Memorial Days are perfected for testing out three things: one, your barbecue pit; two, your car after you’ve been denying it a wash all week; and three, your recent collection of music. No Memorial Day is right without music, no social gathering is considered perfect unless the music matches. Luckily, Houston has perfected such a thing. Without music for those long ass trips through various day parties (and moments of non-sobriety), you’d be looking at your friends like a Spongebob meme.
Thus, we have five releases tailor made for your day. Whether they be tailor made for the Whataburger drive-thru — yes, one of them has raps made inside the glowing orange pilgrimage to spicy ketchup on a Honey BBQ chicken sandwich) or made strictly for the twerkers, the men and women of introspection or somewhere in between, they all hit. Are all of these tapes car-test-approved? Yes. Are all of them going to get you taken by somebody and get danced on? Probably not. Again, these aren’t audio placebos for your full personal development. However, they are pieces of music you need take into not only set your parties or days off right, but inspire you to change somebody else’s life.
Or at least have a one-up on the DJ before he catches on.
THE FULL-BLOWN PARTY TAPE
Beatking, Astroworld 2
Pluses: Clearly focused raps with outlined wants and needs.
Minuses: You are not BeatKing, thus you don't have your own wing special.
BeatKing has been planning or crafting different versions of Astroworld 2 for a minute. The perfectly manicured ‘90s and early-aughts Southern rap samples; BeatKing’s pontification on strippers with far more discipline than most; freestyles steeped in Swishahouse and Screwed Up Click culture and more. The quintessential BeatKing tape when he’s being lended a hand will be Underground Cassette Tape Music with Gangsta Boo, 2014’s best Houston rap tape. The most essential BeatKing tape, where all of his various morphed, evolved and emerging thought processes coexist, is 3 Weeks, his one proper album where he not only relished getting money but found enough time in the world to grieve. Astroworld 2 falls somewhere in the middle.
There are the homages to Memphis and Atlanta, especially when it comes to Three 6 Mafia (“Houston MF’n Texas”) and Lord Infamous; Atlanta’s heavy influence on Astroworld 2 make it feel like a field-trip you go on with your older, country cousins. TM88 on “Sponsor” allows for light, punchy drums to pocket themselves around BeatKing’s acknowledgment of female hustlers globally. Still, when he dives deep into Houston parlance on “Dungeon Drop Freestyle,” the beauty of it all twists and ties together. Slim Thug has found another groove maximizing his own beliefs; same for Paul Wall. BeatKing knows his lane and hogs it up like a F-150 with two 12" subs framed close to the bed. You can’t get around a BeatKing tape, especially if there’s a single on it that is going to both dominate your life and force a venue to become grossly populated with dancers, preferably women.
THE LATE NIGHT CRUISE TAPE
Le$, Midnight Club
Pluses: Self-made players still post up at the drive-thru.
Minuses: You don’t have Mr. Rogers’ appeal for car culture. Or Le$'s appeal for BMWs.
When Le$ made Olde English, it felt like the proper bow on top of a building trilogy. Le$ and Happy Perez had not only made routine classic riding material from the Southeast of Houston all the way to the Northside and even The Woodlands, the songs made Le$ footprint as a self-made artist even more assured and factual. It felt if his time part of both the Boss Hogg Outlawz and Curren$y’s Jet Life were moments of learning, business anyway. Le$ continually gave out free music, until it was time not to. Le$ continued to push with Jorgey Films, Happy Perez and DJ Mr. Rogers, the three individuals who make up both the musical aesthetic and sound that fits him perfectly. All he has to do is supply the masses with hazy, pieced-together raps about enjoying life without taking big risks or chances. The rest would work itself out.
Quik Tape was Le$’ 2010 homage to DJ Quik, the West Coast producer whose brand of G-Funk is more in line with tradition rather than Dr. Dre’s sonic whirling dervish around Parliament Funkadelic and James Brown. Here, Midnight Club exceeds 2012’s Menace, which lifted tracks from the entire era and allowed Le$ to freewheel around them. Midnight Club is the first full-fledged DJ Mr. Rogers-helmed Le$ tape in a minute, and from the opening moments it’s a sonic joy.
Le$ long ago figured the secret to being and sounding like a dope rapper was to not stretch himself too far. Mr. Rogers accentuates it with modern touches of shimmering, glossy ‘90s L.A. rap production and more. Childish Gambino’s now meme-worthy flip of Bootsy Collins’ “I’d Rather Be With You” turns up on “45 South”, married and paired together with OutKast’s “West Savannah”. The Quik homage of “The Mindst8” only serves truth to the ideal that Rogers studied his ass off in making sure that this rap tape was his opus. A low-eyed, cruise tape befitting the West and excursions up and down the freeway. Only Domo Genesis comes around to ride passenger (“Bimmers x Jimmers”) here, as Midnight Club serves as a less than 40-minute reminder that Le$ raps about the American Dream, with taquitos, breakfast burritos and a No. 1 all the way for all.
THE INTROSPECTIVE TAPE
De’Wayne Jackson, Don't Be Afraid
Pluses: Living out your dreams.
Minuses: You may not be as strong to survive in LA.
