Houston Music

New Houston Rap: Propain Channels 'Rocky' For 'Against All Odds'

Propain likes to work within OutKast's old release method. Release a project one year, tour off of it the next, and so on and so forth. Then again, that’s Chris Dudley’s nature for recording, period. He walks into a recording booth and tries to throw the weight of the world on his shoulders and literally rap it off. He gasps, he yells, he fights with his words the same way Holly Holm uses a jab. Fury is what makes Propain a good rapper. His ability to transform the idea of Hiram Clarke as a neighborhood and breeding ground for success in the face of adversity from day zero is what makes him a great rapper.

Last Tuesday, Propain released Against All Odds. It’s a 14-track tape that comes two years after Ridin’ Slab, which came two years after Dangerous Minds. By that logic, the next Propain tape will arrive in 2017 and will be appropriately named for a given time in his life. At present, he’s a father to a little girl who looks so much like him and could probably give him buckets on the court. He’s also still using that gruff, country-boy demeanor to get a few things off of his chest. All of the energy and temperament for Against All Odds is set up in the opening track, a triumphant horn arrangement from G&B (who produced a bulk of the tape) and Bro Dini.

“Soundtrack for the survivors,” sums up what Against All Odds means. And for him, it's offering middle fingers to Donald Trump while also thanking his daughter for giving him patience. Out of his class of rappers, his peers if you will, Propain has been the one to guide a rather determined, almost centered focus into radio success. “Say I Won’t” and “Two Rounds” couldn’t be any more different from one another, and yet both reside in the pantheon of great Propain songs. One is about his constant status as an underdog. The other is about sex with a woman and unlike a few rappers (read: a lot), he can at least run up and state rather plainly his emotions and feelings at the time. He can rank on those talking a big game but deliver empty (“Where It's At,” with a choice B.A.P.S sample). He can play the battle of the sexes and find himself comforted (“Complicated,” with Chay$e) or he can find himself stuck in the middle of a situation he knows he has no business in and yet temptation says otherwise.

If you gauge reviews on social media, “2:45” is the obvious choice for favorite song amongst Propain’s fans. Because it displays not only vulnerability from the rapper where he can’t be completely guarded, it retells a story plenty of men have dealt with. Cheating in a relationship is one thing yet men have such a warped idea of it that it’s quite humorous. Pro, at least from his side deals with the problems of his lady by running to the arms of another. However, he pauses when even considering the same act being done to him and how he could react. It’s not just a great, believable concept; it makes for a pretty worthwhile song. In a nutshell, Against All Odds is Propain’s two main personality traits battling against one another. There’s some conflict here and there, but it’s not as if the rapper is donning split personalities in name of fulfilling a concept.

When I asked Pro about his mindset recording Against All Odds, he kept it relatively brief and simple. “Honestly, I don’t know exactly what made the mixture of songs like that,” he said. “Probably because I was in a relationship [the] majority of the recording and was coming out of it towards the end. But female songs are kinda my strength other than the vulnerable records.

“I just wanted to grow to a more diverse listener.”

As meticulous as his recording process is, Pro enjoys combing through sounds that match his moods, like the sullen late-night crawl of “2:45” from G&B and Soundmob. Or the soul-brother chops from Donnie Houston on “Respect It,” also with Sauce Walka. That Pro loves women is evident on “Queen” and at other dashing moments, such as the reworked-for-crossover-appeal “You On You” with Letoya Luckett. He also fights the fight for underdogs by utilizing the same chip on his shoulder you read about in books about a hero willing to run on morals and self-preservation to see victory. “1995," with Z-Ro twisting up a hook over ESG’s “Swang & Bang” is celebratory and anecdotal. “Minority” with Doeman, “Respect It,” and the retread of Slim Thug’s “All I Know” bring in all the angst and anxiousness of wanting to see something different. Every Propain tape is about life, the little victories and the constant climb towards success. He’s forever the underdog because that’s how he motivates himself, and how he keeps himself humble as shit.

It’s also how he powers Against All Odds to be worthy of yet another possible Best Project award.

