Houston rolls out global ambassadors the way luxury brands reveal new items. The standards are usually revered, talked about in either huge, sweeping platitudes or acknowledged on a one-name basis. You don’t speak of J. Prince unless you physically see him, and even then it happens to be in the most pleasant of tenses. The same need be said for Slim Thug, as he starts living in the last half of his thirties.
What the Northside money maven has done throughout his near two-decade career in Houston rap is work within a thin sense of reinvention. He’s played the young jack, snatching verses on Mista Madd projects as well as running the anchor leg for Swishahouse tapes. He’s played the main role in the pole position, releasing lauded solo albums, whether they be on major or independent labels. Now, as elder statesmen, a title he officially inherited on last year’s Hogg Life: American King album, Slim is comfortable playing off of the younger acts in the city.
It’s a weird position to be in, at least in the forever alpha-dog nation that is Houston Rap. Slim was never an outright revivalist, he always made certain that his heavy baritone fit in exactly with the times. If it was alongside the hyperactivity and tough talk of the Sauce Twinz, he placed it like a boulder rolling down the hill picking up speed and victims in its wake. If he’s in the mood to narrate, he'll come off like Morgan Freeman, announcing victories while shielding the very few losses away from the world. Two decades rapping will give you that sort of stature. That kind of comfort. But for Slim, Welcome 2 Houston is anything but a bit of warmed-up soup for the soul.
To play a little by the numbers, Welcome 2 Houston is as loaded a Slim Thug project as there has been in ages. There are no less than 20 guest verses on the tape, with both Z-Ro and Paul Wall having two apiece. To break this down by geography, four rappers not named Slim represent the Northside: Wall, J-Dawg, Boston George and Cam Wallace; one represents the East in Kirko Bangz; 12 represent the Southside, including Screwed Up Click members Big Pokey, Mike D, Lil’ Flip, Lil’ O and E.S.G. and the aforementioned Z-Ro, new jacks such as DeLorean, Doughbeezy, Propain & GT Garza; along with one rapper who spent time on both sides (Killa Kyleon) and one rapper who isn’t even from Texas but is just as rudely charismatic being from South Memphis (Young Dolph).
There is no facsimile to Slim Thug, at least not in Houston. Nobody happens to find a mode of pure self-indulgence more than the Big Boss of the Nawf and nobody will stretch to make a whole hour-plus as enjoyable as he will. Remember, Welcome 2 Houston arrived the same week as the Super Bowl, doubling as a general kind gesture and everyone showing out. Kirko Bangz can rap with charm about putting swangas on a Lexus and a one-night stand to smut out a nameless woman on “Addicted.” Z-Ro essentially will bet you $50,000 that you can’t outdo him at anything, even when he’ll pull up 50 new records on you. “Talk shit for a living,” Slim offers as a succinct job description on “Swing Down." I’m pretty sure if Slim ever had to fill out a resume, he’d get hired on the spot because few can truly talk it like Thugga.
Combing together the dirty synths, the hardened drums and horns of triumph for Welcome 2 Houston wasn’t too hard for Slim; he’s kept GNB in his employ for a wide number of tapes now. Donnie Houston came on board around American King, and Trakksounds has tossed a few tracks his way for a while now. On back to back tracks, Slim micromanages two well-known samples: Keith Sweat’s “How Deep Is Your Love” for “It’s Going Down [King & a Boss]” and Parliament’s “Mothership Connection” for “Swing Down." While GNB’s flip for “It’s Going Down” is far more straightforward, same for their cutting up of Scarface’s “Fuck Faces” earlier on the tape, Donnie Houston makes a Frankenstein of riding music. There’s the sample Dr. Dre laid over when he crafted “Let Me Ride” in early 1992, with Snoop Dogg’s infectious adlib attached. And it’s stitched together with the opening drum programming from Mtume’s “Juicy Fruit." Cam Wallace, however, creates the most ghoulish, steel-driven point of Welcome 2 Houston. “Texan,” where Slim affixes himself to not only be a Black Cowboy but the Black J.J. Watt, contains pianos built off the backs of hard labor and drums that rattle and sneer the moment you press play.
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For tape closer “Welcome 2 Houston,” a wide assortment of Slim associates old and new show up. Kyleon is his oldest comrade, dating back to the original Boss Hogg Outlaws. He raps third, and in such a controlled, syncopated way that his voice actually gallops on record. Garza, who follows up Slim’s brief lead-in, mentions E.S.G., who appears on the Screwed Up Click mashout “One Time." Propain, whose Southside drawl has made music with Garza, Doughbeezy and DeLorean, follows him and prays that he’s living up to DJ Screw’s legacy. DeLorean also factors in on “Welcome 2 Houston,” paying homage to Slim’s Boss Life brand by comparing them to high-end sneakers. He also sneaks in a small jab when discussing Paul Wall and Chamillionaire, seeing that Cham is now in Los Angeles full-time. Doughbeezy rounds out the six-minute track with its most aggressive verse, making two punchlines regarding mascots and sports teams, one punchline about getting your chain snatched and one final sentence about getting pistol-whipped. It’s also the most demure Doughbeezy guest feature ever. Off pure technical rap ability, Kyleon wins this cypher with everyone else figuring out a solid second-place plate to eat off of.
Between the Screwed Up Click posse cut “One Time” and the new-jack closer “Welcome 2 Houston,” Slim somehow manages to earn two spaces for himself. For all of seven minutes and ten minutes, Slim Thug is the lone voice heard on Welcome 2 Houston. “So Fine” drags Too Short’s brunt statement about courtship from Scarface’s “Fuck Faces” and Slim sticks to the script. Trust me, Slim has constantly referred to having a woman in his room or in the vicinity with little to nothing on; it’s as common as Hugh Hefner’s trademark robes and smoking jackets. “Hot In My City” finds Slim seeking out a little bit of interest in singing for the name of talking even bigger. Then again, if you exist in a world where Paul Wall can rap about his mom fainting “after seeing his bank statements,” then you exist in a world that nobody can touch.
The world Slim Thug raps about, the one where baseball bat-size blunts and superhero music encircle him on the daily, is mostly mental. There’s a slice of nirvana that only Slim knows and wants the whole world to know that only he knows. There are guests; friends who kick up their feet and report live from the world like investigative journalists. But Welcome 2 Houston from the onset was a marketing tool to promote three key things. One, that the City of Houston is able to out-talk and, when asked, out-rap anyone else on the planet. Two, that Slim Thug is a master of self-promotion; there’s approximately nine references to Boss Life shoes here. Lastly, Slim Thug has officially graduated to international playboy, the guy who fits in with lawmakers at City Hall and the boys building homes on his beloved Northside. If there’s a lottery of life, Slim won it. And won’t ever let us forget it.