Kyle Hubbard is a Houston rapper. He plays cool shows at cool venues here, and it’s almost always a really cool bill. Houston is the place that accepted him as an artist. It’s where his rap career began and will someday end, probably a long time from now.
But he also reps Arkansas pretty damn hard.
That’s because Kyle Hubbard is a man of two worlds. He’s been poppin’ in Houston for years now, dating back to the release of his debut record, You’re Not That Special, back in 2012. It’s his home and his place of business. But Arkansas is where his family stays. It’s where his gal and her kids stay; it’s where he went to school. Arkansas is home, too.
They don’t have frequent flyer miles on little, puddle-jumper airlines, but if they did, Hubbard and his lady could probably take a prop plane to Beijing and back — business class.
“There was a little airline that did direct flights from here to there, and it was cheap as fuck, you know what I’m saying?” he says. “I think me and her were the only ones buying tickets, so it no longer exists.”
That’s meant a lot of driving to see the people he loves, instead. Those long drives alone, swangin’ through the pines in his Ford Focus, gave Hubbard time and space to work on his tunes.
“I’m riding solo nine times out of 10,” he says. “When I was working on the album, the vibe was great. I write my best shit when I’m driving. I’ll loop four of DJay Cas’ beats and come up with a few bars here, a bar there. It’s an eight-hour drive, so I can chunk it off.
“When I was working on the album, that’s what the rides consisted of, completely,” he adds. “Honestly, it was the best time to write. There’s something about being in the car that’s conducive to my writing process.”
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No doubt many Houston rappers feel him there. That album Hubbard mentions is his latest, by the way—All Good Things Come. It drops officially on September 18, but the release show is tomorrow night. In a lot of ways, this record is the rapper’s boldest, most epic experiment yet, comprising soul music, opera, and live instrumentation from a slew of local talent.
“We incorporated a lot more live musicianship this time,” Hubbard says. “Not all the way, because I don’t have the budget for that. We sprinkled it in, and it goes a long way. Those are my favorite parts of the album.
“I used to have conversations like, ‘Wouldn’t it be tight if we did this? Too bad it’ll never happen,’” he continues. “Well, this time we figured it out. And when we did, it was like, ‘Holy shit!’ I always wanted to have an opera singer and a big, thematic score, and we got it. I really love how it turned out.”
One of the most different and intriguing tracks on the new record is “Last Bow,” featuring some sweet picking and choruses from Houston artist Without a Face. There’s no bass and no snare, but there are some wistful strings mixed in. It’s a song better suited to flipping through a photo album of memories than popping bottles in the club, which is kinda what Hubbard says he was going for.
“I told him, “I wanna make a cross between Green Day’s 'Time of Your Life' and Tupac’s 'Thugz Mansion,' and Without a Face was into it," Hubbard says. "What can I say, I think it worked out!”
Kyle Hubbard is a popular dude in the Houston music scene, and a lot of his talented friends turned out for this new record. You’ll also hear Hubbard’s longtime collaborators DJ Discipline and Fullmetal, Bryce Levi Perkins from Jody Seabody and the Whirls, Lyric Michelle, and T2 the Ghetto Hippie. For the release show Saturday, Hubbard is also bringing in some talent from — where else? — the Ozarks. His name is Big Piph, and if you’re a hip-hop fan who’s spent any time in Arkansas, you know what he’s about.
“We did the show together in Little Rock, and I was impressed with Big Piph right from the get-go,” Hubbard says. “He’s legit. He’s a panelist at the AC3 festival in Atlanta. He’s straight outta Little Rock — actually Pine Bluff, which is a smaller town than Little Rock. He’s created a lane for himself in one of the most obscure places. That’s all him. There was no infrastructure.”
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As much love as Kyle Hubbard shows to his people in Arkansas, his thoughts have been 100 percent with Houston the last few weeks. He was in Arkansas during Harvey, watching the disaster unfold. Seeing the images of everyday heroes pulling people out of their homes and into escape boats, Hubbard couldn’t stand the thought of coming home without a plan to help somehow. That’s why all the ticket sales on Saturday, along with all of the pre-sale proceeds for All Good Things Come, will be going to Mayor Turner’s Harvey relief fund.
“I would not have the opportunity to rap in front of people or to have people listen to my raps if not for Houston,” Hubbard says. “Arkansas likes me, but Houston is where I pop. I’m never going to have extra money except for the three-to-six-month period after I release an album. I can’t donate from my day job, because I’m scraping by. But if I have this extra income, for lack of a better term, I can do something with that.
“Selfishly, this is my only way to give back, and feel like I did something for the city that’s really done a lot for me,” the rapper adds. “They let me play the role of rapper, which is all I ever really wanted out of life.”
Kyle Hubbard celebrates the release of All Good Things Come at the Secret Group (2101 Polk) this Saturday with DJ Discipline, Big Piph and Jody Seabody and the Whirls. Doors open at 8 p.m.; $10.