Any story about Doeman begins and ends with southeast Houston. It’s what he’s known for two decades now. It’s where he was raised. Where he, his father and his brothers all thought boxing would be the initial path to leaving. It isn’t inked on his skin the same way the DYNA logo is. Or his goddaughter, his sister’s youngest child, who has been sketched and layered in over the past two years. But that hardscrabble place, which mixes African-Americans and a large section of Mexican-Americans, is what reared him. Where he had his first fistfights and first loves. First experiences with death.
It’s why inside Spanky’s, a southeast cornerstone on the lip of Telephone Road before you hit 610, he breaks down the demographics of southeast Houston. Or how someone he grew up with turned into a sherm head off of mixing drugs over a girl breaking his heart. “Stole a car when he was 11, bro,” he says in a reflective candor. “He’s 28 but his brain isn’t there. He’s like a child now.”
The southeast is all over Doeman’s OBE (Outer Body Experience), his third self-released project and first major tape since 2014’s The Gold Blooded LP. On that cover, he was shirtless, his face shielded, but the main focus centered squarely on his grandfather, an Army man, and a sleeve of tattoos that all held personal meaning for him.
On OBE, his hair is braided. He’s squatting in front of a rust bucket that’s more faded aqua than brown. Gold watch, gold chain, gold earrings, gold grill and a blue bandanna wrapped around his neck. It’s Chicano hard work and pride wrapped in a hard exterior. “I know people gonna look at the cover and expect some bullshit,” he says. “But once they listen to the album, they’ll realize something. They’ll realize why the cover is like that.”
At all of 21 years old, Joseph “Doeman” Gonzalez has seen an evolution. The Chavez High School graduate had known for a while that he could rap, a prodigy with wordplay and couplets that stung with the force of an Ali jab doubled by a Tyson hook. He champions J.Cole as an inspiration, one of the only two videos he has favorited on his YouTube page. The other? A Floyd Mayweather promotional video built around the aura of hard work and dedication.
He raps with the same triple intensity that was first established on his 2012 mixtape The Understatement and became fully realized with The Gold Blooded LP. The difference between the two was that The Understatement was delivered hand-to-hand, building a face-first appreciation for his fanbase. They’ve been loyal ever since. But between projects, between Gold Blooded, the Stereotypes EP that landed last February, and OBE, his mind shifted.
Dealing with fame and wanting zero outside voices, he slowly began unfollowing everyone on social media. Twitter was bare; Instagram almost a nothing space. Doeman was wiping the slate clean, starting from scratch while also fostering a community that was just as rabid for new music as it was just to see him. In Houston, heartthrobs in hip-hop don’t come around too often. For Doeman, he smiles and laughs about it, greedy about fame, greedy about getting better, greedy about enjoying the spoils of it all. “There were girls fighting at the House of Blues show,” he laughs.
But it’s also kept him grounded. Even more than a car accident almost four years ago that nearly killed him and forced him to figure out how to walk again. When we meet, it’s at Spanky’s, the neighborhood pizza place where many in southeast Houston have had their first jobs or first dates. He sits on the outside of the table, his manager, Sergio Selvera, next to him and best friend Michael “Mike C” Chavez seated next to me. Mike’s birthday is the same day as OBE’s release. Even he doesn’t care that much about it, as long as Doeman wins.
“Fuck my birthday,” he scoffs and the table laughs. “Long as I get this OBE, that’s my birthday gift.”
That gift is sprawled out over 12 tracks, each one a slow-winding story that leads to an eventual conclusion: how Doeman has come to grips with his own stature as a rapper. He details a story about how South Park Mexican spoke about neighborhood fame, and how people try to take you out over it. “If you react to anything, it's like people have a remote control on you. And for that 45 seconds or whatever,” Doeman explains, “they got you. So you just avoid it. Cause it ain’t good for you.”
“If you react to anything, it's like people have a remote control on you. And for that 45 seconds or whatever,” Doeman explains, “they got you. So you just avoid it. Cause it ain’t good for you.”
