Somewhere in 2003, Monica and Missy Elliott made the most defining record from her second decade in music. Built around The Whispers’ “You Are Number One," the 2003 update was a woman dictating to her man that she was walking out of their relationship. Fed up. “So Gone” effectively became the anthem of the lasting part of my freshman year of high school. The beat was too smooth, too hard to ignore and the video, in which Monica looked as beautiful if not stronger than “The Boy Is Mine” some five years earlier, was memorable. It was a fun record of the time, and thankfully it won’t ever die.
Last week, the world found time to appreciate “So Gone” again thanks to the saccharine ways of Chance The Rapper. It wasn’t the first “So Gone” remix; the distinction for that belongs to Snoop Dogg’s 213 group with Nate Dogg and Warren G. But it was sugary enough in premise to spawn a bunch of challenges. Soon you had men admitting their love for women in creative ways, wannabe rappers jumping in on the action and more. The worldwide interest showed to “So Gone” caused it to surge back up the Billboard charts the same way Ghost Town DJs “My Boo” became a Top 10 hit again almost 21 years after its initial release. Viral fame and challenges coupled with this generation’s tendency to get nostalgic became a winning formula. The Running Man challenge was more of a standing shuffle, the Harlem Shake was a switch-flip from calmness to centralized anarchy. The #SoGoneChallenge? A new age game of pass the mike.
If the absolute best “So Gone” challenge came from a man proposing to his girlfriend using the track, then the most viral of #SoGoneChallenges belongs to Bigg Fatts, a guy who is as underrated as they come. On name alone, Bigg Fatts is the perfect throwback to a day when you appreciated big-man rappers. Most of his tracks have been plays upon food for comic relief but the content is anything but funny. There’s some humor, some sarcasm and a built-in bullshit meter just from growing up in Houston. Fatts has made certain on several releases, Snackin’ 4 Beats especially, that his main calling card in life is to out-rap you to death.
It’s been that way as long as he’s been around. Last year he released 19 tracks under the Snackin’4 Beats umbrella that was 70 percent freestyles. He cracked jokes about Paul George’s then-broken leg for Team USA in 2014. There were weaving switches of flows and multiple moments where high velocity raps were necessary. Fatts’ voice is already a throaty roar that borders on poetry. It gets high and thundering when he wants to punctuate something. It gets gravelly and backfires like a Mustang warming up when he’s starting to stack lines. He laughs at himself; excited and looser than anyone in the room.
How did we get to a #SoGoneChallenge being the new high point for Bigg Fatts? Well, he’s a rapper who enjoys testing the waters. Flexing bars for the sake of flexing them. Given how much he loves battle rapping in particular, Fatts chose his #SoGoneChallenge as a nod and wink to everything that tends to turn heads — social injustice, Black Lives Matter, the policing in his neighborhood and surrounding areas. All of it. It lasts only a minute or so but in that minute, everything swells up and rolls in a familiar cadence. “In the USA you innocent until you proven black/ Can we survive the tactics, hunted down by the masses/ I see everybody talkin’, who talkin’ bout action?”
It continues from there, lambasting Jesse Jackson, questioning the need for black leaders when we still have a black president and more. The video has been viewed nearly 950,000 times since its debut on August 13. It’s been commented and tagged over 2,000 times and shared over 34,000 more. It’s made everyone else in the city run in their own lanes with the song. Lyric Michelle handled it with a sense of poetry, Kane Brock took it to task twice, with the second video being mostly punchline-related. Rob Gullatte, a rapper who keeps swearing he’s retired, stretched his for two minutes. Gullatte may have the best line of them all, a man who’s battled health issues galore saying he’s “sick enough to kill an antibody.”
The #SoGoneChallenge wasn’t going to lead to a momentous shift in how Houston decided to rap for the rest of the year. On the contrary, it just dared our rappers to have a little fun for a change.
