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The Best Houston Rap Tapes of 2016

A decade ago, Nasir Jones declared hip-hop as a culture was dead. It was arguably one of the worst Nas statements among a treasure trove of them. Hip-hop was never dead; our senses as listeners, fans and more instead walked off to very peculiar and particular corners. If you liked something, you told the world about it. If you hated something, you told the world about it with a bit more vinegar and ammunition attached. In 2016, hip-hop as an art form was once more on full display as the last bastion of creativity in current music. There hasn’t been a generational wave quite like it and in the 40 years since its creation, nothing has come to replace it.

2016 introduced us to “mumble rappers," reclaimed that Migos were more than “Versace” and led to arguably one of the strongest collective years of music in memory. In movie terms, if 2016 was a lousy, bloated three-hour epic full of dread and death, then at least it had one hell of a soundtrack. In Houston, the children fought and toyed with not only the political structure locally but nationally as well. Black voices, Latino voices, white voices all banded together to not only reject whatever happened before November 8 but also feel as if they still exist. And still matter.

I’ve dedicated nearly 20,000 words or more to covering Houston music in 2016. These are the 12 best albums to arrive from January 1 to December 23.

12. GUILLA, Children of the Sun
Somewhere in the middle of the first half of the year, Guilla decided to experiment even more with his sound. The rapper/producer took the Cloudopolis flag and aimed to take his voice beyond NASA. Children Of The Sun peaks when Kam Franklin adds her voice to the esoteric “Cosmic Heart Beat” but before then? An avalanche of different sounds, moods and operatic feels.

11. LYRIC MICHELLE, MissDirection
The city’s most Woke wild child broke out in 2016. Broke so much so that she skated off to Los Angeles to further build on her career. Lyric Michelle and her off-kilter, poetic delivery decided to peel off different layers of herself. From past abuse, the fight as the child of an immigrant seeking a different path and more, MissDirection stomped, kicked and roared its way to exist in 2016. And it solidified Lyric as more than just the afro woman who rocked combat boots, staying ready without the need to get ready.

10. UNDERGRAVITY, Space Age Funk, Vol. 1: The Crash Landing
Playstation controllers, FUBU jerseys, Big Red Soda, Motorola phones. These are the little things that operate within the world of Undergravity, the last of a dying breed. For those who have stitched their name to the halcyon days of Houston rap being flat out married to bubbly G-Funk, Undergravity stands in a different air. Sure, Space Age Funk, Vol. 1: The Crash Landing could have existed on the back end of a Wreckshop release schedule in 2000. But “I Don’t Need Ya” and “Scott St” carry those bloated, squelchy horns and raps from Adam Bomb & M.A.C. that are Yellowstone staples. With a guest list that feels plucked from a catalog, SAF is too retro to ignore.

9. DON P, Lagniappe
Donnie Houston and Hot Peez had a premonition. The two of them, Southern boys through and through, decided to marry all of the sounds of their childhood. For Donnie, that meant toppling any and all of the KLC (neé Beats By the Pound) and Mannie Fresh his eardrums could take. For Hot Peez, it meant doubling down on what last year’s White Hall gave in regards to New Orleans, freedom and the next possible step. Lagniappe created a bubble, where everything felt like a 1999 Cash Money album, conceptual skits and all. “Magnificent” kicks up the bounce and “Really” chops up Ginuwine’s “So Anxious” for a late-night creep. All in all? A concise LP that married the past with the present.

8. MAXO KREAM, The Persona Tape
Let's count how many boroughs and areas Maxo Kream let his voice touch over The Persona Tape. There’s East Coast grit brought forth by Wolfe de Mçhls on the boards. There’s UK grime thanks to the massive and spacious sounding “Big Worm”. Chuck Inglish brings his chunky, down right disrespectful drums to a couple tracks as well. Yet the tape’s center involves Maxo and these soulless, almost noir ready acts of drug dealing, robbing and maybe killing people if need be.

7. DOUGHBEEZY, Reggie Bush & Kool-Aid 2
There’s zero doubt in anyone’s mind that from 2010 to ’14, the Houston rap world belonged to Doughbeezy. Personable, clever, witty and more than sincere, he was the punchline rapper in a world where they almost became extinct. RBKA2 was his first release since he almost lost his life last year and instead of recoiling, he came back fiery, even more pissed off and cranky. The landscape shifted completely while he was recovering and records like “Trust In My Gun” and the tape’s “Intro” signified that he still had something to take. Half new singles, half freestyles, all Dough.

6. SHOW LOUIS, Love & Drugz
There are personal rap tapes but Show Louis gave the world a full-blown audio confession on Love & Drugz. It arrived in early January and serves as an omen that the former Loud Howard is a) a smart ass who can also be grim as hell; and b) a poetically devastating street rapper born from the ways of Scarface and, to an extent, J-Dawg.

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Brandon Caldwell has been writing about music and news for the Houston Press since 2011. His work has also appeared in Complex, Noisey, the Village Voice & more.
Contact: Brandon Caldwell