"We'll do the pause, then when we're ready..."
What if I told you that Houston rap is much more than slow, loud, and bangin', syrup-dripped, gangster, pimped-out, and/or trill? That a certain rap crew from Houston that headlined SXSW's very first official hip-hop showcase in 1994, and has performed and successfully toured nationally and internationally (with De La Soul, Talib Kweli, and the Black Eyed Peas), and whose members continue to be instrumental in the city's rich musical tradition? That their debut LP Universal (2001) is perhaps one of the best Houston rap albums, ever?!
Such a group existed, and, at times, exists still. I'm talking about K-OTIX, a.k.a. The Legendary K.O. Lead by the MC duo of Micah Nickerson (Mic or Big Mon) and Damien Randle, backed by beat master and DJ Russell "The ARE" Gonzalez, K-OTIX took what they learned from the East Coast sound and integrated a pensive delivery combined with the grittiness absorbed from living in the tough H-Town environment of the mid-'90s through the early '00s.
They represent the other side of the rap game, an inverse vision of hip-hop as a whole during their lifetime in the H. Whereas the timeline of "traditional" rap was jolted loose by West Coast gangster rap, in Houston, the norm was gangster, and backpack rap was its nemesis. These guys didn't rap about selling drugs and banging in the streets, they were the type that would hit you with metaphors and similes and raps about "Mind Over Matter", who would "rather be the un-signed hype, than the type to be the un-hyped signed."
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I caught up with two of the three members as they rehearsed for their first show as a trio in over ten years, tonight at Fitzgerald's with the Pharcyde. As Damien fleshed out the set list, Russell interjected his own visions of what the group should perform and presented the what-ifs that often occur at shows. Surrounded by a rap nerd's treasure trove of vinyl and cassette tapes (and Gonzalez's gold records awarded for his work with Big L and Mos Def), the possibility of this being the group's last show lingered in the air.
I'm ashamed to say that I hardly knew (and still know very little) anything about K-OTIX. And its not just me. My quick, unscientific survey of the Houston's hip-hop heads I have on speed dial yielded very little. It was more of a ghost story than anything else, the familiar "I think I heard about them once a long time ago" or "I wrote about them... once." But as I sat there, observing the team bob their heads and groove to their beats, the same they've done since the '90s, it became clear that K-OTIX, although dormant, would not be silent.
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Their tracks force the listener into a rhythmic head-bob, with sounds so smooth they glide over your head like silk, but funky to the point your brow furrows, you bite your bottom lip, and expose your scariest stink-face. The opening few bars of "World Renown" alone are a masterpiece.
"They were the anchors of the 'other side' of Houston hip-hop, performing at the Hip Hop Coffee Shop, The Wax Museum, Engine Room, those type of spots back in those days," says Texas rap journalist and promoter Matt Sonzala. "They had Southern drawls but did not sound like typical Southern rap. More like classic hip-hop, and were classified in Houston as being "East Coast," but they had their own sound."
And there you go. Get out and see them tonight at Fitz, where they will do the only thing they know: Be Legendary.
K-OTIX (The Legendary K.O.) performs along with Twenty Eleven and The Pharcyde tonight at Fitzgerald's, 2706 White Oak. Doors open at 7:30 p.m.
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