Remember 1994? It's arguably the year hip-hop truly decided to grow up and embrace a mix of gangsta attitude and spread-out regionalism. That year, we got Scarface's The Diary, UGK's Super Tight, Nas's Illmatic and the Notorious B.I.G.'s Ready to Die...to start with. I could go on, but our old Rocks Off colleague and current Internet-writing supervillain Shea Serrano captured this national scope rather perfectly last week.
1994 will always have to fistfight with 1996, 1998 and 1988 as the definitive years when rap music was completely on top. I'd love to argue that the summer of 1996 may be the best four-month stretch of any period in rap, or that September 29, 1998 and November 9, 1993 were the absolute best single days.
Then again, this weekend was pretty damn good for Houston rap, wasn't it?
MIXTAPE OF THE WEEK
George Young, Ventage: For some reason or another, the universe aligned and said that over Labor Day Weekend, Houston rap would be blessed by a swath of new releases that a) are all tough to try and eject out of your car for whatever reason; and b) come from a few artists who handle not only their own raps but production as well.
George Young, who has spent more time the past three years or so "detoxing" his own work while determining how far he could push himself from not abandoning Houston sports as a whole, finally released his Ventage mixtape early Saturday morning. It came without warning, much like his career; he's been behind the boards for so much Northside Houston rap over the past few years that you forget he's hailed as a savant more than anything else.
Young's production style chooses its spots, basking in spaghetti-western nostalgia, needling around until he finds something that screams Houston's polished and soulful mid-'00s funk. He and Mike Red may be the Northside's answer to this aesthetic, as Red digs into smooth compositions that scale around pianos, flutes and soul.
They come together for "FlagMeDown," with Red on the beat; then George returns the favor with splashy '80s R&B-turned-trunk funk on "Phat Beach." Rudy Tomjanovich thanks the city of Houston for supporting the Rockets first title on "How Sweet It Is" but Ventage builds upon the multiple thoughts pent up inside Young's mind, mostly about family, friends and himself. Houston producers are born with this hidden gene that says their music should be heard in a car system. This is fact.
Best Song: "Creative" -- As a rapper, Young is lounges somewhere in the same area occupied by Big K.R.I.T.'s tribute to UGK. The guitar juxtaposition behind "Creative" feels like an audio leftover from Chad and Bernard's 1996 classic Ridin' Dirty, all thanks to Young paying keen attention to his surroundings and history -- a Thunder Dan Marjele reference! -- and a favorite rap pairing in KDOGG and Rob Gullatte, just as pensive and pissed off as they always are.
Gullatte and KDOGG aren't mad rappers. That would be a misnomer, so instead both articulate how shitty and crummy the world may be around them, even when they're supposed to smile and grit through it all. Download Here
King Henry, hipSOUL | The Williams Project: As hip-hop battling producers go, King Henry may be Houston's cream of the crop. A Space City Beat Battle alum and multple winner, Henry has been about soul for as long as he's been combing his own beard. He's now stationed in New York City but during a visit two months ago allowed a select few in on a few tracks that would eventually become his latest full-length, hipSOUL | The Williams Project.
"Last Time," his team-up with Phill Wade, immediately became the soundtrack to the weekend, at least in skeletal form. There was just the silky and elegant production that rode a sturdy bass line and drum arrangement to a smooth R&B record. On the full track, Henry's keys and bass line are fleshed out, diving into an equilibrium that is far too digestible not to dance to. That's the entirety of the product for Henry. If his production is the initial selling point, something that takes cues from the '70s funk exploration that transforms Cadillacs into giant bug-eyed spaceships.
So hipSOUL | The Williams Project parks itself as a lounge act, as Henry allows acts from plenty of walks of life: the vastly underrated Rel the Chosen, Wade, Fiend (New Orleans' chimney smoke-piper of fine cloud raps) and Houston's own Trae Tha Truth. Originally intended as a showcase for Wade, hipSOUL eventually yields the spotlight to so many others worth paying attention to, like JayKell on "Spaceship Lova" and Jelayne D on "Can't Get Enough." Little battles are all over hipSOUL, between Freeman and Wade for best R&B vocal; Trae and Fiend for most enjoyable tandem moment; and whether or not Rel or Anti-Lilly steal the show with their respective solo outings. A perfect as a compilation project can be.
Best Track: "Come Fly" -- on an album full of interchangeable bests, Henry's bassline immediately steals the show here. The drum-explosion groove plays in spades when Anti-Lilly decides to show off for the hip-hop interlude, "Anti-Lude" and Perry Richardson's saxophone feels like a late night cruise down 59. Still, there's just something about Wade digging into an early-'00s jam session with Henry and pulling out plenty of improvised one-liners to a lady of his choice. Buy Here
More new rap on the next page.
Anti-Lilly & Envy Hunter, "Gibberish" Here's how it always worked with Anti-Lilly :if he's not rapping in a narrative form, glossy-eyed with optimism while detailing the worst the world can throw at him, then he's not really rapping at all. The man of "A Million Stories" has already put one album in the can, Stories From the Brass Section, and now plays tag-team with EnVy Hunter for ReDefinition. "Gibberish" isn't one of those cuts that tries to be like an existing track by someone more famous, it's Anti relaying a phone conversation and Hunter -- the burly former footballer turned rapper after damn near losing his life -- following suit with a similar story.
Rai P & Mike Red, Eating Good Smoking Better: Everyone has a story of when they've "arrived," and Rai P's is no different. It goes from freestyling for fun at UH to party-promoting to being a visible face on the club scene to showing up on a trio of tracks -- "Swagged Up I Be Killin'," "U Ain't Bout That Life" and "Do It Like Maliah" -- where he's either the main star or a feature present to make everything sound flexible and fluent.
The second tape of the weekend heavily influenced by Mike Red is one where he handles all the production and lets Rai P be himself. Just as it sounds, Eating Good, Smoking Better is built to make a West Coast rapper who has obviously been influenced by his time in Houston even more of the same.
Best Track: "Pimp N Me" -- the tape's goal from the outset was to blend West Coast ratchet with plenty of one-liners and boasts about self-assured greatness. There's better production from Mike on EGSB, but here is where the marriage between his beats and Rai's ability to be overly cocky in the vein of Too $hort circa '89 isn't as blissful and direct as it is here.
Dirty & Nasty, "24K (Purple & Gold Remix)" True story, there's no clear way to try and define Dirty & Nasty; hey're more like an amalgamation of plenty of older ideas and styles. They take minor cues from Houston rap nostalgia, a dash of black nationalism and mid-level fashion. "24K (Purple & Gold Remix)" solidifies that by warping DJ Screw's "Southside Groovin" -- remember that, maybe SPM's lone moment on a screw tape? -- into something the duo can rock over via Purple Bastard. The lyrics aren't going to plow you over, but that's not the point. Stylistically, it panders to a certain audience that tires of the same act from other local rappers -- and that's perfectly fine.
Stockz, "LDLA" Upon first watch, Stockz's "LDLA" video is one of those visuals that plays as an advertisement for the Los Angeles tourism board part vehicle for a young rapper who enjoys making fake-deep preening messages that seem more over-the-top than normal. The lanky Katy product hasn't changed -- he's always afforded himself an air of invincibility when not confined to the same everyday bullshit here and there. "LDLA" finds him in a more serene element, ogling beautiful women, standing on houses and rapping without much of a care.
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