Houston Music

Twenty One For 21: Top Albums From Houston Artists From 2021

Le$ & Bun B
Houston continues to push toward the forefront of music.  The rise of new stars like Meg Thee Stallion, Beatking, Lizzo, Khraungbin, remind the rest of the world about the deep musical roots that exist in the city. This year is no different. In late 2020, we released a list showing what the year had to offer. Here, in no particular order, are 21 albums from Houston artists that you should have heard from 2021.

Distant - Bun B and Le$

Bun B and Le$ headed out to Sonic Ranch, a 1,700 acre pecan farm located in West Texas. There, at what has been described as the largest residential recording complex the two created the six tracks that would become their Distant EP.  It might only be six tracks but it's still packed with Le$ and Bun trading verses displaying the growth and maturity they've attained from being in this game for as long as they have.

Bun B hasn't done a joint album with a rapper since UGK so its says a lot about the view he has for Le$ when it comes to collaboration. Le$ could have also been on this list twice with his latest drop, E30, which features guest appearances from Freddie Gibbs, Curren$y, Larry June, Bo Bundy, Stalley, and more.  Expect Bun to continue his role as Houston's unofficial mayor. Expect Le$ star to continue rising and, hopefully, we'll get a Distant 2 in the future.

Weight of the World - Maxo Kream

Maxo Kream started off dropping mixtapes. His 2018 debut, Punken, showed a level a growth beyond his mixtape work that he continues to build upon with each new release.  This year's Weight of the World is probably his most personal work. While his previous album, Brandon Banks, introduced a lot of fans to the family, friends, and life of Maxo, Weight of the World has the Alief MC dealing with all of the pressures, rewards, and consequences that his new life brings.  While the single "Big Persona" shows Maxo has the ability to garner radio play, tracks like "Cripstian," "Greener Knots," and "Trips" show the MC's increased ability at storytelling. 

What's My Name - Ken The Man

All the signs are point for this year to be the year of Ken The Man. Last year she released the completely independent, 4 Da 304's, and only signed a deal with Asylum Records if she had the ability to maintain her artistic freedom.  The result is What's My Name, and album that displays her skills behind the mike as well as her commercial appeal.  More and more fans are starting to take notice as Ken continues to give fans lyricism over hard hitting production and make her presence known on a national level.

Drill Spill - Sauce Walka

Sauce Walka is seen so much in news and blogs for antics (some cause by him and others where his name gets drug into it) that it sometimes overshadows his skill level.  He can rap and is great at setting trends with his sound.  His TSF labelmates are mostly branches of his style and Sauce is usually promoting them at such a level that his own work falls on the back-burner.  In 2019 he released New Sauce City, an album that paired the Houston MC with New York production.  It worked.  It worked really well.  The soundtrack provided by the East Coast production only seemed to enhance Sauce Walka's confident flow.  Drill Spill is a balance between the sound that Sauce has developed here in Houston and that feeling he created on New Sauce City. He links up with Paul Wall and Lil Keke for a rehash of "Still Tipping" and, a few tracks later raps alongside Hell Rell on "Frenemy." 
Corner Store Legend - Rob Gullatte

After a quick introduction by his daughter, the first line off Gullate's latest album is "I made an indelible mark." The line, less than 30 seconds into the Jett i Masstyr produced, soulful track, is just an introduction into the wordplay of Gullatte.  Last year he dropped The Tortoise Theory, a brooding glimpse of life with songs like "Rut" and "The Race."  Corner Store Legend takes a decidedly more upbeat pace opening with the title track and immediately moving into the high powered, west coast influenced "Since The Chronic Dropped." Gullatte has teased an album coming from him and another person on this list so look forward to hearing more from him in the next year.

The Sequel - Dinero Sinatra

The Sequel by Dinero Sinatra is a '70s and '80s sample journey with a modern twist.  Dinero flow switches back and forth between laid back and quick fire over samples of Jaz-O's "Riding High", Roy Ayer's "Searching" and more. It gives the album a classic, familiar feeling and is a solid offering with stand out tracks like "Dividends," "Mucho Dinero," "Player's Punch" and, of course, the lead single "Lost & Found."

Girls - Lenora

Girls is an infectious pop album that is an ode to late '80s synth music. Tracks like "Girl," "Tonite" and "Rooftop" sound like they could have come from an '80s playlist and display Lenora's skill in navigating pop.  The album isn't a one trick pony.  She doesn't forget about fans that have heard tracks like "Relax" and "Cool" including "Crush On You" and, arguably the standout track on the album, Good To Me."  Working alongside West Coast MC/Producer Polyester The Saint, Lenora has crafted a debut album that should have fans wanting to hear more.

