Sounds of the City highlights the best of Houston that isn’t attached to its strong, always-noted and talked-about-ad nauseum rap scene.
Brief confession time.
For those of you who’ve been following me writing about Houston rap and also sending me tons of emails about even more undiscovered Houston rap, I appreciate you. I also want to let you know that Houston rap, while profitable and exemplary at times, also hides and/or masks the city's other genres that also exist. It's almost like dealing with Michael Jordan every day; and yes, you can tire of writing about Michael Jordan.
You find Michael Jordan fascinating, how people are drawn to him because he’s a success and you yourself want to be a success as well. That may be a line from the great self-help book The Secret but it's fact. Houston rap, compared to every other genre for this city, is Michael Jordan. And everybody else who doesn’t work within that realm is treated like Scottie Pippen.
That’s where Sounds of the City comes in, a secondary column where we highlight everything that isn’t Houston rap. music-wise. It’s also the place where I can reveal this little secret about me – I love R&B music and would fashion myself somebody who believed in the false goods sold by the R&B of the ‘90s. I’m looking directly at you, H-Town and “Knockin’ Da Boots." I can also admit that when the New York City Queens broke up last month, I was a bit crestfallen. Mainly because I loved their take on indie-pop music, and they sadly fell by the wayside. But I digress.
These recent songs will not do that kind of thing that “Knockin’ Da Boots” was. These songs will at least make you believe but they aren’t exactly tied to a theme. Adele in all of her “sensory-overload this-is-never-over-ballast” has a theme. These are still building towards that.
BLACK BLADES, “GAME OF LIFE” x “SHOW ME YOUR TEXTURE”
Ironically, the first time I got a hold of Black Blades, a group featuring B L A C K I E, Stony Hawk and SVNS, came days ago. There are a lot of raps trying to cut through a moody atmosphere but its feels like that melodic puff and stretch that Bone Thugs N Harmony delivered during their halcyon days. Plus, B L A C K I E pretty much got fed up with everyone taking a style he pioneered without hailing him or giving him credit, so he moved on to something different and jazzier. This is indeed jazz. That dirty, strung-out, zombie-eyed style of jazz. [B L A C K I E's tour kickoff is this Friday at Fitzgerald's with Abdu Ali, Biz Vicious and First Ward Sound.]
GRANDIOR feat. SUSANNAH WINSPEAR, “THANKING YOU”
A lot of people will openly weep for more music from The Niceguys. I will openly weep for more collaborations between singers, regardless of affiliation and great producers. If Third World TV wants to drop a brand new mix, I’ll honor it. If Grandior does more like he did with Susannah Winspear on “Thanking You,” I’ll cheer to the skies. What makes a great love song is when it marries the idea of simplicity, being earnest and just a bit cheesy. It’s why we hail Stevie Wonder as the greatest writer of love songs. “Thanking You” is a cherry, swinging love song. Jump for joy.
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JACK FREEMAN, “SEASONS CHANGE” x “COME BACK”
Okay, I sort of lied. Jack Freeman does have a theme. His voice sounds like your reaction to a glass of Hennessy after a long day of work and you’re steadily fighting the urge to be fed up with your lady. There’s a hurt there, a classic soul-man appeal that cannot be ignored. The best Jack Freeman is when he translates this for solo tracks and guest hook spots (see “The Hot Seat” with Scarface). The absolute best Jack Freeman? When he smolders it down a bit on “Seasons Change," a reflective composite where he wants to satisfy an urge for consistent lovemaking. Or on “Come Back,” where he’s not begging and pleading with ‘70s loverman, he’s damn near in your face about it with conviction.
WRESTLERS feat. JESSE BOYKINS III, “STRANGER”
Earlier this month, Wrestlers decided to release two singles, the straight-up R&B swing of “Perennial” with Shy Girls and “Stranger," a far more electro dance routine featuring Chicago singer Jesse Boykins III. The Wrestlers do this a lot, blending their ever-evolving sound with that of whomever they’re creating with. Case in point: they close thisclose to digging into Chicago’s house scene with a man mostly known for soul music.