme with Jones champ Ganksta NIP. After a lengthy battle, gathered onlookers unbelievably declared the epic confrontation a draw. K-Rino and Ganksta NIP happened to catch the same bus home that afternoon, striking up a fast friendship and uniting their respective crews into the mighty South Park Coalition, which remains active (and awesome) to this day.
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9. Paradise South Cemetery 16001 Cullen, Pearland If you're going to be in town, you'll no doubt want to pay a few respects. Swang on over to Paradise South Cemetery in Pearland to peacefully contemplate the musical immortality achieved by Patrick and John Hawkins, better known as Fat Pat and H.A.W.K.
"Paradise South" is just about the best name possible for their final resting place. Both brothers died young; the victims of gun violence eight years apart. But they loved their hometown, and they left behind a rich musical legacy as members of the group DEA and as top-ranking officers in the Original Screwed Up Click, helping to shape a new, uniquely Texan sound in Southern hip-hop. They started a momentum that a generation of Houston rappers who grew up idolizing them would ride to national prominence.
8. Rap-A-Lot Records 2141 W Governors Cir. It's hardly uncommon to hear a local rapper complain about the way Rap-A-Lot Records pays its talent. But if it weren't for Rap-A-Lot, there's a strong possibility we'd never have heard them at all. Founded by hip-hop mogul/mafioso James Prince in 1986, Rap-A-Lot quickly became one of the earliest and most successful independent rap labels in the world, helping to introduce fans near and far to the likes of the Geto Boys, Raheem, Big Mello, the Terrorists and many more over the next 25 years. The label remains a shining example of hip-hop DIY entrepreneurship, and it's still putting out music by big-timers including Bun B, Z-Ro, Juvenile and Turk.
7. Lil Ike's Auto Collision 7110 Avenue C If you want to see an entire bar full of people in Houston sing along together, put some money in the Internet jukebox and call up Lil' Troy's "Wanna Be a Baller." The best part is watching them mumble through the lyric "got sprayed by Ike." While I've heard people claim Big T is crooning everything from "gotta spray my ice" to "God is great tonight" on the hook, he's actually referencing Lil Ike's Auto Collision, a popular paint shop near the Port of Houston that helped create the candy-colored panoply of dripping-wet SLABs characterizing the city's hip-hop car culture.
Ike's does good work, and it ain't cheap. The shop has been name-checked on countless Houston rap records large and small. Head over and see why it's the go-to spot for pimped-out paint jobs inside the Loop.
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6. Johnny Dang & Co. 253 Sharpstown Center When it comes to cramming as many diamonds into your mouth as physically possibly, there's only one name that matters: "TV Johnny" Dang. Dang and his business partner, Paul Wall, put Houston on the hip-hop jewelry map (yes, there's a jewelry map) by crafting expensive bridgework for everybody from Lil' Jon to Katy Perry. Whether you'd like to purchase a diamond-encrusted Styrofoam cup pendant or simply gawk at one, swing by his store at PlazAmericas Mall and check out some of the most bonkers, blinged-out custom creations on the planet.
5. Dope House Records 2122 Center St. Unless you see Dope House Records with your own eyes, it's a little hard to believe it could exist. An independent record label founded by a Latino street hustler to self-release his own raps that grew to sell millions of albums with no radio to an army of loyal fans across the Southwest? In the middle of Houston, Texas? Yep, that happened. Carlos Coy, the one and only South Park Mexican, built his own rap empire by providing a voice for young Mexican-Americans from the ghetto. In 2001, the Houston Press named him Local Musician of the Year.
To put it mildly, Dope House hasn't been the same since SPM was convicted on child sex charges in 2002. But it's still around, and it's still putting out SPM records bought by the fans who still support him. The place remains a powerful testament that one Latino artist with something different to say can build a legacy so big that not even long-term incarceration can tear it down completely.
4. King's Flea Market 5110 Griggs Rd. In 1991, Chad Butler and Bernard Freeman had moved from their hometown of Port Arthur to Houston, trying to turn their hip-hop hobby into a money-making proposition. It was at King's Flea Market in South Park where they got the break they were looking for. After spotting a poster in a record stall soliciting rappers, the duo met Russell Washington, the owner of Big Tyme Recordz.
Washington fell in love with a song on the pair's demo tape: "Tell Me Something Good," a gangsta twist on the old Chaka Khan hit. He signed them on the spot, and Bun B and Pimp C put together a six-track cassette of the tunes that would soon make them Underground Kingz.
Rappers are still passing out demos there today. One of 'em could be the next Sweet Jones! Plus, King's is a pretty dope flea market. Get yourself a new hat or something.
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3. MacGregor Park 5225 Calhoun MacGregor Park is far and away the most central and important civic amenity in the history of Houston hip-hop. It's the park from which South Park, the cradle of Houston rap and home to many of its best MCs, derives its name. Seemingly forever, it's been the Southside's preferred outdoor weekend getaway, playing host every Sunday to boomboxes, dominos, barbecues and basketball in addition to the endless, creeping parade of tricked-out cars blasting hip-hop.
It's also the subject of Houston's very first rap record. In 1985, an MC by the name of the L.A. Rapper released the single "MacGregor Park," an electro ode to Sunday Funday. The song gave little hint at where the Houston sound was headed, but its lyrical sentiments are pretty timeless: "MacGregor Park is where I got to be/MacGregor Park, my car, my freak, and me."
2. UH Libraries' Houston Hip-Hop Collection 114 University Dr. The UH Libraries Special Collections department has archived all sorts of material documenting Houston history and culture, from creative writing to architecture to performing arts. And we're sure it's all pretty great. But there is nothing else in the library's collections or any library's collections cooler than the DJ Screw Sound Recordings. The crown jewel of the library's Houston Hip-Hop collection, this hefty stack of records once belonged to The Originator himself.
That's right: DJ Screw's personal vinyl collection -- the records he used to create his legendary gray tapes -- has been preserved for study at the UH Library. Contained within are an ungodly amount of Southern rap, funk, rock and disco albums chopped by Screw's very own hands. If you're planning a scholarly work on Southern hip-hop, you can contact Special Collections and set up some serious study time in the reading room.
1. Screwed Up Records and Tapes 3538 W. Fuqua No place better embodies the original sound and entrepreneurial spirit of Houston hip-hop better than Screwed Up Records and Tapes, the neighborhood record store better known as the Screw Shop. When the late maestro's mixtape business had outgrown his bedroom, his house and, finally, his block, DJ Screw opened up his own store to sell his world-famous "gray tapes," and he put his family and friends to work in it.
The place is still open today, in its second location, and still keeping the lights on selling almost nothing but the music of Robert Earl Davis. It doesn't matter if you're looking to complete your Screw Tape collection or just get it started. You'll find what you need at this working shrine to the Houstonian who left the stickiest, deepest stamp on hip-hop.
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