Every year I keep saying that Houston rap is in a healthy, thriving place. In some cases that's the honest truth, and in others it's a sizable lie ready to be picked apart. Yes, Houston rap is in one of the healthier spots across the country. Regional bias has forever been in Houston’s favor; cultivating fan bases in the age of the Internet and streaming has worked for plenty of local artists. The microscope to uncover so many of the acts here has expanded and, sadly, grouped them in with the rest of the world. What the Internet kicked down in terms of allowing everyone in, it also interrupted and diluted Houston rap because everybody does it.
Yet there have been plenty of stories roaming around Houston that we can’t ignore.
One, Doughbeezy released his long-awaited Reggie Bush & Kool-Aid 2, which took over a year to complete because we almost lost Doughbeezy last year. Then Doughbeezy looked at himself in the mirror, a 30-year-old father of three beautiful kids, and admitted to himself that he had failed a personal goal of his. He’s threatened to retire from creating full-length projects and only focus on remixes and singles. That sucks because Reggie Bush & Kool-Aid 2 represented a focused, charged-up and even more vicious Dough than ever before.
Two, Love & Hip-Hop Houston happened. Well, sort of happened. It shot for two days at Social Junkie off Washington and other places before pistol play shut all of that down. Was I looking forward to plopping down on the couch and live-tweeting shenanigans of people I’ve interacted with on a daily basis? Yes. Would I have felt ashamed by it? Yes. But that’s sort of the point.
Three, rappers were rapping. I don’t mean just getting in front of a stage and letting some rhymes match up and dance with one another. I mean swinging the verbal sword of Damocles and watching you pray to God that a bar wasn’t meant for you, courtesy of Doeman, WhyJae, Maxo Kream, the aforementioned Doughbeezy, Show Louis, Z-Ro and more. It didn’t matter what generation you belonged to in the timeline of Houston rap. If you harked back to the days of MacGregor Park parties of the mid-'80s with Darryl Scott (among others) or learned from a Screw tape, you had something to prove this year.
Four, we’re reeling from big losses. Houston lost MC Wickett Crickett last November and the community lost an organizer, a glue guy and one of the key influences on the rap culture at large. Then we lost MC Zin to a car crash in January, which sent a large section of the community into an emotional tailspin. I would want to argue that 2016, from the death aspect, can suck a mean one because it's contributed nothing but heartbreak this year. On that note, 2016 is like a constant montage of you getting your heart broken by good-looking people every...single...day.
But we’re in July. Time to hand out some awards for the first half of 2016.
MIXTAPE/ALBUM/PROJECT OF THE MID-YEAR: DOEMAN, Outer Body Experience
The story about Doeman, arguably southeast Houston's strongest hope for a Mexican rap star, is that he’s swinging hard for family and for self. It’s pulled him into this weird space where he can not only be political and identify with his Latino roots ("American Me"), but also shut out the world and just vent for a couple of minutes. The concept of youth, male ambition and more poured into his Outer Body Experience and made for the half year’s most captivating rap release. All bodies were covered; Dodi continually flexed his pen and kept a tape squarely to himself. “No Limit ’91” probably stands on a dais as his hardest rap moment so far. It allowed him to creep further and further into the skin of a rap king kicking down all the doors.
Furthermore, OBE is in a stacked class of excellent rap releases, including Maxo Kream’s Persona Tape and Lyric Michelle’s breakthrough Miss’Direction, where her poetic tape and progression through the highs and lows of life put her all over the place. WhyJae combined clever wordplay and light, damn near elevated off the Earth production for a 38-minute “all bars and you’ll deal with it” rap tape. Doughbeezy found his footing with RBKA2, and Show Louis delivered unto the world a rap tape that was devoid of frills or super-gangster posing. People beg for rappers like Show Louis to exist; they practically beg for the likes of Doeman & Lyric Michelle and even the clever, easily accessible pull of Doughbeezy. Dodi dug into his own history and set his foot forward, earning more than just his stripes.
Honorable Mention: WhyJae; 30MLFTI, Lyric Michelle, Miss’Direction; Doughbeezy, Reggie Bush & Kool-Aid 2; Show Louis, Love & Drugz; Guilla, Children of the Sun
MOMENT OF THE MID-YEAR: DOUGHBEEZY'S COMEBACK
He wouldn’t appreciate it being called a comeback, but believe it, Doughbeezy shutting down while in the middle of arguably his biggest moment (“I’m From Texas”) was a thing. Doughbeezy almost dying and then finding the courage to even discuss it was a thing. It was terrific and majestic and also opened him up to potential discourse and freedoms. As often as we admit that rap is a form of entertainment, death isn’t. When Dough raps with a scorched-Earth approach on his recent “Fuck the Laws” loosie, he’s rapid-fire and pulverizing. When he breaks down on “My Gun” in the same paranoid yet partially assured pulse that YG did on “Who Shot Me?” from Still Brazy, you feel it for him. It doesn’t hit you that we almost lost one of the names from the 2009-10 rap generation to some dumb shit. The world needs him to rap and provide by whatever legal means he can for his kids, and we’re thankful that he’s still willing to be a fun, honest rapper.
Honorable Mention: Sosamann Signs to Taylor Gang; Houston Rap Tackles Police Brutality; Sauce Walka’s Holy Sauce cover
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ROOKIE OF THE MID-YEAR: ROCKY BANKS
The FADER took attention to Rocky Banks’s In Other News, I Don’t Do Drugs Anymore earlier this year when the official video for “A Lot” premiered right on their doorstep. With zero irony attached to it, Rocky Banks has kept much of his promise from the video and the constant promotion of his LP. He’s one of the few young acts that have not only situated themselves a bit in Houston, there’s a little national love attached as well. The jury is still out on Tedy Andreas even though he damn near stole the show on WhyJae’s 30MLTFI’s “Came Up.” Yet he hasn’t dropped anything in full since “Soufside Worldwide” in April. One tape builds a buzz; constant work crafts a career.
SONG OF THE MID-YEAR: COOLEY KIMBLE, "Higher"
Given the nature of 2016, we’ve been caught in the wavelength of sadness masked with party music and hardcore chest-thumping. Even the high moments, such as X.O.’s “Off The Lot,” which is by and large the year’s biggest street single turned radio cut, are rap cuts built off of escaping something. Rizzoo Rizzoo provided the perfect in-between from X.O.’s sing-song opener and Sosamann’s erratic, spray-at-will close. And as much as “Off The Lot” captured a large swath of what 2016 has been so far, Cooley Kimble’s “Higher” has been everything in regards to 2016. The James Brown “Do It To Death” sample, the chants of freedom and pulling yourself out of the mental traps that hit every day. I hear “Higher” every day while watching the world work. “I feel liberation,” Kimble slices on “Higher.” It’s a record we need more of in 2016, from radio all the way to your Aux Cord playlist.
Honorable Mention: X.O. feat. Rizzoo Rizzoo & Sosamann, "Off the Lot”; BeatKing, “Red Lean (Freestyle)”; Maxo Kream, “Big Worm”; WhyJae, “Understand”