The privacy behind the album has not only made Doeman refocus his recording process, it has even forced him to treat his music like therapy. In January 2015, a friend of his was shot and killed outside of Bombshells by an off-duty police officer. Another friend was shot and killed months later. To him, it's beyond microwaved news — it’s people he knew, who took up the block party for neighborhood functions. A lot of it gets funneled into OBE, but his heritage, the same one he carried with him as a relative newcomer with a chip on his shoulder on his first tape, The Understatement, that will stick with him regardless.
“I’m a Mexican rapper, but you know that soon as you see me,” he says in regards to the OBE track “American Me." He begins reciting some of the lyrics, but the audio quality of the song is crisper and defiant. On it he raps, “Mexicans mobbin’ my squad, look like we from American Me” among dog barks, police sirens and strings from Grime Knocks. “I’m trying to evolve, even with being Hispanic, I want that to evolve," he says. "I speak the same English everyone else speaks. When you listen to the whole album, you’ll get the whole shit. It’s not forced. It’s something that...I’ll be finding out more about myself. I’m ready for people to hear it.”
“I’m trying to evolve, even with being Hispanic, I want that to evolve," he says. "I speak the same English everyone else speaks. When you listen to the whole album, you’ll get the whole shit. It’s not forced. It’s something that...I’ll be finding out more about myself. I’m ready for people to hear it.”
The track following it, “B” from Daud Leon, is reflective and pensive, with dreams of making DYNA like Dr. Dre’s Aftermath label but more pain and salutations for his parents, friends, brothers and more who’ve uplifted him. “Take a walk in my shoes, homie look if I lose? Then I let my people down, my pops and mom too …”
Between Doeman, Selvera and Mike C, the three of them have helped steady DYNA, the makeshift label and merchandise boutique that has been synonymous with Doeman since 2014. When he has moved around, performing shows in Austin for SXSW or Atlanta for A3C, Mike C and Selvera aren’t too far behind him. When Mike C’s running late for the Spanky’s session, he’s carrying a Serato machine in his backpack, not just ready for what could come next DJing, but out of precaution.
“Some River Oaks boys broke into my shit,” Selvera explains about Mike C’s understood paranoia. “They got my hard drive, which has a lot of Doeman content on there. We backed everything up but yeah, I hope them River Oaks boys are happy!”
Even that cannot stop the family. Not these three who sit at the table as if they’re re-enacting scenes from the 1999 coming-of-age film The Wood. Doeman credits Sergio as the one who really put him on to Jay Z, covering him as a fan after years of hating him. Sergio barks up about an upcoming tour starting in March, more merchandise down the line, and Mike C echoes it. Their intensity about wanting the next piece of Doeman material to drop matches his, almost as if it's three bodies rapping about the Southeast rather than one. They all remember when “Jodeci” popped with Propain. Or the first beat heard from Trakksounds that turned into “Andelé." He’s personally excited about “No Limit ’91,” calling it the hardest verse on the tape.
“If you don’t like that third verse, something’s wrong with you,” he says. “I’ve been holding all of this shit in,” he remarks about OBE. “Didn’t hold a listening session or nothing. When I was writing “No Limit ’91,” I had some boys in the studio who thought the original version was ‘aight.’ I said, “Everybody get the fuck out!”
The trio laughs. “They went outside smoking, I turned into a maniac and rewrote them verses," Doeman says. "And then let them hear it. Nobody said shit about it then!”
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Mike C agrees. “That’s probably the hardest shit he’s spit so far.”
As we square up with the pizza and wings, everyone heads their separate ways. Except for Doeman, who lingers in the parking lot for a brief moment and asks me a few questions about where I’m headed next. He smiles that same boyish grin that causes his female fans to hold onto him as if he were Selena or a tejano prince. Then he nods, flicks his keys around and gets into his car. Back through the jungle of the Southeast.
Back to the home that created the experience.
Doeman’s OBE tour begins in February at Austin’s Scoot Inn and concludes March 3 at Warehouse Live. OBE is available now.