Geto Boys, Z-Ro, Paul Wall, Lil' Keke & Slim Thug Arena Theatre February 28, 2014
So there's a new radio station in town, KQBT 93.7 The Beat. ("Radar Love" can now be heard exclusively on 106.9 The Eagle.) These upstarts claim to be the home of H-Town's real hip-hop and R&B. That tagline remains far from proven, naturally, but the station did take a big step toward owning it this weekend by lending its name to the star-studded "Welcome to H-Town" concert at Arena Theatre.
When you put on a show featuring a headlining set by the group that put Houston on the hip-hop map -- Scarface, Bushwick Bill and Willie D, the legendary Geto Boys -- people tend to take notice around these parts. But even if that weren't enough to pique our interest, the celebration also included sets by all-star H-Town hitmakers Z-Ro, Paul Wall, Slim Thug and Lil' Keke, offering up the promise of cough-syrup classics galore on the Arena's revolving stage. For hardcore fans of Houston hip-hop, it was a lineup only a simp could skip.
Those who turned out got the best Geto Boys performance the city has seen in many years. But let's not skip to the end so soon. The parade of local artists began early in the evening. The first opener that I caught was Major Money of NuMoney Recordz, who made an impression (as usual) by arriving onstage with seven models in tow. During "For My City," the gals made it rain in the theater, tossing fat wads of bills into the seats.
Judging from the lazy pace at which the notes were being snatched up, they were small-denomination. With a murderer's row of swang-and-bang superstars to look forward to, the crowd had a tough time working up much enthusiasm for a comparative unknown -- even when bribed.
Northside boss Slim Thug, on the other hand, had everyone on their feet immediately. Thugga's flow was characteristically cool and relaxed on hard-hitting verses from "Still Tippin,'" "First 48" and "Houston," the Texans tribute that was a lot better received a season ago.
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Clearly in a bit of a rush, Slim hustled the DJ along between tracks. He had another show to do in Louisiana before the night was over, he told us. That's the kind of hustle that gets you your own official day in the city of Houston, kids.
Following swiftly in the Boss Hogg Outlaw's wake was Lil' Keke the Don, the Screwed Up Click survivor who has been pimping pens for damn near two decades now. Gleaming brightly behind him on the circular stage was the blinding grill of celebrity jeweler "TV" Johnny Dang, arriving in tow with Paul Wall, Lil' Flip and other blinged-out associates.
Keke had the whole room bouncing along to his Dirty South dance classic "Southside" before crushing it flat with the street-sweeper "I'm a G," showing off the sharp-but-laconic flow that has made him such an influential local voice.
Keke ended his set by trading verses with Paul Wall on "Chunk Up the Deuce" and "Break 'Em Off" as cameraphones recorded every couplet. The People's Champ took over from there, rattling off a parade of hits from "Sittin' Sidewayz" to "Grillz." A particular treat for longtime fans was the rapper's verse from "N Luv Wit My Money," the bouncy, irresistible track from Wall's much-loved 2002 Swishahouse collab with Chamillionaire, Get Ya Mind Correct.
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As the crowd settled into their seats with another round of cognac to await the arrival of Z-Ro, a funny thing happened. Scarface and Willie D appeared, spitting ferociously on "Homie Don't Play That." Or at least it seemed to be them. The crowd leapt to their feet to get a better look. Could that trim and athletic figure with the flawless flow actually be Scarface? And where was Z-Ro?
Confusion turned to elation when the voice of a murderous doll signaled the entrance of Dr. Wolfgang Von Bushwickin the Barbarian Mother Funky Stay High Dollar Billstir, a.k.a. Bushwick Bill. These were definitely the Geto Boys, all right, and they were on top of their game to boot. The trio splattered fans with some of the hardest rhymes ever to emerge from the South on "Mind of a Lunatic" and "Still," stalking the rotating stage brandishing big smiles and iron lungs.
Fans were in old-school hysterics. 21st-century Geto Boys concerts have been a bit of a dicey proposition over the years, with audiences never quite sure if the entire group would show up, or how invested they'd be in the performance. But if past shows have suffered a bit from their loose, on-the-fly feel, the Geto Boys were sharp and tight on Friday night.
World's Greatest Advice Columnist Willie D, in particular, sounded pleasingly ferocious on verses from "Read These Converse" ("I stopped saying Nike 'cause they didn't want to give me that money!") and "P.W.A.," which included a classic verse from E-Rock of 5th Ward Boyz. All three Getos were in fine performing shape, though, with the newly slim Scarface freestyling a cappella into "Point of No Return" and Bushwick busting out a few breakdancing moves as the crowd chanted "Go Bushwick, go Bushwick, go!" It was all pretty great -- the best I've ever seen them.
Now, it's hard not to pity any artist who has to try to follow "Damn it Feels Good to Be a Gangsta" and "Mind Playin' Tricks on Me" in Houston, Texas, but pity has never been an expression that Z-Ro understands. Apparently having arrived late, the Mo City Don sacked up and closed out the show. With the clock creeping past midnight, some in the crowd elected to call it a night, but most stuck around to hear select cuts from the "King of the Ghetto's" deep and menacing catalogue.
Personal faves "Can't Leave Drank Alone" and "I Hate U Bitch" had fans grooving the aisles, and Z-Ro's flawless, rapid-fire flow on "No Help" and "Rain" made me feel spoiled for wishing we could've gotten an appearance by his cousin Trae, as well. The S.U.C. affiliate's career-defining "Mo City Don" freestyle ended the evening with conclusive proof, however, that Z-Ro has the chops to forever roll one deep if he so chooses.
By the time it was all over, it felt like I'd absorbed a year's worth of Houston rap in a single night. With three generations of artists onstage, it might've actually been more like 29 years. It was the Geto Boys, of course, whose talent shone brightest. If they can sustain the good vibes on display at Arena Theatre Friday night, one can't help but wonder if there might even be enough energy and interest to push them back into a studio -- and back onto the radio.
Personal Bias: Size ain't shit.
The Crowd: Grown-up rap fans. Solidly black.
Overheard In the Crowd: "Scarface done got younger on us. That his son, or what?"
Random Notebook Dump: It's always appreciated when rappers perform whole songs in concert, rather than short medleys. Kudos, gentlemen.
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