Houston Music

Kyle Hubbard’s Holiday Jam Explores an Abandoned Arkansas Hotel

Typically, you don’t see a lot of old, abandoned hotels in rap videos — and if you do, there’s probably somebody twerking in there. But local MC Kyle Hubbard found inspiration in the ruins of a long-defunct getaway thousands of miles away. He named his new album after it. And now he wants to take you inside.

You see, back in 2014, Kyle Hubbard felt like his rap career was in ruins, too. The talented rapper had won plenty of admiration and acclaim with his full-length debut, You’re Not That Special, only two years prior. But his trajectory in the Houston rap scene seemed to have stalled out. Even as he was playing bills with hip-hop royalty the likes of Slick Rick, Hubbard found himself creatively stymied, stuck with a paralyzing bout of writer’s block. As the pressures and frustrations mounted in his attempt to come up with a worthy followup to his popular debut, there was only one idea rattling around in his head: Kyle Hubbard had to get the fuck out of town.

Like, way out of town. In an effort to put hip-hop behind him and start over fresh, Hubbard moved to Hot Springs, Ark., to give small-town college life a try. Almost immediately, he found a kindred spirit there. It just wasn’t a person.

“The Majestic Hotel was this grand old hotel in downtown Hot Springs,” Hubbard says. “Basically, back in the ‘20s and everything, people believed that the hot springs that the town is named for had a medical value, so people would come from all over the country to get well in Hot Springs. The town was booming, and the Majestic Hotel was the result — it was super-swanky back in the day, a destination for a lot of celebrities.

“But then, everybody smartened up and said, ‘Hey, this is just hot water,’” the rapper continues. “That whole industry died, and with it, basically the entire town died.”

There was no more prominent casualty of Hot Springs’ decline than the Majestic, which crumbled away until closing for good in 2006. A month after Hubbard arrived in town, the place caught fire, drawing out half of Hot Springs to watch the old hotel go up.

“Everybody was just standing there watching this once-prestigious building succumb to the flame,” Hubbard says. “To this day, the rubble is just sitting there still, because Hot Springs does not have the resources to clean up the mess that was once this hotel. You have this open wound just sitting there, right in downtown Hot Springs.”

The blackened husk quickly became a symbol of Hubbard’s own crossroads. The Majestic was now just as burned-out and abandoned as Hubbard felt as he struggled to match his early success. The kernel of inspiration took root.

“I would pass it every single day,” the rapper says. “The concept of something once so grand being reduced to ashes, and people not even caring to clean up the mess — that was an idea I really clung to. I identified with it in a small since, because in 2012 my rap shit was going great, and then people didn’t give a shit anymore and I didn’t know how to handle it. Me and the Majestic were on the same page.”

With his creative juices once again flowing so far from the bayou, Hubbard and his longtime collaborator Djay Cas created Majestic Hotel, a revitalizing return to form that found the rapper confronting his own doubts and fears and then defeating them through the sheer love of hip-hop.

No song on the new record resonates more deeply with the spirit of the ruined hotel than his new single, “Notes in a Song”— one of the biggest, brassiest and realest tracks on Majestic Hotel.

“I wrote it at my lowest point,” the rapper says. “It’s about me accepting that there’s highs and lows, and that there’s something to appreciate about the lows. This song is kind of me trying to squeeze as much beauty out of the ugly shit as possible.”

Hubbard says he’s never been much given toward music videos, but it was the only way he could find to communicate a full sense of his experience in Arkansas.

“I knew that if I was going to make any videos off of Majestic Hotel that the Majestic Hotel was going to be the star,” he says. “A videographer in Arkansas hit me up and wanted to work with me. I figured that since he was there, he was in a position to actually make a video revolving around the hotel.

“I honestly did not anticipate them getting inside the hotel,” he adds. “No one is supposed to be inside that building! It’s boarded up. He definitely gets points for being ballsy enough to bust into that bitch and shoot in there.”

Hubbard himself was stunned when he saw the raw footage, featuring a lone tagger exploring the wreckage that once symbolized Hot Springs’ success. The exploration is fascinatingly creepy and probably not altogether legal, but no one was around to care. Everything has simply been left to rot, right in the middle of town.

Majestic Hotel breathed new life into Kyle Hubbard’s rap career, and he’d like nothing better than to see the old place restored to its former glory. A piece of him remains back in Arkansas, recorded for posterity in the rhymes on his new record. But the haunting “Notes in a Song” video represents his final trip back to that place, he says.

“The reason I wanted to do the video is because I feel I’ve reached a point, artistically, where the Majestic Hotel season of my career is coming to an end,” Hubbard says. “That’s not to say I won’t still promote the album and perform the songs, but creatively, I’m closing that chapter. I’m content with what I did with it, but I’m all the way back home in Houston, now. It’s time to tell a new story.”

And so, Majestic Hotel will be boarded up for good this time. But it’s still with us, ready to be explored. 
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Nathan Smith
Contact: Nathan Smith