The 20 Best Houston Rap Tapes Of 2017 (5-1)

Rob Gullatte

05. ROB GULLATTE, Gullactic Vision
Five years is a long time between projects. Rob Gullatte swore that he was retired, that he was done rapping but no rap retirement indeed rings true. He'd been preparing Gullactic Visions under watchful eyes, waiting for the moment to arrive to let it go. Damn his health scares and his pessimism toward rap in general. Gullatte was going to let it all out on wax. Make no mistakes about it, Rob Gullatte is one of the best rappers Alief and Houston, in general, has ever produced. With Gullactic Visions, Gullatte wastes no time picking up from where Abortion: The Project left off. The difference between then and now? Gullatte's got a little girl to look after, even when the four-cornered room feels like it is closing in on him.

His mother is incarcerated yet the syrupy Donnie Houston produced "My Own Way" details losing friends he was supposed to protect and then some. "Health Wealth Happiness" attempted to find focus in the hells of the world, Kam Franklin sires in the gospel on "The Lord Don't Like Ugly," and on "My OG'z Lied," Gullatte's ready to push aside most of his learnings from the streets in favor of something new.

"You can't even tie a tie lil nigga. How you gon' advance if you die over figures?" The streets don't have a 401K plan, no health benefits. Gullatte knows his and has been more cautious than ever to impart far better wisdom down to his son and daughter. The vision of the Alief rapper has never been brighter, even if he took on the identity of a Marvel character to arrive there.

Killa Kyleon
04. KILLA KYLEON, Lorraine Motel
Killa Kyleon took a risk. For more than a decade now, the all-over Houston rhymer made it a concise effort to be the wittiest, most effective punchline rapper around. Every tape since the original Having Thangs joint tape with Slim Thug well over a decade ago has been a showcase for Killa to rap, w about anything his heart desired. Not until Lorraine Motel has Kyleon narrowed all of his ambidextrous wordplay to a single, solitary subject. In tune, it became the most critical Kyleon release of his career thus far.

It doesn't take much to push a mad toward matching music to match the current times and mirror the world around him. Kyleon's usual outspoken personality dove deeper on "New Slave," where sizing up police brutality felt a ready necessity: "Just cause we black on black, they beat us black and blue, and that's a fact." In fact, even though the topics get routinely repeated, only one constantly comes up: the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. "That's where the dream died," Kyleon echoes. Lorraine Motel as a tape from Kyleon is an outlier. It dominated the conversation early in the year among the year's best, and it maintained its standing throughout. In the context of every Kyleon tape that came before it, it's the album where Kyleon found himself almost bored with taking stock of himself regularly and opened his world up even further.

Discussing sneaker thefts, the structure of the Black family, Lorraine Motel holds very few concessions. Except that it was a more than needed Killa Kyleon rap tape.

Bigg Fatts
03. BIGG FATTS, Memoirs Of The Kitchen Staff
Bigg Fatts starts off Memoirs Of The Kitchen Staff, not with a pregnant pause or even a generic rundown of who he is. It begins with an audio chop from Paid In Full where an argument about music in the cleaners bleeds into his whole ethos. Fatts, easily one of the best rappers within city limits, spends the next 42 minutes dancing through demons like Walter Payton in the open field.

The idea that you cannot be a dope rapper to find a breakthrough in the modern age is dumb. And Bigg Fatts, a self-proclaimed South Park legend is one of the best around. Kitchen Staff leans heavily on Fatts charm and how others merely gravitate towards the arena. Hot Peez, Rob Gullatte and Delorean each take turns dining in and clocking out on "The Kitchen Staff." PugTunes scores gospel chops and thin strings for "Bakin' Soda Hallelujah" where Fatts compares black skin to contraband and professes his own truth through handclaps. "Freedom is just a concept to my people," he sullenly states. The Electric Prunes’s “Holy Are You” leads in Fatts' prickly cadence for "Note 2 Self" and the Abbey Road style piano keys from PugTunes settle under Show and Fatts for "Stuck." Together, they're two peas in a pod. Link them with Rob Gullatte, and you have a trio of rappers who've seen plenty, done plenty and fought their way to survive.