As you may have guessed from previous features about De’Wayne Jackson, Don't Be Afraid is the culmination of many sleepless nights in a Los Angeles studio apartment. It's the first “big” release for him after he cranked out a tape with Donnie Houston, Halftime, and a string of singles. What it sets out to do is fight off all those ideas of pessimism and wailing to an empty room about failure and insecurity. What it accomplishes is a clear, very understood idea of who De’Wayne Jackson is as an individual.
Face it: we don't connect to many artists these days because they find it far more beneficial to their sanity (I guess) to be distant. To be mysterious. Talk to Jackson for a minute and you'll see why his body continually jerks with every word. He's genuinely excited, probably the best mask for fear and anxiety that exists. Songs like “Watchin’” detail days where he'd be inside his own head looking for answers. The melancholy “Truth Is,” the tape’s big single, oozes the kind of young joy and exuberance dedicated for first loves and retention of the feeling.
“You just too damn busy to be in love,” Jackson raps while fantasizing about conversations with his love and sexual recaps. “Both got issues, they don't hurt the same/ I never felt love like this…” Don't Be Afraid latches onto a number of sounds, from progressive rock to bluesy, guitar driven hip-hop. It's a coming-of-age moment for Jackson, a self-realized goal after inflated mattresses and staying 1,600 miles away from home. Every holiday needs a moment of reflection. Jackson’s are all about those young-man topics of youth, love, affection and doubt.
THE OTHER INTROSPECTION TAPE
Envy Hunter, Still Waiting
Pluses: The Nawfside has some of Houston’s best storytellers.
Minuses: You may or may not go to the Nawf, as they still haven't established a great brunch spot.
Shuttling to and fro from Houston to Los Angeles and back — for Envy Hunter, it's made him question a few things. His dedication to rap has consistently remained, even if the politics of it can set him off when pushed too far. He's taken jobs at studios, ear busted, pieced together connections and found a little footing out there. Yet Houston is home. Studewood forever. His mother is buried here, his daughter carries her grace in her smile and reflection. Leaving all of it behind isn't in the cards for Envy. He has a flock and as a shepherd, he's doing his best not to stray.
With Still Waiting, Envy is making a pure separation move. After this, he’ll be Darkskin Devante; well, Devante for short. He’ll still have those blocky shoulders and willingness to bet big on Cowboys games but the future laid out on the tape is a kiss goodbye to the past. “Savannah” is the tape’s biggest emotional pull, a piece of denouement where Envy gives toast to his mother while doing his damndest not to audibly cry about it. Elsewhere he makes bold proclamations about signing to Jay Z in that Ab-Soul style of pronouncement for “Look What You Made Me Do” and dodges memories about nearly losing it all on a breaking and entering charge.
Devante’s lowest moments come off as confessions, packed lines with nary a whiff of regret or remorse. These things happened; prorated ideas and actions of survival. “This music shit is therapeutic,” he leads off the tape. “I hate I have to tell my niggas stories cause they ain't here...can't take another funeral, my heart ‘bout to burst.” Right then and there you know he's not playing. Especially when Erykah Badu’s voice chases him around.
Maybe this is why Still Waiting finds so many ebbs and flows, because it states its case clearly from the very beginning. Envy Hunter, on his last moments before accepting his government name as his rap name is telling you everything. And isn’t taking a second guess or a pass-by for proper treatment.
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THE GET MONEY TAPE
K. Mitch, No More Wishing
Pluses: Bigga Rankin and K. Mitch are your motivational speakers to get paid.
Minuses: You still have never made a Kanye West "Last Call" closer in your life.
Off the rip, you’re going to enjoy K. Mitch’s No More Wishing if you have a sore spot for straightforward, get money and forget everything else rap tapes. Jeezy manifested plenty of this on his early work, especially with Trap Or Die and Thug Motivation 101. Being from all over the place but finding roots in Houston make K. Mitch an outlier of the worst kind. One, he has no actual allegiance to any side of the city. Two, if you didn’t already know him and listened to him blindly then you’d hear a weird audio dissonance that’ll remind you of GT Garza’s high-wire/trapeze rhyming act.
That being said, No More Wishing finds an early immediacy in regards to getting money, wanting to separate fame from profit and more. However, the inclusion of spoken word, Susan Carol’s dutiful harmonies and more spill K. Mitch’s agenda of money over everything into different cups. “Power” takes a dusty, bulbous beat and rummages over Section.80-style wisdom about an invisible section of the world (“The Man”) holding down those from obtaining profit and a certain stature within society. Mitch isn’t afraid to pick a side or even carry a flag when it comes to police brutality or the disenfranchisement of felons. It happens to come in a middle ground, where he’s no public servant bound to the will of the people.
Rather, he’s still a fallible rapper and human, capable of falling yet still standing to carry the weight whenever necessary. “Before I Go” is an ode to his mother wrapped around gothic strings and a low-level bass line. “When you get there, you got more to lose,” he raps. No More Wishing is ambitious in nature, willing to cover plenty in order to appease many. Best of all, Bigga Rankin appears like a wise soothsayer, similar to how he treated hosting duties for Jeezy’s Trap Or Die 2. If it doesn’t have Bigga Rankin’s blessing, it’s not a full fledged street tape. Simple as that.