New Book Explores Houston Hip-Hop's Fertile Roots

Ed. note: Before now, the history of Houston hip-hop has existed in the archives at Rice University (Swishahouse) and the University of Houston, as well as the songs themselves. But someone has finally written it all down in book form.

Maco L. Faniel is a Houston native, hip-hop fan and graduate of both Texas Southern University and Texas A&M University now pursuing his doctorate at Rutgers. His first book, Hip-Hop In Houston: The History and the Legacy, was published last month by the South Carolina-based The History Press, and will be available at Cactus Music Saturday, where Faniel will sign copies of Houston Hip-Hop starting at 1 p.m. He was gracious enough to allow Rocks Off to publish the excerpt from the book's introduction that follows.

Although I have never lived in a world without hip-hop, its sounds did not dominate my elementary years. During those years, I grew to love the music that played on my mother's car radio and home stereo: funk, soul, "downhome blues" and R&B. Her songs were special to me because they were special to her.

Unknowingly, she taught me much about life through her music selections. She was my first teacher of context because of her constant beckoning to make sure that I understood the meanings of certain songs.

Three songs hold special significance: the Temptations' "Treat Her Like a Lady," Bobby Womack's "Woman's Gotta Have It" and the Commodores' "Zoom." She used the first two songs to teach me how to love a woman, because she wanted to make sure that I did better at it than the men that had failed her. The last song was her way of teaching me how to hope beyond momentary despair.

Even though hip-hop began to make noise in the '80s, it was still in its nascent years, too young for my mother, a young adult in Houston. I can't say that she hated hip-hop; she just never caught on to the culture. Therefore, I only heard hip-hop when hanging with cousins or intermittently on local black radio stations or MTV.

This all changed between 1988 and 1992. For a brief period, I had an older stepsister and stepbrother that both had access to rap music. On television, I was able to see hip-hop more because of Yo! MTV Raps and the Arsenio Hall Show. I also received my first stereo and Walkman, which gave me control over the music that I listened to.

At ten, I received my first rap tape, MC Hammer's Please Hammer, Don't Hurt 'Em. I learned the lyrics to the Geto Boys' classic song "Mind Playing Tricks On Me," which hit the airwaves in 1991.

In that same year, 97.9 The Boxx (KBXX) launched in Houston as a radio station devoted to hip-hop and R&B music. In 1992, I went to my first rap concert to see Kriss Kross perform. At the end of 1991, my mother began a three-year separation that eventually resulted in a divorce. As a result, she had less time and energy to pay attention to my daily activities; and I had more time to develop my own tastes in music, listen to music that she did not necessarily approve of and get into adolescent troubles.

Story continues on the next page.

My mother's divorce took us from Greenspoint to Acreage Homes (Acres Homes, Da 44) during the early years of the Modern Era of hip-hop (1992-97). In the summer of 1994, my friend Pistol (Craig Joe) introduced me to a distinct music form that had emerged out of the south side of Houston two to three years earlier. This music form was known as "screwed" or "chopped and screwed."

The creator of the form, DJ Screw (Robert Earl Davis Jr.) not only employed classic hip-hop DJ techniques such as mixing, scratching and backspinning but also made his style distinctive by slowing the tempo and reducing the pitch, giving the song a mellower sound and an increased focus on the lyrics. These mixtapes, known as Screw Tapes, were made on grey Maxwell cassettes that Screw sold out of his home.

Screw featured popular songs on his mixtapes and also included freestyle raps from friends and neighborhood rappers. This phenomenon quickly spread throughout Houston and to cities and towns throughout Texas and Louisiana. My friends and I listened to Screw tapes fervently for about two years.

To our Screw tapes, we added chopped and screwed mixes that were created by DJ Michael "5000" Watts from the north side of town. Like the young people who began to mimic what they heard from the hip-hop mixtapes that traveled through New York in the late 1970s and after "Rapper's Delight," we began to freestyle and make our own tapes to be greater participants in the culture. These were the budding days of a genre within hip-hop that would take the world by storm a few years later.

Though my life was consumed by the Screw phenomenon, I was also inundated with various local, regional and national sounds that made my high-school years a wonderful experience. These sounds included: UGK, Tupac, Biggie, Snoop Dogg, Bone Thugs N' Harmony, Puff Daddy, Crucial Conflict, Tela, Master P and No Limit, New Orleans Bounce and much more.

Hip-hop music, in its various forms during that time, spoke to and of my personal experiences or spoke of things that I wanted to experience to earn masculine or ghetto stripes.

At times, it was a surrogate father, teaching me lessons about life and women. I had spiral notebooks full of hip-hop lyrics that my friends and I transcribed; I partied to it, hooped to it, cleaned the house to it, washed my car to it, burst speakers playing it too loud and tried to write it and perform it.

In the summer of 1998, I entered my freshman year at Texas A&M University, and though I considered myself a fan and participator in the culture, I had a very limited hip-hop music collection. I met friends from all over the nation who were able to quote Wu-Tang, Nas, Jay Z and various other artists' music verbatim.

I knew only the radio stuff, as my own collection was full of Screw tapes, Michael Watts mixtapes and other local and regional music. Although hip-hop was now mainstream, I did not have a need to listen to hip-hop music outside of my city/region because there was so much rich music that came out of Houston and because at that time, the local radio station supported local music.


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