I spent this past Saturday in Houston, driving around in a rental car while my son played in a tournament, listening to hip hop radio and thinking about Houston hip hop, which to me pretty much means Scarface. If you’re not familiar with Scarface, who though perhaps one of the best rappers of the 90s never received the same popularity that East and West Coast artists did in the mainstream music world, he is the most popular purveyor of the old Houston style: purple-inspired sloooow beats, with samples that were often chopped and screwed, that is broken up and twisted around to give an overall impression of deliberateness (the style was originated by DJ Screw, whose mixtapes are legendary, and not at all safe for work, as they contain all manner of n-words, f-words, and references to purple; enough that I only feel comfortable linking, not embedding). Much of Scarface’s work is similar to West Coast-style gangster rap, as Houston hip hop was definitely more influenced by its left than its right, but to a close listener it’s quite distinct:
Thinking about Houston hip hop in that great, large, sprawling (sprawling!) town (that I generally can’t stand, and always get lost in) made me a bit sad though, because I have never lived in a town with a vibrant hip hop scene. This is a big deal, because reason I can talk about Houston hip hop, or West Coast hip hop, East Coast hip hop, Southern hip hop (and divide that into New Orleans and Atlanta hip hop), Midwestern hip hop, and so on, is because for most of the history of its existence, hip hop has been closely tied to the place from which it originated. This isn’t just a matter of style: hip hop scenes develop support systems, cultures, and ultimately businesses that promote the music: one of the reasons Scarface was never as popular as Biggie, Dre, Snoop, Tupac, or even Outkast, is because the Houston scene never developed into the business juggernauts that were Death Row, Bad Boy, and the entire Atlanta scene (which tended to sign with established record labels). Austin? Nashville? Lexington? They’ve never developed mature scenes that could produce and promote artists in the way that other cities have.
Going back to Houston for a minute (and quickly leaving, before I get lost!), one of the things that made Houston hip hop interesting was its slow style, which as I’ve mentioned was influenced by purple, which was a Houston thing and slows everything down. When Houston’s scene was developing in the 90s, the rest of Southern hip hop, which for a long time was mostly Atlanta hip hop, was fast even when it was slow:
The Atlanta style was perfected by Outkast and Goodie Mob (with Cee Lo):
Along with Cee Lo by himself:
Sometime in the Aughts, New Orleans rose to the top of the southern scene (though Atlanta remains very relevant), mostly because that’s where Lil Wayne is from there (not at all safe for work, with some really prominent f-bombs and n-words):
I am not a Lil Wayne fan (if R and I break up someday, this may be the cause), though his deposition makes me laugh harder every time I see it. There are some really awesome artists in New Orleans, though (NSFW, n-words and other stuff your boss doesn’t want to hear coming from your desk):
New Orleans, sandwiched between Atlanta and Houston geographically, borrowed a lot from both: the beats are usually fast, but the rapping slowed down. The latter is probably a result of the fact that purple became really popular in New Orleans when it spread out of Houston (and therefore is a common theme in New Orleans hip hop).
The point I’m trying to make here is that the South has been filled with a lot of great hip hop for at least a couple decades, from Georgia to Texas, but for some reason, despite living my entire life in the South, I’ve never managed to find a thriving local hip hop scene where I am. Nashville never really had a scene to speak of, and while hip hop was popular in Lexington, KY, it never produced a particular style or signature artist. Well, that’s not entirely true. Lexington did give us CunninLynguists, one of the better underground hip hop groups of the last several years:
But Austin? Live Music Capital of the World? Almost nothing for the entire time I’ve lived here. Though that might be changing. National artists have started playing here more and more, SXSW has become a hip hop festival, and a few weeks ago R. and I went to an Austin hip hop showcase MC’d by a husband and wife duo, Riders Against the Storm:
And featuring what I assume will be the Ordinary Time’s official group, The League of Extraordinary G’z (NSFW):
The event, which they plan to do monthly (if you’re in Austin, we’ll be there on the 14th of this month; if you come you’ll meet R., because she meets everyone), needs a bit of work, but man if an Austin style grows up around The LOEGZ, I will be a happy. Maybe someone will soon be rapping about my block!
Anyway, let’s close it out with more of The LOEGZ (N-words and F-words, a guy rapping from behind the counter at Subway, and a reparations reference, no politics!):
(N-words, F-words, B-words, maybe some other bad words, and The Roots reference):