There are brief moments of joy on The Kitchen Staff, mainly due to Fatts subtracting most of them for discussions of what he's seen and what he chooses to impart on those curious about his story. The talented big man won 2017 as one of the best pure rhymers the city has ever produced. His opus came while briefly reflecting on baking soda, penitentiary chances and the best-to-worst clientele imaginable.
02. LE$, The Catalina Wine Mixer
If Le$ truly wanted to, he could have combined any of the four projects he dropped in 2017 and made two full ass albums. There were 38 songs attributed to Le$ in the past year, the majority of them split between DJ Mr. Rogers' watchful eye and Todd Louis' at times quixotic gaze. Midnight Club and Summer Madness spoke to the essence of location, moment and time. If Midnight Club spoke strictly to Texas, Summer Madness spoke to its distant cousin a few miles out West. Chico, the fourth tape in the suite got aggression in some of the more relaxed surroundings crafted by Louis.

The third Le$ tape, the one that sounds like Grand Theft Auto meets a Wes Anderson movie, is the sweetest moment of the four. The Cataline Wine Mixer is just as organic as Midnight Club was mixing OutKast and Donald Glover for "45 South." The thing is, Todd, ends up pushing Le$ to experiment with flows such as a wicked double-time for “Nico Toscani.” With Le$, it's all about relationships and connectivity. He'll forever interject with points of wisdom, simple yet effective punchlines about keeping people out of your circle who have zero business there and then some.

What's scary about Le$ is that all four albums showed the same model of consistency. Each of the four has its respective hits such as "Fresh Cut" from Summer Madness or "The Mindst8" from Midnight Club. Catalina doesn't care for any of that. It captured the fun and free-wheeling experience of crafting, finishing and executive a tape in one marathon session. Le$ created four separate grooves in 2017. The Wine Mixer gassed up the E36 and coasted to a place where they don't even need roads.

01. DELOREAN, Nights At The International Ballroom
DeLorean never made a concept album, until he went to the Ballroom.

PugTunes scored two of the year's best albums with Show Louis (no. 17) and the bulk of Bigg Fatts' Memoirs (No. 3). But he didn't fully flesh it all out from skits to beats to raps until he went to the Ballroom.

The best project of 2017 came in at nearly the eleventh hour. DeLorean already had a spectacular tape with Take Me Back and PugTunes scoring that Leonidas speaking to the 300 title track. With Nights At The International Ballroom, Delo took it back even further. Even if "Doors Wide Open," the summer single with Killa Kyleon and Paul Wall would go absent, you would soon figure out why DeLorean and PugTunes' signature of 2017 still felt like 1997 when Wreckshop was handling things. "The Rollcall" may be the end of the story but DeLorean made it a focal point to show that the grind didn't stop in the '90s when he could be passing out CDs wanting to be heard or ducking around apartment complexes where the legends in two games hung around.

"I Got That Fire" found duality between him and Rob Gullatte. "'96 Summer" broke out Oliver Sain's "On The Hill" for a smoke session that once upon a time The Notorious B.I.G., Jay-Z, and Puff Daddy manifested to always see people up on it. Hustler anthems, body rocking with Joop cologne, freestyling on extra space from Screw mixes and trying to woo women. Every night Delo thought he was going to make it, there's always the opposite side of it — as the Ballroom comically proved almost at the very end. Delo's still tossing away Shipley Donut bags and trying to live up to the fables and tall tales created before him.

The string that ties it all together? "Ls," the penultimate track to the album. With a bass line about as moody as the one, The Fugees grabbed for "Ready Or Not," Delorean delivers one of his finest performances, in a world that feels more insane by the day. "Ain't no room for mistakes at this point, baby. Every move is strategic. Ain't no room to be taking Ls." Losing at this point, after overcoming hell and even higher water? Impossible. Delorean, for an hour at least, made it feel like 1997 in 2017. A concept album that got down to basics, and the even purer aspect of creating a top to bottom instant classic. 
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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