Joe Ely, "Imagine Houston" A love song as torrid as a July day, Joe Ely masterfully incorporated some smart elements into this swaggering rocker. He takes his gal out for a freeway cruise and tells her "you better watch your step if you're just standing around/ Because the buildings ain't constructed, they erupt from the ground." He nails it dead-center by closing with "You notice that the moon has been coated with chrome/ As it begins to rise beside the Astrodome." WILLIAM MICHAEL SMITH
E.S.G., "Swangin' & Bangin'" The unmistakable synths and funky-ass bass line that serve as the backbone to this H-Town rap classic embody the cool cruising culture of the South. This track, along with the rest of the Ocean of Funk album, cemented E.S.G. as Houston's freestyle king.
A cool character with a mouth full of gold and hard-hitting lyrics, it gets no realer than when this OG spits on the mike. The sound of Houston is even more prominent on the screwed-up version of the track, which slushes around your eardrums like a styrofoam cup full of drank. Gotta do what I gotta do! Swang and bang! MARCO TORRES
Fat Pat, "Tops Drop" Undoubtedly the bounciest celebration of Houston car culture ever devised. Built around a sublimely funky sample of Yarbrough & Peoples' "Don't Stop the Music," this song from Pat's 1998 LP Ghetto Dreams casts the entirety of the city (but especially that Southside, y'all) as one big, rolling block party, crawling with flashy cars with our very own brand of rap music blasting out of their open trunks. It's a musical snapshot of Houston hip-hop in its purest, most innocent form -- and its most fun. Fat Pat may be gone, cut down on the cusp of real stardom, but his most ecstatic tune is the perfect reassurance that trunks will forever keep poppin' down in Houston. NATHAN SMITH
Ganksta NIP, "H Town" No song written about Houston has ever painted so hard and harrowing a portrait of the city as the South Park Psycho's "H Town." Far from the laid-back land of purple drank and slow-rollin' slabs that rap artists to come would champion, Ganksta NIP borrowed a sample from the G-rap classic "Eazy-Duz-It" to warn the planet that Houston was a bigger, meaner, blacker ghetto than a Republican's worst nightmare - with NIP himself as its psychotic king of the shadows.
Scarcely has the city been portrayed with such legitimate menace, before or since: "East Coast is dope, West Coast is dope/ Say Houston is weak, I'm cuttin' everybody's throat!" Twenty-two years later, it still sounds like he means it. NATHAN SMITH
Craig Kinsey, "Montrose Boulevard Blues" Set to a Dixieland arrangement as laid-back as an AvantGarden happy hour, "Montrose Boulevard Blues" immortalizes the Sideshow Tramps front man's beloved Neartown by name-dropping art cars, picnics at the Menil, and espressos at Agora (before the fire). Available on Kinsey's first solo album, 2011's The Burdener, his valentine to 77006 dates to the late '00s and still makes a priceless audio snapshot of Houston's hipster-bohemian enclave just before it started getting so damn trendy. CHRIS GRAY
Lead Belly (Huddie Ledbetter), "Midnight Special" A traditional public domain folk song first published in 1905, the song took on a life of its own when recorded by Lead Belly, who had spent time on the prison farm at Sugarland. Ledbetter added several verses to his version, most notably this verse:
If you're ever in Houston, you better do right you better not gamble and you better not fight 'Cause the sheriff will grab you and the boys will bring you down Next thing you know, you're penitentiary bound
Some scholars attribute the Houston lyrics to a notorious 1923 jailbreak. Ledbetter served seven years, 1917-1925, at the Imperial Unit for killing a relative. WILLIAM MICHAEL SMITH
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