UNDERGRAVITY, Space Age Funk, Vol. 1: The Crash Landing
Fun for Undergravity is living in the past. Not in the traditional sense where one looks backwards and preens with happiness at the good times. Nope, Undergravity lives in a world of nostalgia. They plug into a world fit for 1998 Nintendo 64 graphics and a swampy Houston rap atmosphere and settle there. They’re so stuck on being part of the funk that they’ve verbally sparred with other groups about who is true to rap's nature. The type of grandstanding that was standard in the ‘90s and early aughts, where name and a rep was all a man had. Z-Ro is cut from this same cloth and on Drankin’ N’ Drivin’ he proceeded to marry that aesthetic with 2016 rap tendencies to craft arguably his second- or third best album ever. Under gravity has played around with these fleshed-out, candy-painted colors forever. On their latest album, their fun explodes into a kaleidoscope of bluesy, elbow-wide country rap tunes.
The up-and-down squelches that live on “I Don’t Need Ya” are right from the circus that Mr. Lee worked within. Even OneHunnidt chips in with an uncredited poem afterwards and most of it is dismissive rap towards one “can’t get right” woman. Adam Bomb & M.A.C. have tinkered with their idea of the funk, ‘70s washed out synths and glistening drums for years. The drums don’t approach subwoofer breaking territory but they’re enough to rattle and shake your door panel when you step out. They chop up Luther Vandross’ “Bad Boys” for “The Come Up”; sweep up bottom-out drums for a Yellowstone ode in “Scott St.”; drink in the hues of Tela’s “Sho Nuff” for “Bad”; and even flipping a little Aaliyah for “Run Tell That." No era is safe for repurposing when it comes to Undergravity, especially when wanting to marry their views with.
Crash Landing is a taste of Houston past not wanting to completely grow up. Cal Wayne, Big Pokey(!), Mike D., Doughbeezy, Mr. Wired Up, Dante Higgins and others all play a part in it. It places Undergravity in a rather unique position. While the rest of the city’s emerging neighborhood stars are touching this repetitive trap sludge born out of a mix from Memphis, Suave House and Atlanta, they’re still in their one position. “Now everybody wanna bite our style and I can’t believe it,” M.A.C. raps on “Southern Ways." He’s right. And stubborn as he and Adam Bomb may be, their block hasn’t changed. The world around them may be changing and moving away from a clear definition. It’s fine with them. At least they’ll never compromise to fit in with anybody.
Houston rap’s idea of fun sometimes is just rapping for sport. Jay-Von decided it was perfect not to drop one mixtape over classic instrumentals; he doubled down by dropping a second one over today’s radio playlist. Mark Drew issued out a quick strike true to his nature as a jokester and capable songwriter with his Seasons EP. Rob Jay & Hollywood FLOSS carried the T.H.E.M flag into two separate EPs that played to their strengths: Rob as a pure rapper, FLOSS as an artist forever with a chip on his shoulder. Everybody’s just waiting for the next step or time to have fun while rapping.
SONGS OF THE WEEK
LYRIC MICHELLE, “Timothy”
Start any “Tiimmy Turner” freestyle with Chloe & Halle’s version and you have a winner. The strings and cutting gloom that make up the original is a perfect template for Lyric to get, well...darker.
WES BLANCO, “Work”
Wes Blanco may not even know anybody named Chachie, but rapping about his own ghosts works. “Work” puts him in a void where his only satisfaction is found watching everybody around him win, legally or illegally.
WOLFE de MÇHLS, “Mother Don’t Mind”
Soon the Mo City producer/musician is going to emerge from the dark shadows that made him create “Mother Don’t Mind” and speak. When he was Ricquo Jones, he crafted airy, night-enveloping records (“Paper Moon,” anyone?)
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ROCKY BANKS, “Funny Guy”
Either you’re going trap or you’re going isolated chimes and horror-movie soundtrack. Rocky Banks isn’t channeling Joe Pesci in Goodfellas, he's asserting his will over 8-bit synths and spooky electronica.
TRILL SAMMY & DICE SOHO, “No Reason”
Tour all summer, drink all summer. Both Sammy & Dice Soho locally get the same type of disdain collected by a large chunk of the XXL's Freshman Class, merely because of rap patterns and simply being nowhere near 22. Yet them basically bathing in youthful spoils thanks to Cardo Got Wings? Perfect riding music.