Houston Music

#NewHoustonRap: The New Class Has Arrived

As of last week, a song is already in the pole position for “hottest song in Houston." It belongs to DJ XO, Rizzoo Rizzoo and Sosamann. What makes this particular song distinctive is how very little XO and Rizzoo Rizzoo actually contribute, but their parts are arguably the most memorable. “Off the Lot” is pretty much a celebratory “stand up for your hood” anthem. It’s also a straightforward musical device to remind people why Rizzoo Rizzoo does for brevity what Quentin Tarantino movies do in terms of length. It also asserts that DJ XO will have a song beyond the Propain-assisted “How We Do."

XO is already positioned rather nicely. The DJ/producer/sometime rapper has secured a tour spot on Kirko Bangz’s upcoming Playa Made tour that concludes at Warehouse Live in April. What XO does is what a lot of current Houston rappers are doing. He's cooler than the rest; maximizing on certain aspects of cool is the new Houston rap wave. It can be viral and involve dances (T-Wayne’s “Nasty Freestyle,” “Swing My Arms”). It can ride typical lifestyle aesthetics of sleepy, almost narcoleptic production (Tedy Andreas’s “Mercedes”). It can also be hyperactive, straight-to-the-point trap rap (Trill Sammy’s “Cut It”). All of it is made by relatively young men who have decided that, opposed to dwelling on the shit surrounding them, they’re going to flip it and instead mask themselves with excess, selecting designer drugs and an inflated idea of self.

When XO released Reloaded toward the tail end of 2015, most of it played as atmospheric rap, the background of a cool scene in Heat or a discussion in Reservoir Dogs. He’s mostly singing on Reloaded, but not necessarily in a true singing voice. It’s mucked up, deeply rinsed autotune in which XO does Bryson Tiller without any of Tiller’s misconceptions about being an R&B singer. “Cause I Let Her” is about control and balling out, “Alief Baby” reaffirms what “Spice Lane, Texas that’s the block” already outlined. “Show the World” is cocksure and ready for prime time. What XO has seen in Alief, the hub of southwest Houston that overnight became a swarm of police tape, pointed fingers, bodies and street-gang wars, all translates to blowing money and celebrating life.

It’s not overly impressive, as other acts of recent memory have taken life's ills and instead used excessive rushes of life to escape and numb the pain. Florida’s Kodak Black is a prime example of this, but Boosie Badazz is probably standing on a mountaintop as the king. Nobody truly runs with despair as a montage like Z-Ro, though, which is what makes Reloaded more of a hedonistic, at times self-produced exercise in living in spite of something. It's not a pensive cry for help; it’s a prolific exercise in hearing one man from Alief invite you to share the same sense of joy and smugness that he does.

Like XO, Dice Soho has spent much of his time in Houston twisting his blue-dyed dreads and trying to align himself with everyone. Much like a solid politician or general, Soho has recorded with The Sauce Factory, Nate DaVinci and, most recently, Trill Sammy. His and Sammy’s chemistry as two skinny kids with plenty of cockiness, like they're the Splash Brothers, has led to a Texas tour for the two of them. The response to Dice's 0 Degrees tape has been less about who he’s been previously aligned with and more about what he’s actually presenting.

“Just Watch," the duo cut he and Sammy created with Fredonem, is nearing a million individual plays on Soundcloud; the video is doing the same on YouTube. “Money Anthem," also a Trill Sammy-featured cut, has only 8,000 plays on Soundcloud. This isn’t a complete indicator of people being more in love with the A-B rhyme scheme of “Just Watch,” but it is an indicator of how people react to simplicity done right. 0 Degrees packs itself with solid guest features, some of whom are cutthroat on every record (WhyJae on “Woke Up”) and some of whom are too damn casual to ignore (Paul Wall for “Come N Go”). True to his words on “Just Watch," much of 0 Degrees revolves around Dice packing bars and lines with enough braggadocio to try to inspire someone to live like him. He doesn’t dive deep into pensive thoughts often, despite “Understand,” and although the June the Jenius track offers brief moments of normalcy and the search for temporary isolation. As a rapper, he doesn’t shift anywhere out of a mode where every road near him except for one is potentially paved wth gold.

That’s kind of the road of the new school. Some, like WhyJae, flex incredibly with verbal barbs on his solo cut “Understand.” In the case of Tedy Andreas, he can show all of his J.Cole influence on cuts like “City Limits." Andreas’s last tape, Mad Illusions, arrived six months ago and even though he spends most of his time now between Los Angeles and Houston, he’s still an emerging name on the circuit. He may have never performed a major show at Warehouse Live, but some promoter is going to push for it. They’re going to want to do a massive show with all the new kids, those who flex personality and a vibe and those who can seriously rap until they can’t breathe anymore. And somebody is going to win.

Long as all parties don’t treat it like a hobby.

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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