The rap game is not always kind to its elder statesmen. It takes an incredible amount of hard work, perseverance and sheer talent to keep fans interested as more than two decades worth of trends come and go. We can probably count the number of artists who began in the '80s and are still going strong on our fingers.
The founding members of the South Park Coalition, Houston's original, highly influential hip hop clique, have managed the feat without any semblance of support from radio airplay or major label money. This Saturday, the S.P.C. family will come together onstage at Numbers to celebrate the group's 25th anniversary.
It's a remarkable milestone. The Coalition has survived not only the shifting winds of hip-hop tastes since 1987, but the drugs and violence that threatened to tear their namesake Southside neighborhood apart in the '80s and '90s. Though the group's eldest members are now creeping into middle age, they were just kids when the S.P.C was originally assembled.
Founder K-Rino has been at the forefront of all Coalition activities since the clique's inception. A world-class lyricist, the O.G. MC has 22 independent solo albums under his belt, and he's still releasing killer music at a torrid pace in 2012. Twenty-five years ago, though, all that was barely a glimmer in his eye.
"It was still in its infant stages then, as far as hip hop and rap goes," he says. "We'd been exposed to the breakdancing aspect of hip hop and to some degree the DJing, but the rap was still pretty new -- maybe about three, four years old. We were starting to get our feet wet in terms of competing in talent shows and battles, school talent shows and things of that nature.
"We were all just amateurs then, and the industry side of it wasn't even in our minds at that time."
The Coalition originally sprang up around two South Park high schools -- Jones and Sterling. Separated by a stretch of Martin Luther King Blvd., the two schools were home to rival hip-hop crews that battled one another at talent shows and other local events across the city.
Eventually, the heated rivalry would come to a head in late '87, when Sterling champion K-Rino faced off against Jones' top MC, horrorcore godfather Ganksta N-I-P. The battle to end all battles took place on the neutral territory of the corner of MLK and Bellfort.
"The South Park Coalition had already formed by then, maybe a few months old, and we had a big battle, man," K-Rino said. "We went so many rounds that the people just couldn't determine who was the winner, and I think after all those years of us really not even liking each other as artists or knowing each other as people, when we clashed, that mutual respect developed."
Rino and N-I-P managed to catch the same Metro bus home from the encounter, striking up a fast friendship along the ride.
"When we got cool and we became friends, that automatically merged the Jones rappers with the Sterling rappers, which strengthened the South Park Coalition," K-Rino said. "Because I was instantly in a mode like, 'We gotta bring these guys in with us.'"