Rosewood ThievzPhoto by Unique James, courtesy of Rosewood Thievz
I’ve always loved music, I mean ever since I was a pre-teen. Back then, I picked through stacks of my parents' records to build my music appreciation. I have a distinct memory of Mom taking a Barry White album from eight year-old me and saying something like, “Maybe not this one, mijo.” I was achingly oblivious at that age and questioned why I couldn’t listen (though, a savvier kid would have figured it out, as the album cover literally depicts White with gorgeous women in the palms of his hands). What came next never left me. Mom said, “This is grown folks’ music.” And then, I’m pretty sure she and Dad have a good laugh as she returned the album to a higher shelf.
"Drink or 2," the new single from Houston’s own Rosewood Thievz, took me back to those days on a first listen. Frances Sendejas, God rest her soul, would have stored it out of my reach were this 1973. It's grown folks' music, for sure.
“It's the story of saying you'll step out and grab just one drink. Maybe you're tired, maybe you didn't plan on doing anything at all but someone convinced you,...next thing you know, you lost track of time and trying to figure out how you got so many drinks deep,” explained Big Game James, one-third of Rosewood Thievz.
For the uninitiated, the Thievz blend diverse genres into their brand of R&B/hip hop, which they’ve dubbed “Groove Over Division.” Big Game James, Killa Swami and Rodeo Joe (a.k.a. Joe-Yo - the monikers are interchangeable "like Notorious and Biggie," James clarifies) first brought their individual tastes in music together in Third Ward in 2012.
“Rodeo, Swami and I go back to early years of high school. I lived a street in front of Swami and we both had mutual friends with Rodeo, we were always at the same parties,” James recalls. “Around that time Swami used to have UGK's Dirty Money album stuck in his car's CD player, so when we'd ride around it was either listen to that or 93.7 The Arrow or Magic 102. Classic rock and classic groove hit us hard, stuff that moves you.
“After college, I got an apartment on Rosewood. Swami and Rodeo moved in a house two blocks down on Rosewood and that's where we started our house parties and freestyles over songs by S.O.S. Band, Loose Ends and other soul and funk bands with the groove.”
Since then, Rosewood Thievz has earned a following on the strength ofsteady output via full-length albums, EPs, guest appearances and singles, like "Drink or 2." They’ve proven Groove Over Division isn't just blank ideology by taking Christmas music and sports anthems and giving them the Rosewood Thievz treatment.
“We've always shared the same interests in music,” James says. “DJ Screw was our curator of G-funk, other west and east coast artists and, of course, Fat Pat and all of the S.U.C. showed us how to really groove on old school R&B type sounds. Rodeo grew up heavy in the church and sang in a youth choir that included Tamar Davis, who went on to tour with Prince. He's also classically trained on piano. You can hear some of that gospel influence in the harmonies of ‘Drink or 2.’”
The song might not take you to church, but it could lead to the confessional. Any dedicated drinker knows a night of imbibing can nudge you to those after-midnight places where questionable decisions are simultaneously rewarded and punished. "Drink or 2" oozes with the sexy possibilities of those moments.
“The approach to the production on that song was like a Voltron of Missy, Erykah Badu and Pimp C,” James noted. “Those are three of our biggest influences. Also TLC, En Vogue, Destiny's Child, Aaliyah - people who put everything in their songs and performances.”
As someone who grew up on vinyl, I hear For You-era Prince, with a smidgen of Marvin Gaye when he was at his freakiest in the song. Turns out, Big Games James' father had a history with vinyl that spurred his own interest in music.
"My dad was a disco and reggae deejay so those records were always all around as well as new wave, ska and soul records," he said. "I was about three or four when my family in Lafayette, Louisiana gave me an accordion and would put me on stage with the zydeco bands that would be on tour up and down I-10. They'd all stop at my Aunt Helen's house and she'd cook for the whole community and those bands would play concerts on her front porch with me on stage 'playing' my accordion. Zydeco and gospel are community music — and that's a big part of where we come from."
"Drink or 2" is available on Spotify and is a featured track on the band's YouTube channel (check out the video for "Grown Moves" while you're there - it's a personal favorite and a different take on being grown). Your next chance to get out and actually have a drink or two with Rosewood Thievz is L.O.U.D. Fest, June 16 at Raven Tower.
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Jesse’s been writing for the Houston Press since 2013. His work has appeared elsewhere, notably on the desk of the English teacher of his high school girlfriend, Tish. The teacher recognized Jesse’s writing and gave Tish a failing grade for the essay. Tish and Jesse celebrated their 33rd anniversary as a couple in October.