Bobby Feeno performs live at the House of Blues on November 24, 2018Photo Courtesy of House of Blues
Just over eight years ago, a 24-year-old Arian Foster rushed for 231 yards and three touchdowns in the Texans' season opener against the Colts. It was an unforgettable performance by a player who barely made the roster the year before as an undrafted free agent — the first of many during his seven-season career with the Texans. This Saturday at the House of Blues, Foster will give Houston a different kind of performance, perhaps just as unexpected as his breakout 2010 opener, perhaps just as unforgettable.
Earlier this year Foster released his debut album under his hip hop stage name, Bobby Feeno. The album, Flamingo and Koval, has been critically well received, amassing more than 3 million streams since its April release on Tidal. Still, Bobby Feeno is not a household name. The career transition for a retired pro-bowler will mean once again starting from the bottom, an undrafted free agent of the rap game.
If Flamingo and Koval seems like a strange choice for an album name, think again. The name is something Foster has had in mind for years; a reference to the intersection in Las Vegas at which his favorite artist, Tupac Shakur, was shot and killed.
"You always love your own stuff," Foster says. "Artists wouldn't be making music if they didn't like their own stuff." The challenge for the New Mexico native wasn't learning to make music — he's been doing that since he was 12. Nor was it learning to put pen to paper. The philosophy major studied language at the University of Tennessee and has been writing poetry for more than a decade. The real challenge for Foster was allowing his work to be heard (and criticized) by a public who may find his perspective inauthentic or unrelatable.
"What makes music dope is the relatability," Foster explains. "The way in which you present your art from an athlete's perspective has to be so creative that you almost forget it's an athlete doing it."
Bobby Feeno does not rap about ballin' out on Sundays or bottle service at the club. He has no interest in presenting another derivative view on wealth and fame. With Flamingo and Koval Foster reaches further back, to a troubled childhood, to the pressures of fast fame and faster money, and to his complicated relationship with the sport he loves.
No track on the album better reflects the raw honesty of Feeno's work, nor his lyrical prowess, better than the project's first single, "A Friend, A Fan, A Kid".
As Foster explains it, the track represents three separate conversations with people in his life, "expressing how they felt about me throughout my career." In the song's first verse a bitter friend scorns the football star for going "Hollywood" and forgetting his humble roots. In the second, an angry fan tears into the running-back for his inflated ego and sense of self-importance, reminding him to shut up and play ball. The track's final verse comes from the perspective of Arian's young son who, while seeing his father as a hero, laments that he never sees him, at one point asking his baby brother if he "remembers what [dad] sounds like".
The song also highlights Foster's surprising talents on the piano, a craft he has been honing for the past six years and now features heavily on this project.
The relationship between professional athletes and professional rappers is not lost on Arian. In fact, he explains the cultural connection between those two worlds with profound insight. "What the NFL and especially the NBA are, is black culture. It's what we grow up doing. I don't know a lot of cats that didn't grow up rapping and having a rap name, and I didn't know a lot of cats that didn't grow up playing basketball and football on the street."
To Foster, sports and music (particularly rap) represent the two ubiquitous dreams of young black men, particularly those of low income. They are the impossible goals that too many strive for and too few achieve. His transition into music is not a calculated commercial move, it is a rare example of a kid from his community doing the impossible, twice.
On Saturday, November 24, Bobby Feeno will take the stage for the first time at the Houston House of Blues. Though the venue seats a fraction of the fans that NRG stadium does, it will be the most intimate and exposed performance of Foster's life. Perhaps, also, the first of many as Bobby Feeno.
Bobby Feeno will perform at the House of Blues on 11/24/2018 at 8 pm, doors open at 7 pm
For more information, visit houseofblues.com/houston.
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Houston Press contributor Carlos Brandon is a freelance writer, blogger, and self proclaimed Houston hip hop historian. He contributes to various publications and can usually be found haggling with food truck cooks or talking politics on the METRO Rail.