Sunday, February 05, 2006

It's Just SoReal

Man it seems as though I'm starting more and more posts with the "sorry it's taken me so long to post" thang thang but truth is I had to step away for about a good week and get some work done. Suffice it to say my faith in this shit waned for a hot minute and I had to step back. Get some work done.

One this that killed me was the lackluster response to week one of our fund drive on Damage Control.

Download Damage Control 02/02/06 Right Cheer.

But today we start a new week, a work week that is gonna take Devin the Dude, DJ Rapid Ric and myself to four cities in Canada. SoReady Canada are you? Hit us up and let us know if we're going to see you on our trek this week.

Check it out:

We leave Thursday Feb. 9th and head for Montreal

Le Kop Shop, Dan Seligman and our peoples from Pop Montreal, Dave 1 and more will be our hosts for this here evening.

After party to commence directly after performance, featuring DJ Rapid Ric.

Friday Feb. 10th we head to Ottawa, Ontario

Saturday Feb. 11th it's on to Toronto, my favorite city in North America, seriously.

With a magnanimous after party featuring DJ Rapid Ric at The Social sewn up by Rory Them Finest and Wendy Morgan

Then Sunday February 12th We head to London, Ontario

Now real talk, I grew up in Erie, Pennsylvania. I started coming to Houston a couple times a year since I was 8 years old. But I was mostly raised in Erie. Erie is like directly across the lake from London, Ontario and I grew up listening to London radio. It was on Canadian radio where I first heard John Peel years ago. I'm kind of excited to see this little city just north of Lake Erie. And this show here was put together by Fritz the Cat, a LONGTIME Devin supporter and spreader of the word in Canada.

Shit is gonna be insane. Ozone Magazine and Lance Walker will be covering some of the shows. SO much Canadian Press set up. Canada is so damn real. See y'all later this week.


SO get ready for it. I got a jump off with my man Witnes from Late Nite Snax/Rockbox Thursday night Feb. 16th at the Proletariat - CAPS N JONES LIVE FROM NYC!!!!

Then Friday Feb. 17th AUSTIN Catch CAPS N JONES LIVE AT BARCELONA!!!!!

And Sunday Feb. 19th lookout for the official Scratch Magazine DJ Battle/NBA All Star Game Party - Brought to You By Palava Hut, Music Choice, Scratch Magazine, HoustonSoReal and more. I can't really announce it all but from what I hear is that aside from the battle there will also be performances by Scarface, Slim Thug and more and Juvenile will be the host for the evening.

More info will come to you when it comes to me. Until then, let's all keep our heads up.


But yeah man, I have kind of been trippin' this week. Last week I put on a show in Austin with a few of my favorite MC's in the business. K-Rino, Young Bleed and Money Waters. Man, shit. The turnout wasn't especially wonderful and I started to get mad like man "Does noone have any interest in supporting the real?" Like for realer, how much realer does it get than K-Rino and Young Bleed? You want to talk about southern lyricists? You want to talk about influential individuals? Respected artists? Man, K-Rino and Young Bleed can't be fucked with. We had flyers, posters, some radio, lead picks in both papers -- thanks again Robert Gabriel and Joe Gross -- and man I thought it was gonna be huge.

But look, fuck the crowd, the show itself went off. Everybody. K-Rino even brought out Rhyme Felony, Point Blank and Dope E. of the Terrorists. Big thanks to everyone who came out, K-Rino, SPC, Uncle Pauly, Young Bleed & Crew, Money Waters, Basswood Lane, Smackola - Smackola's so real, he committed to doing the show, but wanted to go to the Pimp C party in Houston the same night. So he came in and performed for the early comers and then jetted to Houston. ANyway peep the photos.

Money Waters is one of the freshest new voices in Texas.

How Ya Do Dat There? Young Bleed...

Rhyme Felony of the SPC went on right before K-Rino

K-Rino fucking ripped it. I'm serious dude has one of the hardest shows in the business. It's just so direct and in your face.

Point Blank, K-Rino, Dope E.

Rhyme Felony Recording K-Rino's set

K-Rino and James Dean of the Back Room

Chalie Boy in the mix with K-Rino, Money Waters and more.

My wife bought this puppet for her sister in Amsterdam when we first got together in 1996.

Then 2 nights later was Scarface live with his full band at ANtone's in Austin. Man, what I heard was dope once it got going. But dude had a ten piece band and they struggled to get the sound right from like almost 1 a.m. till about 1:30 a.m. They stayed on stage till 2:50 a.m. from what I hear, but I sure as hell didn't make it that late. I had cedar fever - Austin is just like that - and had had about enought by about 1:45. Dude really has something here with this band. They just need to come earlier for soundcheck and get that shit perfect. Man, seeing Face with the band can be pretty amazing. He just needs to have them playing constantly man. Serious, this is going to be something huge.

Marc from Mofoz Vizuals pictured with my new favorite shirt. MofozSoReal

Dude broke out the guitar. Man, hold, up.

