August 12, 2016
It’s an old and sad story whenever a talented artist checks out of H-Town to pursue new dreams, but at least such sendoffs afford us a pretty incredible going-away party now and then. For years now, Roosh Williams, the Iranian-American emcee with the belt-fed flow, has won over Houston critics and audiences with his penchant for spectacular live shows full of chummy collaboration. He’s headed for law school in L.A. now, which sucks for everyone else but him (and probably his future clients). But after Friday night’s free-of-charge sendoff show at the Safehouse, we can’t say he didn’t offer a hell of a decent good-bye.
It was Roosh’s night, but goodness, was there a lot of talent surrounding him. His closing set was preceded by a murderer’s row culled from the cream of Houston’s underground hipster rap — a testament to the relationships that Williams has formed during his time on the grind. NeKo kicked things off at the DIY warehouse abode, setting the table for a strong night of rhymes from T2 the Ghetto Hippie, Kyle Hubbard, Doughbeezy, Lyric Michelle and the man of the hour. Even if Roosh was sticking around for another 20 years, it would have been a tough show to miss.
It was a BYOB affair, and folks were happily swigging from bottles and filling the Safehouse with dank clouds when I walked in. It was sweltering in there, especially during T2’s prime-time set, when the room seemed to be at its fullest. The smiling rapper, backed by producer Trakksounds, had the place in good spirits with songs from his debut LP, A South West Side Story. “Swang On ’Em” sounded simultaneously huge and easygoing, but my favorite song of the set was a new track with Guilla extolling the pleasures of high-potency cannabis products. Looking forward to that one getting released.
Kyle Hubbard turned in another sterling performance next, highlighted as always by his striking collaboration with local rock star Chase Hamblin on “Not Without a Scar.” Folks were having a good time out front, too, with the Safehouse’s informal ambience giving the event the feel of a really great house party. Fans laughed, drank and bummed smokes off one another outside, chatting up strangers more easily than they might at a Warehouse Live show.
Inside, the rappers continued to go off hard. Doughbeezy dented a few sweaty heads with his hard, angular flow, and then Lyric Michelle brought out live instrumentalists to raise the energy in the room yet another notch further during her performance. As they bounced through the title track to her recent MissDirection album, it was starting to feel like Roosh might have a rough time trying to follow all this stuff.
In the end, though, he couldn’t lose. Williams had a band with him, too, which was a great choice — slick hip-hop performed with drums and guitar can’t help but feel special. Besides, the crowd was stacked with friendly faces, from dedicated rap scenesters to his old high school buds — all of whom appeared to be thoroughly warmed up and well-lubricated. Roosh couldn’t help leading all of them through a brief, ironic singalong of Nickelback’s “How You Remind Me.” Nobody seemed to mind much, so draw your own conclusions as to the state of the party after midnight.
While Williams has been known to wow audiences with his rapid-fire solo rhymes, most of his set on Friday was given over to performing with special guests — many of whom had already been onstage that night. “Stack That Cheese” with Guilla was an early highlight, followed up with a sick duet with T2 and a unreleased song with Kyle Hubbard.
“I’m bringing up a medley of people because this might be the last chance I get to rock a stage with them,” Williams explained. “In this city, at least!”
The highlight of his set came when Doughbeezy was pulled back up onstage for one of Roosh’s coldest tracks, “Ridin’ Thru My City.” With its heavy-lidded tales of traversing I-10, the 59 South and the Beltway, the song served as a dope and fitting toast to the city that gave Roosh Williams a home and a stage. There will be plenty more slow-moving traffic to navigate in L.A., but it won’t quite be the same. No doubt that was crystal clear to Williams as he thanked several area codes’ worth of people before signing off, maybe for the last time.
But probably not. Friday night was too damn much fun. Williams will be back in Houston one day to see all those friends and family again. He might be onstage, or he might just be another smiling face in the crowd, lighting a blunt and throwing that "H" up. But he’ll be warmly welcomed all the same.
Personal Bias: Don’t gooooo!
The Crowd: Fairly toasted.
Overheard In the Crowd: “You need a Swisher, man?”
Random Notebook Dump: A large lighting installation called “The Dream Machine” dominated the middle of the room in the Safehouse. It was like watching a rap show in the shadow of a sentient supercomputer.