Majestic Hotel is the record that Kyle Hubbard never thought you’d hear. Hell, this time last year, odds seemed pretty set against it ever existing at all. After struggling mightily to come up with a worthy successor to his critically acclaimed 2012 debut, You’re Not That Special, Hubbard had given up. The young MC’s writer’s block was so bad that he actually skipped town, moving away to the hip-hop wasteland of Arkansas, enrolling in school and vowing to put his fledgling rap career in the rearview for good.
Turns out, a little time and distance was all he needed. Far away from the pressures, frustrations and potholes of big-city life, Kyle Hubbard’s creative juices began flowing once more. Out of nowhere, he dropped the song “Rip the Page,” featuring Truck North, back in January. But that was just a taste. On September 14, the rapper releases Majestic Hotel, the new EP whose title is meant to reflect his rejuvenating vacation from the Houston hip-hop scene.
Hubbard says that the new disc is something of a direct counterpoint to the much-admired You’re Not That Special, containing an older, wiser and downright fresher perspective than the one he delivered back in 2012.
“A lot of the stuff I’m dealing with on this record, I dealt with on You’re Not That Special; it’s just that I’m not a stupid fucking kid anymore,” the rapper says. “It’s been a few years and a lot of life experience, and I feel like that’s the big difference. It’s been an evolution.”
Another big difference? Majestic Hotel might be the first Houston rap record written and recorded entirely in Arkansas. Hubbard’s frequent collaborator, Djay Cas of Charleston, S.C., produced all of the tracks, and the MC traveled from Hot Springs to Conway, Ark., once a month to lay down his rhymes. The arrangement led to a fruitful working relationship with Greenwood Studio engineer Chad Wigley, whom Hubbard says was instrumental in helping to push his sound forward.
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“[Wigley] was super dope,” the rapper says. “He actually had a big impact. He loves the music, and he’s without a doubt the best engineer I ever worked with. We had a shorthand almost immediately, and he just knew what I needed without me even having to verbalize it.
“The first song I recorded, he said, ‘You really rap a lot. You’re really dense,’” Hubbard continues. “I was like, ‘Yeah, that’s true. I am really dense.’ He said, ‘It’s almost like a wall of text. You should try to incorporate a more melodic flow and play with pauses.’ I was always under the impression that you should rhyme as much as possible. He told me to play with pauses, and I took it to heart. It changed the entire way that I wrote, and I feel like I’m more musical than I’ve ever been before.”
Indeed, Majestic Hotel features a more confident and practiced sense of phrasing from Hubbard, offering Cas’ beats more room to breathe and stretch out under his verses than on some of his previous work. It’s a subtle change that lends a strong sense of wistfulness to tunes like “Going Back to Houston,” and, especially, Hubbard’s favorite track on the disc — the spacey “Not Without a Scar,” which features a terrific hook from local psych-pop prince Chase Hamblin of Chase Hamblin and the Roustabouts.
“I’ve admired Chase forever,” Hubbard says. “His music is right up my alley, and he does it so well. He’s definitely one of my idols in the Houston music scene. When I got that beat from Djay Cas, I knew that I needed some help with the hook, and Chase was my first choice. I was really confident in my verses and the work that Djay Cas did, because approaching Chase Hamblin, you want to come with something that’s worth his time. I felt that this song was that.”
Hamblin wasn’t the only local mover and shaker that felt Majestic Hotel was worth his time, either. Ruben Jimenez, better known as longtime scene fixture DJ BabyRoo, heard the record and decided to make it the very first release under his new record label, Roologic Records.
“DJ BabyRoo is a true OG in the hip-hop scene, and he’s seen so many people come and go,” Hubbard says. “He’s seen people who were hot and then fuck it up somehow: He’s seen it multiple times. I think he just got sick of playing on the sidelines, really, and he wanted to take a much bigger role in the scene that he’s helped cultivate and that he loves so much. So, he’s gathered up a roster of artists that he has faith in, and he’s put in a lot of effort behind us to try and get us more exposure. We’re trying to become a community within the community.”
The wider Houston music community will get its first taste of Majestic Hotel this Saturday at Cactus Music, where Hubbard will perform the new EP in its entirety. The rapper is planning to make as big a splash as possible when the record drops, and his eagerness to make a strong push into the Houston rap pantheon is palpable. After all, Kyle Hubbard never thought he’d get the chance to rock a stage again. He has every intention of making good on all of the help he received on his way back to town.
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“I want it to matter to people,” the rapper says. “With the Roologic thing, I want to set a good foundation for my friends. I want them to be able to build further on something that I built. I want to make everybody that’s put effort behind me proud — the people who never stopped believing in me, even when I didn’t believe in myself.
“Basically, I want to make them significantly proud and go out and tear some shit down—even though I don’t really know what that looks like for me,” Hubbard adds, slipping into his trademark introspection. “What’s my ultimate goal? I really don’t know. I guess, make money and fuck bitches!”
Yep: pretty safe to say, then, that Kyle Hubbard is back in love with hip-hop. Welcome home, kid.
Kyle Hubbard will perform Majestic Hotel for the first time at 1 p.m. Saturday at Cactus Music, 2110 Portsmouth.