See you later this week Canada.

And man I have been wanting to post the following article forever. I wrote it for Hip Hop Connection in London, it's been published in RIME in America, Juice in Germany, The State in the Netherlands and I am pretty sure it's beena few other places like Canada but I forget at the moment. Anyway, I didn't want to post this up on the real, because I feel like there is no way you could write a history of Houston Hip Hop in the span of the average magazine article. But whatever, I wrote it, had a word count restriction, and took this very very seriously. Yes there are gaping holes. The book and DVD will be way more complete. But for now, here's a couple thousand words about Houston. (BTW DJ JD and DJ Ayres "Houston for Dummies" CD is a great companion to this piece. I'll be blogging abou that in a ocuple days.
By Matt Sonzala

Back in 1986, when the world was still fixated on New York City as not only a hip-hop Mecca, but quite possibly the only place where hip-hop could even exist, a group of individuals in Houston, Texas were laying the ground work for an eventual takeover. In a ramshackle little office overlooking one of the many used car lots that populated North Shepherd Drive on the border of the Heights section of their city, an empire was born, an independent empire that would change the face of hip-hop music forever.

Long before the south became the spot for hip-hop music, long before Texas was ever even on the hip-hop radar, a man named James Smith was laying the ground work for an entire cultural shift, one that would go largely unrecognized for years, but as evidenced in the success of southern rap in 2005, the emergence of one group changed the course of hip-hop music, forever. That group was the Geto Boys, and with their controversial rhymes, firebrand production and fiercely independent spirit, the rap game shifted from a strictly New York and LA major label run entity, into a way for boyz in the hood to make their money, legitimately.

Rap A Lot Records was one of the first truly independent labels to make noise on a major scale in the rap world, and Smith, now known as J. Prince is the man behind the plan that brought the south to such prominence. “Everybody knows that it was the Rap-A-Lot blueprint that opened the door and everybody came after.” Prince reflects from his palatial office on the second floor of his Rap-A-Lot compound. “And it’s a good thing. I’m proud of everybody that done it because that was my mission from day one. Cuz if you listen to those old songs, I wanted to kick the door in. And you know open it up for a whole lot of the guys.”

It took some time, but a whole lot of guys are currently running through that door. Surely you’ve heard of Swishahouse, Mike Jones, Paul Wall, Slim Thug, Lil O, Magno, Lil Keke, Chamillionaire, DJ Screw, Devin the Dude and UGK. No? Well you’re about to.

The Early Days

In the eighties hip-hop was catching fire all over the world, but there wasn’t a rapper smoldering on every corner like there is today. There were no home studios consisting of a computer and a microphone. If you wanted to make a record, and take your craft seriously you had to learn and follow every step to success from finding a studio you could afford to figuring out just how to press your record.

Houston’s 3rd and 5th Ward’s have always been vibrant blues communities, but for the younger generation just getting into hip-hop, there really weren’t a lot of role models. K-Rino was one of the first Houston rappers to ever drop a record, and he continues to release projects to this day. “It ain’t like the doors just opened up,” K-Rino explains from his home in Houston’s notorious South Park neighborhood, “H-Town been doing things. Back when we started in the mid-‘80’s it really wasn’t even a market, because nobody was thinking about doing it professionally. For the most part people were just doing it to be doing it out of love. Just rapping on the corner or at school, that’s how I started. When people realized what it took to make records that’s when people started doing it.”

K-Rino released the Houston classic, “Rockin’ It” with his group Real Chill back in 1986. When they disbanded, he focused his efforts on his solo career, but also began to assemble the MC’s in his neighborhood and formed one of the cities most notorious clicks, the South Park Coalition. The SPC consisted of some of the best rappers to ever come from that neighborhood, most notably Gangsta NIP and The Terrorists, both of which later signed to Rap-A-Lot.

“Rap was in its early stages, period, overall.” He continues, “So down here it might not have been as advanced as on the east coast and on the west coast. When you start moving up to the mid-80’s, that’s when Rap-A-Lot really started doing they thing and then my group the South Park Coalition came around, a lot of those cats are still around. Wicket Cricket, Jazzy Red, O.G. Style, a lot of those are names you still hear consistently around the city. Rap-A-Lot to me got the strongest roster in hip-hop right now. There’s a lot of cats who established that longevity to where they can still be around today.”

Which is a rarity in a culture that is known for moving on to the next big thing as often as they change their underwear. Houston is a scene that has been genuinely nurtured by its own forefathers. Sure we’ve seen periods where certain artists got major deals – most of whom were fucked by an industry who never really understood the city – but the reality is, since day 1 Houston has been an independent force to be reckoned with.

“Down here when nobody gave us any respect, they looked at us as country and thought nobody could possibly make it from Houston,” K-Rino explains, “J. Prince put it on his shoulders and said ‘forget a major label’ and eventually made them have to come to him. That’s why Houston is like it is now. There’s no other market in hip-hop that has support for independent labels like we have down here. That’s what makes us unique cuz other markets focus on getting a deal. We come independent then work our way up to the deal.