Amber London, Life II Death
When you release free tracks for your fans to gobble up, you’re literally holding them hostage — that’s the general nature of Amber London’s release schedule lately. The self-proclaimed troublemaker from the Southwest has kept her all-girl posse close and her faceless enemies even closer, mostly for target practice. Whatever hue she’s in mentally has yielded to arguably her darkest tape yet on Life II Death, a loose, lo-fi party where London’s main mode of attack is to hit pressure points and walk away with a smile.

The easiest take to deliver on Amber London is that she’s the most prolific female, an enigma with a tenacity to try and strike fear into her listeners by being as hard as she can be. She’s also a ‘90s baby, hogtied to a bit of ideology where DIY production from her Raider Klan family works for her. So there’s no need to look at Amber London as anything other than a razor-tooth rapper, because that’s what she wants to be — forever.

Escapism for London can be found throughout Life II Death, utilizing personal moments from her life to rummage through a ton of atmospheric drums and kneecap hitting snares. London is just throwing bombs throughout the tape, bouncing and riding along “What Chu Gon’ Do” as if she’s riding shotgun to a drive-by. The best moment of Amber being well, Amber? “Addicts” where she and Spaceghostpurrp hang around a sleepy, purposefully screwed-up track where she affirms that she wants to get high, every damn day. It saunters like a zombie from The Walking Dead and she just outlines who she makes certain music for.

Just know; she’s probably the Beanie Sigel of her clique. If Roc-A-Fella Beans taught you anything, you get down or you lay down when asked.

BeatKing feat. Ken Randle, Kirko Bangz & Rico Love, “Keisha (Remix)”
We’ve already discussed BeatKing’s 3 Weeks album at length but here’s the remix video to “Keisha” that originally couldn’t make BET Jams because of too much ass. We’d like to think BeatKing was far too honest about girls sleeping with big dudes in the winter.

Hoodstar Chantz feat. Sleepy G, “Jump Shot”
We’re getting close to that time of the year where Hoodstar Chantz throws a birthday concert for himself and proceeds to discuss more shit-talk than the year prior. It’s probably going to hit harder than what J.J. Watt told Andy Dalton on Monday night but still, talking cash-money shit is Hoodstar Chantz's thing. Iceman Chamberlain throws him a piano-laden alley-oop for Chantz and Sleepy G to discuss balling on “Jump Shot." Again, Chantz Smith is in his element, right down to the ‘90s fashion and Tommy boxers. But seriously, when’s the Facemob debut coming?

Rizzoo Rizzoo, “Splash”
If we’ve learned anything about the Sauce Factory and in particular Rizzoo Rizzoo, we’ve learned one is a release-a-tape-a-month assembly line of trap-rap and the other is an onomatopoeia machine who will literally spout off a number of things that could all be a chorus. “Splash” for example is where RIzzoo Rizzoo goes full blown, “fuck actually rapping, you’re going to get hype off chants and the beat." Attach a colorful video to match and we’re off and running. I swear if Sauce Walka and Rizzoo Rizzoo even attempt to try and out-charisma one another, there’d be too damn much to deal with.

Sauce Walka feat. Trae Tha Truth & Sosamann, “Spill a Little Sauce”
Without digging into too much politics, TSF’s latest track “Spill a Little Sauce” is monumental, though the city may not celebrate it like that. For a time, ABN operated as the bridge between the city’s youth, a unifier of young men who’d done dirt in the street and wanted to come clean. Now that banner belongs to TSF and Sauce Walka, dreamer and partial antagonist to a few people, has to lead under it. “Spill a Little Sauce” may contain plenty of shit-talk from DJ Voo, but the real joy is when Walka follows up Trae Tha Truth’s rap noir with a tale of his own, discussing trapping out of a Red Roof Inn and ordering pizzas to survive with Sancho Saucy.
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Brandon Caldwell has been writing about music and news for the Houston Press since 2011. His work has also appeared in Complex, Noisey, the Village Voice & more.
Contact: Brandon Caldwell