New Houston Rap/R&B: Peek Inside Jack Freeman's Spotless Mind

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Last week's Houston Press Music Awards marked an intriguing moment in local rap music. That night, Doughbeezy won Song of the Year, besting plenty of acts who have tugged at Houston's ear at the Continental Club, Warehouse Live, Fitzgerald's, or any other venue where beer is served at a premium and an amplifier can be found nearby. It was also the night that for some strange reason or another, Devin The Dude was crowned Best Solo Rapper, even if he stood in a field where, in terms of legacy, he was a giant among upstarts.

Z-Ro, who has never applied to the school of Machiavellian tactics, instead presenting plenty of blustering lyrics poised to cave your face in if you do him wrong, took home Video of the Year. Space-funk oddities The Outfit, TX, who bend corners from here to Dallas on a frequent basis, won Best Rap Group.

Some things felt the same -- people being really, really happy for Doughbeezy; perpetual underdogs like Twenty Eleven, Undergravity and Dirty N' Nasty proud of their accomplishments minus victory -- but a lot felt different, considering that some of the acts even listed either hadn't recorded a full-length project the entirety of 2014. (Note: the HPMA eligibility period was July 2013-June 2014.)

This can only mean two things. One, people have gotten used to certain acts permeating the Houston underground and are so familiar with them that it seems pointless to look elsewhere. Two, those same people can still be a bit ignorant in discovering acts who actually did work.

On to the new music:

MIXTAPE OF THE WEEK: Jack Freeman, Spotless Mind (Side A) In June, Jack Freeman released Bliss, a teaser EP that cascades between thoughts of vibrant bravado ("Mr. Incredible"), guitar-licked funk that rides woozy blues like an expanded thought from his Lynnie's Juke Joint project ("Ridin") and special grooves that hint at something a bit bigger ("Elements").

Its purpose was served twofold: getting Freeman back in the groove of releasing music in chunks as opposed to a pitter-patter of leaks via social media, and gear people to let his brown-liquor-tinged vocals take them through his own Spotless Mind.

But for some reason, 30 minutes of Jack Freeman still feels crudely short. That's what Side A of Spotless Mind encompasses, digging into more moments where Freeman and main producer Chris Rockaway can ebb their way into their own takes on mid-'90s groove from Maxwell's Urban Hang Suite, the acoustic drive found with James Fauntleroy and even plenty of whiny, emotive guitars that duck around mimicking slices of work by The-Dream and Tricky Stewart.

Spotless Mind isn't rushed, almost manicured to death in giving people an accurate view into Freeman's constantly insomniac mind. Sex, relationships and any variable between the two are what is displayed by the singer here, without any of the begging and patronizing many an R&B singer has been guilty of doing. Freeman, by all accounts, is a singer whose pen is getting stronger with every song, but his raw vocals will forever win him over to women and keep him as a weapon for men to use against said women.

Best Song: "50 First Dates": This record is a bit of a lie. It leads off with Rockaway's acoustic guitar before implementing a guitar solo, some standard kick-drums and Freeman's scatting over the course of four minutes. It's an honest record on a project that seems filled with them, but this might be the most acceptably saccharine of them.

"Can't Believe" is a strong challenger, a breakup record that shifts moods and tempo from love to angst all thanks to friend interference. "Act like you never loved me, let's be honest babe/ Don't lie to yourself," he croons, looking any 12-step program's acceptance level dead in the face.

Frank Loot, "Callin' Shots" In Alief, the small section of Southwest Houston where gang violence is interwoven with community pride, there are at least two known rap figures making noise. Maxo Kream is street, unapologetic and unflinching, whereas at age 30 Rob Gullatte is the savvy veteran of those same corners who may seem like an OG to the kids. Other talented individuals who rose through Alief number director Danny Ocean and filmmaker Damilare Sonoiki, but rapper Frank Loot wants to be next on that list.

"Callin Shots" is pretty much bits and pieces of Alief in a nutshell, as producer Oxy Beats doesn't let off the throttle with thunderous drums and erstwhile chords. Loot makes it all sound nonchalant, even if none of his rapped-about riches came easy. It's something else to throw on Houston's more than believable chest-thumping macho rap shelf.

Hollywood FLOSS feat. Trademark Da Skydiver & Ro Ransom, "Always Grind (Remix)" By the time I finish sneezing, Hollywood FLOSS will have released another track. "They look like us but they don't keep it trill," he raps on the remix to "Always Grind" with Ro Ransom and Trademark Da Skydiver. A bar dedicated to Ernest Givens not only shows how old FLOSS might be behind all these cuts, but how much people forget to rap about Haywood Jeffires, Cris Dishman and the other great Oilers from that '93 squad.

Story continues on the next page.

Q. Guyton feat. XO Vegas, "Beamer Life" Guyton calls this "a movie." Well, "Beamer Life" is accurate by that account, another mini-caper that spotlights a MMA fight is as well as plenty of cops with cameras and Beamers. XO Vegas operates like a hammerhead shark trying to eat up everything in sight while Guyton tries to rap into warp speed near the opening verse, but it sounds funny. Doesn't knock off from the full execution of the video, though.

Lil Ray feat. Kirko Bangz, "Hit It" I'm utterly convinced that Beanz N Kornbread heard Art of Noise's "Moment In Love", stripped it down to a xylophone and a concert of drums and told Lil Ray, "This is a hit." That's the bare-bones thought about "Hit It," a female-friendly single where Ray is asking to play off consistent lady killer Kirko Bangz. Or in other words, force people who don't necessarily think you can rap for the ladies to believe you can rap for the ladies.

Brando writes about Houston music to death, right here and as editor-in-chief of dayandadream.com. Follow him on Twitter at @_brandoc.


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