Oral History

Screwston, Texas

The shittiest thing about Houston Rap, the big, glossy picture book put out late last year by Sinecure Books, is that it isn't 11 million pages long. A ten-year labor of photographic love by documentarians Peter Beste and Lance Scott Walker, the book is an absolute treasure trove of snapshots capturing H-Town rap culture that instantly became a primary portrait of the city's hip-hop scene. For hardcore music and history buffs, the only disappointing part of the book is reaching the end.

The good news is that Walker has foreseen our frustrations. Last week, Sinecure released his 283-page companion piece, called Houston Rap Tapes. The new book contains more than 40 interviews that Walker conducted over the past decade with Houston hip-hop movers and shakers large and small. Many small slices of the new book's interviews were woven into the photo narrative of Houston Rap, but Houston Rap Tapes offers up the longform stories, conversations and musings Walker collected from the likes of K-Rino, Z-Ro, Lil' Troy and Paul Wall that offer a richer, deeper perspective on the city's rap culture and legacy.

"Once we started putting the pieces together, sometimes there was stuff that produced a great quote for Houston Rap, but maybe that interview doesn't read quite as well," Walker says. "Or maybe sometimes it was the opposite: There was nothing you could really pull out of an interview that could fit into Houston Rap, but the conversation was great.

"There's so much history that gets explained in just the little things that people say when they're telling stories or they're recalling things," the author continues. "And that stuff was so important because we really wanted to fill in so many of the blanks of the history."

Houston Rap Tapes fills in far more of that history from the folks who made history than any other project attempted thus far. Some of the most fascinating stories belong to the more obscure names that Walker sought out for the book.

"I think the most heartbreaking story in the book is Wood's story — Wood from the Screwed Up Click," Walker says. "He was a crack dealer at a really young age, and his home situation became a crack house. He was dealing crack to his friend's mother, and his friend was dealing crack to his mother so they weren't dealing crack to their own mothers.

"It's just an enormously heartbreaking story, but he dug himself out of it and he's built a life," Walker adds. "He's got this perspective that's so important, because it's this perspective that you just can't fathom. Most people can't fathom that something like that might happen in their lives."

Such remembrances read all the more powerfully because they're presented in each interview subject's own words. The author and his collaborators formatted the book into direct transcripts of each conversation, allowing the artist's or scenester's own unique voice to shine through clearly.

"From an editorial perspective, I wanted to keep it as bare-bones as possible," Walker says. "It's really important that this story be in the words of the people who lived it. I don't want it to be my voice. I felt that anywhere my words are appearing, somebody else's words are not appearing."

Even with more than 40 interview subjects over nearly 300 pages, there are still a lot of worthy people's words that don't appear in Houston Rap Tapes. Walker conducted nearly three times that many interviews for the project, and there were still many more local rappers, DJs, promoters and pimps who rebuffed his repeated overtures. The book is about as comprehensive a document as we're likely to get on the subject, but there's a lot left to say.

Even with the release of Houston Rap Tapes, is it possible that we could read still more of the author's stockpile of tales in the near future?

"It's not my final word yet," Walker says. "There's too much out there, and there are too many stories that didn't get to be told — of people I was never able to track down, but I have access to them now because of the fact that the books have gotten so much notoriety. I think it would be a drag if this was my last word. I've definitely got more to say, but how it's going to actually manifest, we'll have to see."

Since Walker and Beste began their chronicle ten years ago, enough has changed in the Houston rap scene to fill another book, with digital file-sharing and social media helping to spread the H-town sound across the globe. With the local hustle shifting from CDs sold out of the trunk to downloadable mixtapes and DIY YouTube videos, Walker says it will be interesting to see how local artists respond to new media and distribution.

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Nathan Smith
Contact: Nathan Smith