Pressure - Big Jade
Beaumont's Big Jade burst onto the scene with a series of viral freestyles and eventually linked up with Beat King.  Her latest release, Pressure, has Beatking production on 7 out of 10 of the songs as well as appearances from OMB Bloodbath, Erica Banks, and Queendom Come.  Big Jade is still coming into her own but she has the confidence  and stage presence of an artist that has been doing it much longer. The only critique I'd have of the album is that there should be more. Tracks like "I Tell You What" and "All Gas No Brakes"  are less than two minutes but are packed with punchlines showing Jade's ability on the mike. Look forward to more of Big Jade in 2022.

Sensei - Big Pokey

In 2008, Big Pokey dropped Eviction Notice and a couple of years later released Warning Shot. Then he remained relatively quiet, still working on music but not releasing anything.  He is quoted as rather having quality over quantity, and his return to music with his latest release shows that fact. The album features Ronnetta Spencer, Dj X.O., Lil Keke, D-Bando, Killa Kyleon, Kirko bangz, Lil O, Devin the Dude, and more — including a rare appearance from Chamillionaire. Tracks like the Eddie Coke assisted "Pressure" and "Change Your Life" along with the lead single "Piped Up" show fans that the time off didn't dull Big Pokey's musical skill.

Color Fool - Uncle Tino

Maybe I'm a sucker for syths, talk boxes, and upbeat tempos but the third person on the list to add their modern take on the late '80s style sound is Uncle Tino.  Tino incorporates the talk box heavily on his latest release, displaying its full potential on the intro track "Indigo" and "Orange".  Each track on the album is named after a color displays the mood that Uncle Tino believes with which the hue should be associated. Tracks like "Green" featuring the sultry voice of Lilly Aviana have Uncle Tino contemplating money woes and what is truly important in his life. Tino balances the album between rapping and singing and delivers a body of work that should expose him to a wider fanbase.

Off The Books - God Body Bingo

The opening track of Off The Books, "H44drich" begins with a medley of snippets from Bingo's previous albums and then immediately moves forward, setting the tone for the album which has the northside MC spitting his staccato flow over trap beats. The album feature Elijah Chalk, Oblivious Jones, Karter, B Val, Flo Eternal, and even God Body Bingo's mother who proclaims the album a hit.  Stand out tracks like "Ea$y Jesus II" and "Big G" showcase God Body Bingo's style that, hopefully, gets more exposure next year.

PSA - Peyton

In 2015 and '16, Peyton released the ep's Roller Coaster and Peace In The Midst of The Storm, attracting the attention of Los Angeles-based Stones Throw Records. The label that brought us J Dilla's "Donuts" and the Madlib/MF Doom collaboration, "Madvillainy", released Peyton's 2019 EP Reach Out.  Now she returns with a full album loaded with catchy tracks like "Perfect Peach," "Don't U Wanna Fly," "Let It Flow" and "What Did I Do." The classically trained violinist and vocalist list Erykah Badu, The Neptunes, and Amel Larrieux are some of her influences and it is a sound that can be felt throughout her catalog.  Her latest displays the depth in her writing ability and should lead to more fans in 2022. 

The Mill Prep - Bigg Fatts

Bigg Fatts released Memoirs of the Kitchen Staff in 2017.  The album, with its standout title track, had Fatts questioning religion, riding through Houston's southside, and navigating the pitfalls of an artists trying to make a break in the industry.  He did all of this while displaying his lyricism and boisterous personality. In 2021 he's putting in more work, dropping The Greater Good with See Green and his solo album, The Mill Prep. His latest offering, now backed by record label PUD Empire, captures Fatt's infectious personality and flow.  The album features See Green, Ronnie Spencer, Z-Ro, Bun B, and more.  The combination of Bigg Fatts and Pud should have us seeing a lot more of him in the future.

Meechie - Dash the Goat & Jett I Masstyr

There is no order to this list, but if there was this would be in the top five. Probably better than that but I wasn't trying to make any charts here.  All that said, the combination of Jett I's '70s soul production and Dash the Goat's baritone flow is compelling. Dash shows out on the album and his work sets the pace for the others with stellar guest features from Esco Llaiya, Rob Gullatte, My'Key Iso, Godking Preach, Jay Von, Delorean, M's Up Milo, George Young, and Aishia K.  Dash and Jett I are already teasing a part 2, after releasing a deluxe version of this offering, so look forward to that in the new year.

