The perfect taco comes from one of two specific places, not a venue that has essentially drained Mexican culture and slapped a trendy price tag on it. Rather, the world’s foremost taco experts are your grandmother, to whom you refer as abuelita; or a slew of individuals whose truck operates beneath a flickering light pole. As crickets sling back chirps of conversation, you hurriedly order a corn tortilla to be loaded with ground beef, cheese, lettuce, pico de gallo or whatever you prefer. The greatest tacos don’t come from corporations. They come from love and decades, if not generations, of practice, applied skill and knowledge.
By that effect, T2 Ghetto Hippie represents a slice of Houston that is both rooted to the earth and wholly celestial. He’s from Southeast Texas in the way that you can nab a Z-Ro feature, land on KBXX a few times and still feel a bit shunned. He’s from the Southeast in a way where he can call Kyle Hubbard and Roosh Williams rap friends, a collective of smokers and like-minded thinkers who could rummage through Rockets factoids and discuss pressing rap topics. His sound is playful, a croaky sing-song that affirms him to nearly everyone. T2 is harmless, a polymath who can blend his way into any scene or conversation. In other words, T2 Ghetto Hippie is a Houston ambassador who doesn’t need faulty security clearance in order to be called an ambassador. He’s Houston, through and through.
Not a moment is wasted on Double Cups & Taco Trucks, T2's new 7-track EP that dips into slick, if not rustic, guitar slaps and church-driven piano stabs. There’s an angelic chorus on the opener that finds the perfect tinge of flair discussing “taco trucks,” songs readily singing about defiance as if T2 is the poster boy for the 1960s anti-war movement and dreams of partying until he can’t no more. “I made it this far with no sorts of luck… I fight my depression with this drank I po’ up,” he sings alongside crafty turntable scratches on “IDGAF.” You worry a bit about T2, but behind black shades with flowing hair, he’s comfortable.
T2’s world, under a cloud of weed smoke and littered with styrofoam cups, has a lightness and humor to it. It’s soundtracked to low-registered bass lines which promote menace yet are not all that terrifying. Most of them come from that school of creation established by Scarface, N.O. Joe and Mike Dean on 1994’s The Diary. Ground-level drums paired with airy, knee-wobbling piano keys have remained as cousins to the bawdy, drum-and-kick from slab riders and West Coast-influenced haze from other sects. Devin the Dude operates in the middle ground of this world; Le$, clever and forever in-pocket with his rap style, dances closer to the far right of this. T2 happens to find himself smack-dab between Devin and Le$, affable enough to remember middle-school dreams and posturing while also scheming up ways to smoke bigger and live greater.
T2 asks questions with a bit of pontification to them, like “What happened to logic? Not the rapper Logic, I mean rappers with logic.” It’s a demeaning taunt to plenty of rappers who drive off with “nursery rhymes” compared to his constantly elevated rap style. Dizzy Wright seeks legend status with his guest appearance on “Feel Alive,” Maxo Kream dominates the Trakksounds-helmed “Broccoli Lettuce Cabbage” with a bouncy, downhill chorus that’s become his trademark. Those guys aren’t paired with T2 here to work above him and show out. Instead, they’re accomplices, set-up men.
Double Cups & Taco Trucks is meant to be a lean, progressive tape from a rapper who nasally sings his thoughts out with a laugh and dash of joy behind them. T2’s profile has found itself moving further and further upward, inching closer to nabbing Whataburger commercials and more. He’s a favored son in some aspects, a rapper who is far willing to lend support to anyone he believes in. The same could be attributed to Mike Red, who for the longest has crafted albums with funny man and hyperactive party starter Rai P while also navigating his own smoked out thoughts and transgressions. Three years ago, he managed to revel in his Root$, hazy and interesting rap music with lethargic, throaty 808s guiding him along. Mike can represent the Northside of Houston doing both Houston’s syrupy and bounce-ready style and the snare-repetitive cabal that Atlanta took from Memphis. Trap Sushi, Red’s heavy Fourth of July tape comes in running on old rules and living up to new ones.
What Trap Sushi does a lot better than old Mike Red tapes is hone in on a simple template and run that damn thing until it can’t go. Want OG Maco pulling up energy originally forged by Waka Flocka Flame’s Flockaveli for “Squeeze Something?” You got it in spades. Atlanta’s trap traffics in various lanes of threats, simple and at times convoluted drug talk and parading around like King Kong destroying monsters on Skull Island. “I’ll catch your ass slippin in the parking lot bitch,” Project Pat chimes in on “Money To Get” in that tried and true Memphian drawl that sounds as if it were birthed from the essence of a pimp on Beale Street. Rai P kicks a few rhymes here and there in order to maintain about 5 percent of the peace, but it’s mostly aggression and chest-thumping from the Nawf.
Acres Homes has a spritely, Sega Dreamcast-inspired anthem with “40” as Red links up with self-professed high smoker Reginald Gohnson, who is about as fond of Houston nightlife as he is stations to roll up, light up and have fun with. Normally, Reggie is fully enamored with all things weed and non-blurred lines of thinking. “40” opens him up to a world where shoutouts and causing general mayhem with his presence is a viable opportunity.
In Mike Red’s odyssey to craft the perfect Houston trap tape, he’s managed to not only avoid staring directly into the outerworld of Houston club music, he’s kept himself firmly in his own way of doing things. “Woke Up On a Mission” borrows its slow, crawling creep from any Friday the 13th film as Mike squawks enough threats to remind you that he’s ultimately serious. The worst thing you can say about a trap tape is its finite way to stay too on topic. At least Mike Red manages to keep it lively throughout Trap Sushi's 18 tracks — to the point where sampling the rules for a Bop-It toy are perfectly acceptable.
SONGS OF THE WEEK
BUN B, "Gametime"
Almost four years after Trill O.G. The Epilogue, Bun B is back in a fiery mood. A sticky sample and plenty of cussing and passion are found on “Gametime,” which sounds like a the warning shot from a military procession. The Trill O.G. cometh again. You can hear “Gametime” here.
KAB THA DON feat. SHOW LOUIS and BARTEE, "Dope"
Rap’s been missing one of its biggest bullies for quite some time. KAB Tha Don, the Headwreckas' main piece of muscle calmly discusses street life before his voice jumps a number of octaves like Samuel L. Jackson calling for imminent danger. Pairing him with Show Louis and Bartee for “Dope” was perfect. More KAB moments of menace, please.
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TRAE THA TRUTH, “Take Me Back”
Trae Day is this weekend (yes, it’s a three-day extravaganza). And one of the brightest moments from Tha Truth Pt. 3, which is out Friday, is “Take Me Back,” a hypnotizing walk through memory lane in Houston, where, Trae will tell you, the Cool Cup lady was royalty.
TRAKKSOUNDS feat. GT GARZA, KILLA KYLEON and DOEMAN, “Oh Lord (Remix)”
See, even T2 can step behind the director’s chair. One of The Other Side’s standout tracks gets a second bit of life with a video where everyone’s sole mission? To secure the bag.