This past Sunday, the film Friday celebrated its 20th anniversary. It's a comedy in the way that life is sometimes a comedy. There are funny moments, characters who have achieved cult stardom, quotes that have parlayed themselves into everyday life and an intense desire for the franchise to return to its roots one last time.
In February the Houston Elite M.C.s -- a collective of friends and artists who have thrown mini-festivals, participated in beer crawls together, and released nearly eight to ten years worth of solo material among them -- finally released a full-length project. It was called Nonpareil. The title may not have the ringing charm, immediacy and/or intimacy of Friday, but it means something just as important.
According to Merriam-Webster, "nonpareil" is an adjective that officially means "better than any other; having no equal." In short, we're talking about a group of individuals who have contributed untold amounts to the local scene in Houston but have only gotten their just due in fleeting moments.
hasHBrown, the rapper, has taken the moniker of Rap Mayor on two projects, yet his most beloved work came about by venting his frustrations about relationships on Relationshit. John Dew, arguably the most unassailable member of the crew, has released multiple projects armed with Southern grandeur, wit and an ability to catch everyone's ear. Dustin-Prestige, the act within the camp with the most national attention for tapes such as Plaid & DHARMA, is either a rapper, malcontent or singer, depending on his mood.
Hollywood FLOSS is the group's most prolific, releasing tapes and singles at will, while Thurogood the traditional bar-juggling rhymer who is going to be talked about because of his pigment more than anything. Kidd The Great, not to be confused with K.I.D., is arguably the group's oldest member, yet his unmistakable voice is ripe for smashing hooks. The group's strongest pure rhymer, Rob Jay, has threatened retirement on a few occasions but always gets brought back into the game, like Al Pacino with that crappy Michael Corleone haircut in The Godfather Part III.
After listening to Nonpareil, the parallels between T.H.E.M. and the cast of Friday are so uncanny that you'll probably re-watch the movie and see every single member of this crew in it.
Hollywood FLOSS has the best lines on "Magic." If you've ever caught a Hollywood FLOSS performance, he's a moving sprite who rocks a snapback and a graphic T-shirt. He paces himself, sometimes letting his mouth move faster than his mind, something that happens in large doses on "Magic." Thank 610 Loop for the stop-and-start production that wheels around like a carousel. Since FLOSS is the smallest, he can talk the most incredulous shit such as saying Prince stole his swag, among other things. You know who else could get away with such things? Smokey.
"A Song For You" is the tape's emotional center. The main problem Craig faced in Friday was getting his respect back after not only getting fired from his job (on his day off!) but getting shot at by Big Worm's goons and ultimately having to stand up to Deebo. "A Song For You," ripped straight from the Donny Hathaway classic in title and title alone discusses the matters of parenthood, both with victories and losses.
John Dew is angling in regards to his mother, an educated woman who not only helped shaped his growth in Houston but also his eventual marriage and more. K.I.D. and hasHBrown dance back and forth under similar circumstances, K.I.D. reflecting on his mother and hashBrown being thankful for his father remaining in his life and helping shape him. For this, all three of them represent Craig remembering the "I'm a man without it" speech his dad gave him before fighting Deebo.
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"Shaolin Blow" is the first time Craig gets high. Oh, that's right. You don't get to breaking down some serious Shaolin like mathematics on any random time of the day. No, you get to break seeds down and argue about putting people in rap headlocks all in the same sitting. And all of it makes sense. I mean, look at the video for "Shaolin Blow."
You see? You can only imagine five to seven different people trying to talk to you about an upcoming fight if you're high as hell, and usually those situations are limited to just one or two people. Ali, Malcolm X, your cousin who beat your ass the first time and you want revenge, you know -- a small group. Having almost every member of T.H.E.M. try to hype you up for something is akin to preparing a honey badger for a fight. You don't need to prepare a honey badger for a fight but when you do, he's more than likely to fight EVERYBODY AND EVERY ANIMAL IN EXISTENCE. You remember the first time Craig and Smokey got high and everything became sublime? That's "Shaolin Blow."
"Outside the Box" is the best conversation on Nonpareil. To put it bluntly, T.H.E.M. is a group composed of mass traditionalists, those who wanted to prove that Houston was about bars and soulful production than just the "lifestyle aspect" of the city. It's a task they undertake throughout the duration of Nonpareil's 21 tracks. It's part jam session, part state of the union. All of them weigh in on a matter in some form or fashion, Rob Jay being chief since he's on more than one occasion using his Facebook page to agitate everybody. This is the exchange between the Reverend, played by Bernie Mac and Smokie on the goodness of weed, regardless of position.
John Dew is the constant. We've raved about Dustin-Prestige on numerous occasions but for reasons that need be properly stated, John Dew is the MVP of Nonpareil, as he's been of T.H.E.M. for quite sometime. Without Dew to level a bit of pathos on every track he's presented on, T.H.E.M. still survives but not as spectacularly as they would with him. He's Steph Curry. Kidd The Great is Bernie Mac, ready to peep a Miss Parker when she's around, but John Dew wants Dana. He delivers a head-nod to us in some sort of fourth wall breaking when he shows up. He's also Craig, if we're being honest.
And just for continuity purposes, Rob Jay is Eazel because you always need one shit-starter who's going to come out on top if something goes down. Thurogood is Mr. Jones because even though his methods aren't exactly common, they still work (and he has a mean kitchen), and Dustin-Prestige is Big Worm.
Why? Think about it: who still remains a menacing character -- just from his voice alone -- after everything that happens? Big Worm. Doesn't matter if he's happy or dealing with the principalities of being accosted. Same person, same switch of evil.
Jack Freeman and Dante Higgins are key side-pieces. Freeman has always found his voice in that right pocket for either a slow track or just a groove; Higgins has always found himself ready to punch somebody's lights out with a bar or seven. Together, they're the best neighborhood characters you need within the T.H.E.M. universe. Pretty much, they're Mama Jones and Dana: family members who, even though they appear briefly, will give you an honest moment every single time.
hasHBrown is the sneering one who operates to his own drum. If he's not making beats as Jett I. Masstyr, he's steering the ship batting lead or figuring himself out to win eventually. hasHBown is impressive in his own right, able to drop a leg-drop on a beat, whether it be of his own creation or somebody else's. Sorry 610 Loop, you had to celebrate being a victim. hash is Deebo. Because of COURSE he's Deebo.
Nonpareil is now available on iTunes and Bandcamp.
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