Brown Soul - Doeman DYNA

Producer Mark Byrd said "When you listen to Doeman you're going to hear his life.  You're going to hear about his family, his friends, the neighborhood and everything about him.  You can't walk away from a listen and not have an idea of who he is."  I could have come up with something else to describe the album but there is no better description in my mind for Doeman's latest offering, Brown Soul. It is a mix of sped up soul samples, screwed and chopped breakbeats, and Doeman's rapid flow where he details his life. Tracks like "Atl Freestyle" and "Soul Different" display a style that people should get use to seeing in the future.

Life of a Don - Don Toliver

Don Toliver has stepped out of the shadow of Travis Scott and established himself as his own artist, mastering the art of writing hook-driven singles. Most of the music he creates is the soundtrack that you would hear on the way to a party or leaving it. The eerie sound that Travis Scott uses throughout his catalog is expanded upon with more melody that prove Toliver's commercial appeal. The 16-track album is largely helmed by Toliver, only featuring Travis Scott, HVN, SoFaygo, Baby Keem, and Kali Uchis allowing the singer to shine on his own.  Look forward to hearing more from Toliver in 2022.

It Ain't Safe Outside - Propain

It Ain't Safe Outside is Propain's seventh album but he continues to rap with the hunger o a newcomer. Since 2018 his work output has increased leading to this year's release which features Z-Ro, Sauce Walka, DJ XO, Big Jade, Peso Peso, OTB Fastlane, Jackboy Dee, Lil Keke, Slim Thug and Paul Wall.  Songs like "Heart to Heart" have Propain grappling with his own thoughts on police violence and the state of America while "Freak" has him trading bars with Big Jade over subject matter that should be obvious from its title.  Since 2019 Propain has released 7 Day Theory, In Case We Never Speak Again and now the excellent It Ain't Safe Outside so be prepared to see more from him in the next year.

A Happy Man - Dende

Dende might be one of the most versatile artists on the list with his ability to rap and sing. Like Le$ he dropped two projects this year that both could have arguably made this list.  His latest release, Pregnancy Pack, displays his talent for R&B and, while it is excellent, A Happy Man, released earlier this year, showcases his ability to belt out notes as well as his penchant for introspective lyricism. The album, featuring Stockz, Chris Patrick, Bairi, Ausar, John Swaii, Ola and LakeitaValon, has Dende displaying his vulnerability with tracks like "I Cried," "A Happy Man" and "A Happy Man's Demons."  The rest of the album is a collection of music that shows Dende is more than ready for the mainstream in 2022.

The Legend of DB Looper - Tony Dark

The Legend of DB Looper is reminiscent of East Coast beat tapes where a producer would provide the soundtrack for group of MCs to show out.  Dark provides and impeccable boom bap soundtrack for guest stars Mickey Woods Jr, JVOTI, C-Red (top 5 verse of the year), Danny Watts, Doeman DYNA, Sundown, Dshaw225 and Brice Blanco. Elsewhere, the album has Dark displaying his production skills in between '50s movie interludes.  People should be looking for more Tony Dark albums and production in the near future.

Southern G Funk - The Smush Bros

In 2020, Retro Kash and M's Up Milo released Sunday's at Macgregor Park, an album that displayed their style which is a mix of the Westcoast and their current home of Houston. This year they return and capitalize off that sound as The Smush Bros. With appearances from Nola Shakur, George Young, Jay-Von, Stevie Yeeeeeee and Lil Boss the album continues to further their style and establish their Smush Brand. The braggadocios style of Milo mixes perfectly with the hard hitting flows by Retro Kash.  It's a mix that you should expect to see more of in the upcoming year.

God Told Me To Drop This - Dante Higgins

Dante Higgins has something brewing.  He's combined forces with Charity EVaughn and, Grammy nominated producer, Mark Byrd to create their music group GODLVL.  Their first offering is an EP, God Told Me To Drop This, which displays a glimpse into the future.   The opening title track has Higgins laying claim to his future top spot in the rap game. The next track "Frenchy's" shows the chemistry that the group has, with Charity and Mark behind the boards laying beats for Dante to display his flow. God Told Me To Drop This is only the tip of the iceberg for GODLVL so prepare to hear more from them in the next few year. 
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Houston Press contributor DeVaughn Douglas is a freelance writer, blogger, and podcaster. He is 1/2 of the In My Humble Opinion Podcast and 1/1 of the Sleep and Procrastination Society. (That last one isn't a podcast; he just procrastinates and sleeps a lot.)