For better and worse, Houston hip-hop has always been a largely regional phenomenon. But after simmering in its own funk for 30 years, its influence on the form has become practically inescapable. Not many people illustrate the spread of the city's syrupy sounds better than Blac Forest, the small-town country boy who's produced music for H-Town street veterans like K-Rino, E.S.G., DEA and plenty more.
He's not putting these beats together from a nearby hamlet such as Brenham or Cut and Shoot, mind you. This young dude working with some of Houston's best is doing his thing in the honest-to-God Black Forest, a wooded mountain range in southwestern Germany. And he's doing it better than most.
How? Why? These seemed like fair questions for the 26-year-old producer. How exactly does a guy from a little town in Germany even know who K-Rino is? We figured it was worth asking. So we did.
"I'm born and raised and also actually living in a small town near to Switzerland called Donaueschingen," says Blac Forest. "I'm a country boy for sure. My grandparents had a little farming going on back then, besides the regular job of my grandfather. I think that country lifestyle or however you want to call it -- it ́s in my blood.
"I started [producing] early because my old man been in the music business for almost 30 years as a professional," he continues. "I had access to keyboards, production software, etc., early so I could experiment as a kid a lot. But I think I really started with producing Hip Hop beats in ́99 when I was 11 or 12 years old."
As Blac Forest began to discover the joys of digital sampling, he was getting into the sort of earth-shaking hip-hop music that was making its way from the U.S. to the German market in the '90s, like Wu-Tang Clan and Jay-Z.
Then he heard Pimp C for the first time.
"I have to say Pimp C was the greatest to ever do it, I think," says Blac Forest. "He had it all: the voice, the knowledge, the skills rappin,' on the organ, on production. the first song I noticed them boys from Houston, Texas, was 'Big Pimpin'' by Jay-Z, 'cause it was big in Germany, too.
"From that stage, it took another three or four years before I became really interested in the essence of Houston Rap Culture, like DJ Screw and the Screwed Up Click, Street Military, UGK, 20-2-Life, etc.," he continues. "My long time homie named Creepmanne, who been DJing to that time, showed me the first (Screw tapes) like 'June 27th,' 'Who Next Wit Plex,' all them classics.
"From that on, I been addicted," he adds.
It's been an addiction encouraged and enabled by Optimo Ram, founder of the online station Optimo Radio and a champion of underground Houston rap. Blac Forest found a kindred spirit in Ram, who added the producer's music to the station's Houston-centric rotation and helped introduce him to the local scene.
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"Ram and me are brothers from another mother," Blac Forest says. "I was one of the first supporters of Optimo Radio when he started with it, and he supported me also with rotation on his station. He helped me a lot gettin' verses from artists , hookin' me up with artists, helpin' me shop these beats around."
The producer's latest collaboration with Optimo Radio is H2G III, the third volume in Blac Forest's "Houston 2 Germany" mixtape series featuring verses by Lil' Keke, E.S.G., KB da Kidnappa and Kyle Hubbard. The languid beats crackle with the undeniable soul that's been the cultural bridge connecting Blac Forest with the Houston sound: it's not appropriation, it's participation.
"I think Houston got its very own lifestyle and also a very own style of music," the producer says. "A lot of records produced back then like Don ́t Mess Wit Texas by Keke or the DEA album had that chilled, laid-back, feelin'- good music. A lot of Rhodes, wavy synthesizers, and fat bass for the trunk. I think that was the reason I wanted to produce music with artists from Houston."
Blac Forest says that the German hip-hop scene doesn't quite know what to do with his swangin'-and-bangin' sound. If the history of local hip-hop's creeping influence is any indication, they'll probably come around eventually. In the meantime, Blac Forest is hard at work filling the demand for cold beats and gospel piano right here in his home far away from home.
After all, an addict will go to any lengths to get his fix.
"I just want to reach people with it," he says. "I guess it should be the goal of every artist to spread the love you got for what you're doing. I'm just keepin' on what I ́m doing good -- producing new music."
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