Viper’s cult classic 2008 album, You'll [sic] Cowards Don’t Even Smoke Crack, has been streamed millions of times. The title alone conjures enough morbid curiosity to demand a listen, and the music is as ineffably hypnotic as it is creepy. The minimalist beats resemble static, the homemade production is sonically bizarre, and the flow is lethargic. The album established Viper as an authentic outsider artist.
With thousands of songs released online, he may also be the most prolific rapper in Houston. Often recording 15 songs a day, Viper released well over 300 albums in 2014 alone. After exploring countless music styles and building a catalogue too big for most people to hear in a lifetime, his body of work defies classification.
But You’ll Cowards Don’t Even Smoke Crack remains his magnum opus. It went viral a few times — the album’s artwork even became a meme — and Viper now has nearly 100,000 followers on Twitter. Over the years, stories about this wildly prolific outsider hip-hop artist have appeared in many publications. But he has nonetheless developed a mystique by rarely being interviewed and performing live infrequently.
He was born in El Dorado, Arkansas, and his name is Lee Carter. He says he started playing piano in kindergarten, moved to Houston a year later, and performed in a church band for a decade. He made hip-hop music for fun in his teens and started pursuing a rap career independently in his late twenties.
“I chose the name Viper because it represents my style,” says Carter. “It’s an underground, dangerous flow. You have to listen to it to get infected by it. You have to get bit.”
An independent artist who has produced most of his tracks, Viper has released his work mostly online and occasionally on CD. This year he partnered with a small label to release his best-known album on cassette. He says a vinyl record release is in the works.
But Carter is quick to mention his other career. He has a business degree from the University of Houston and owns an apartment locating company. He also plans to test for a real-estate broker's license this year and is earning an MBA online.
Moving forward with his hip-hop career, Viper plans to put quality over quantity. After all those days of recording an album’s worth of variations on a theme, he is ready to focus on getting upcoming singles to radio markets. He describes a mid-tempo track he just completed as a “hip-swinger.” He also mentions a club banger and a slower song with an R&B swag.
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“Some artists have catalogues you can listen to in a day or two,” Carter says. “We don’t have enough time to watch every movie that ever came out. I wanted to have that same quantity to avoid getting catalogued with a certain style. But now I’m trying to establish a larger fan base.”
He has worked at a feverish pace, but describes a hip-hop career as a very slow process. He says You’ll Cowards Don’t Even Smoke Crack was introduced as an “attention-getter” and it has served its purpose well. But Viper does think of himself as an outsider artist:
“Investors choose particular artists and blitz resources for a couple of albums or singles. I would consider that an insider artist. But I don’t depend on the mainstream resources and have more creative control of the product.”
“I’m a very intelligent person,” Viper continues, after considering perceptions of him created by Internet fame. “Some people think I am not intelligent because I was involved in the drug trade at one time. But I could have gone to any college in the world based on my SAT scores. My goal is to be a real-estate tycoon.”