What happened to Dante Higgins?
It's a conversation-starter. A question that is followed by a ball of answers, some of which are anecdotal and others flat-out opinion. The smallest answer you can give is that he's gone through a few things between albums one and two. The largest answer you can give is that he's been through A LOT of things between his first and second albums.
"First of all, I don't think you need to throw out a mixtape," Sean "Puff Daddy" Combs can be heard saying to an unidentified voice on "Took A Lil' Time," from Higgins latest album, Good Forever. "Niggas just throwing shit out there, they just wanna get a little shine, a little bitch, some sneaker money. Niggas aren't looking toward the future. I want you to make a classic album, a body of work."
The sentiment rings true for Higgins, even if he and Puffy have only one thing in common: getting to the top by bloodthirsty means.
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Higgins, 28, has worked as one of Houston's best hybrids. He's jestful when freewheeling on tracks, evident from his Rhymes For mixtape series. He can also turn into a vivid storyteller, navigating through his own personal journey in Southlawn, centered in the heart of Third Ward. His "Mongoose" record, a personal moment where he lamented over his favorite bike is arguably one of his calmest, most zeroed in moments while recording. He can take country phrases and old school comparisons such as mason jars, strength of individual family members as a sum and not fractured parts and make it work. He's the deep eyed, Hennessy sipping bard of the Houston rap class and has been lauded as such numerous times over.
Good Forever is his first full project as a solo artist since his debut album The Dante Higgins Story and Rhymes For Months TRILLogy mixtape landed in 2012. The last batch of Higgins music released in full came when he was tied to the hip of Undergravity to craft The Freshest MCs in late 2013. That's three years since a solo, and two since a project, period. What occurred between that? A car accident put him on the shelf for a while, he signed to C Stone's Breadwinners imprint, and his engineer shot was and killed outside a church in Southeast Houston. The album itself was delayed after an intimate crowd gathered to hear it back in March.
Dante Higgins, the man, survives plenty on Good Forever. Dante Higgins, the rapper, stomps and laughs through damn near every obstacle in front of him on Good Forever. He outlines who could and couldn't survive in his neighborhood on "Live & Learn," and compares toughness to trying to open a pickle jar on "Same Ol' Same." There are little to no trap elements found on GF; Higgins' beats repository consists of cut-up soul samples or jukebox blues numbers here. Drums thump like food clobbering together on plates, or pianos cascade like water on fingertips.
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His pronunciation of "ramen" noodles as "roman" is silly, same as when he stretched "Miguel" into "Migueel" a few flows back, but that's what Hig does in earnest: he stretches the impossible into the possible. He dances back to a moment with Marvin Gaye and his grandmother on "Listening To Marvin," shifting his grandmother's house to be the center of his universe, fried chicken popping in a skillet and her speakers blasting soul music.
All Higgins needs to escape the plateau he set with his debut album is 55 minutes. Donnie Houston slices Stevie Wonder's "As" for "Southlawn Plaza," as Higgins sits on the brick idiom that identifies his childhood home. If the small mention of beating up a kid to draw his brother's attention was one early masterstroke, "Southlawn Plaza" is the crown jewel of the tape. Tawn Peron, still vocally mixing up lust, good gospel and optimism, is Higgins' most confident co-star here; Fre$h (the former Short Dawg), M.A.C and MC Beezy (mixing Jodeci and Tony! Toni! Tone!) round out the chief cast.
When you first hear the title track, poet Stephanie B, Higgins' voice shakes and whimpers for the first 20 some-odd seconds. He's trying to climb back into crafting tapes with the polish of yarns he's spun before, only better. As if he's still pissed off about that Mongoose. That's what happened to Dante Higgins.
He got back on the bike and kept pedaling.