“It’s like the NBA. Twenty years ago, when Jordan first came into the league, nobody thought that endorsements and the marketing of the NBA would grow and escalate and the contracts would be like they are. A million dollar contract was big. It was the same with us in rap. We didn’t really look that far ahead at the game as a whole. It’s good that it has evolved like this though. Once Houston started to develop its own style and identity as a market, we etched a place in history for ourselves.”

Back in those days records like Raheem’s The Vigilante were making major noise. That record was released on Rap-A-Lot records and had distribution through Atlantic Records. He was the first Houston rap artist to receive video play on MTV, however limited that play might have been. People forget that it was he who first broke down the doors nationally.

Then Rap-A-Lot followed up with a slew of independent releases, all of which are regarded as classics and helped shape the sounds you are hearing today. Willie D’s Controversy, Geto Boys - Grip It! On That Other Level, Choice - The Big Payback, Def IV - Nice & Hard, Trinity Garden Cartel’s - Don’t Blame it on the Music, Prince Johnny C’s – The Next, Royal Flush – Uh Oh, Gangsta NIP – South Park Psycho, Big Mello – Bone Hard Zaggin and OG Style’s – I Know How to Play ‘Em are all essential.

The Mid-Period

In the early 90’s, as Rap-A-Lot’s notoriety grew with the release of the Geto Boys biggest album, We Can’t Be Stopped and the hit single it spawned, “Mind Playin’ Tricks,” Houston really started to catch hip-hop fever. Major labels were starting to look for talent, but at this point, most of the groups were very content to go the independent route. They saw the empire that Rap-A-Lot built on its own and wanted to follow in those footsteps.

A couple of groups did go the major route. One being Street Military, a group that was associated with the South Park Coalition. They released a few projects on their own and got the streets so hot that Wild Pitch/EMI records came down and scooped them up. Back in those days Wild Pitch was one of the most respected labels in rap with releases from Gangstarr, Lord Finesse and Chill Rob G behind them. Their album Don’t Give a Damn was a marginal hit, but never saw the numbers the majors were hoping they’d muster.

Undoubtedly the biggest group to come out of this era was a duo from Port Arthur, Texas, less than two hours east of Houston, UGK. Rappers Bun B and Pimp C – still two of the most important figures in Houston rap – were young and hungry when they first started taking the rap game seriously. Coming from Port Arthur, a small town on the banks of the Gulf of Mexico, they didn’t have much choice but to make the trip to Houston to try and find their way into the business.

“We would come to Houston anyway. We had to.” Remembers Bun B, “We recorded a couple of songs and a cat in Kings Flea Market (to this day, a major spot for buying music and gear on Houston’s south side) named Russell Washington had a label called Big Tyme Records. He had a little sign in his store looking for demos and so we went back and got ours and let him hear it. He really felt that “Tell Me Something Good” was a hit. So we rerecorded that in the summer going into the fall of 1991 and we entered a contest on Houston radio in January of 1992 and ended up winning the competition. But we got disqualified because Russell was already pressing up the record. But because people kept calling in to hear the song again, the station added it. The rest is history.”

And what a history it has been for these two boys. That song “Tell Me Something Good” was on the radio in Houston more than any other Houston record in history, besides maybe “Mind Playin’ Tricks.” This sparked one of the first real bidding wars the region has ever seen, with Jive Records coming out victorious.

Their first national release, Too Hard to Swallow, and their appearance on the soundtrack to the film Menace to Society took the group to all new heights, but at the time, while Jive was very happy to cash in on the money being made in the southern region, they never really gave UGK the push they gave their other artists like Tribe Called Quest and KRS ONE.

“I think the problem with them was basically the same problem any southern artist was having if they were on a major label just then.” Bun continues, “It just wasn’t a respect for the region or for the talent from the region. I think they thought we were good doing what we were, but it was best to not spend a lot of money on it because it probably wasn’t gonna break. They had all these excuses to not do anything for us and yet you had people who weren’t selling half of what we were selling getting two or three videos.” Today Bun B is working on a solo record for Rap-A-Lot and recording features with any rapper you could name, including London’s Dizzee Rascal, and Pimp C is sitting flat in a prison just south of Houston for an assault charge he received some years ago.

Around the same time, one DJ, from Houston’s south side, eschewed the rest of the world’s opinions on the sounds coming from his town, and went all the way left. DJ Screw created not only a new sound for the south, but a revolution in and of itself. Coming from outside Texas, you can never fully comprehend the impact this man made on the music, merely by slowing his mixtapes to a syrupy pace and selling them out of his house one deep a couple times a week.

Every region boasts breakthrough DJ’s who infected the streets and helped to bring their local sounds to some sort of prominence, but no DJ has ever had the impact that DJ Screw had on Texas. By slowing the pitch of his mixtapes down, he mimicked the pace of his city streets. Drenched in overwhelming sunshine, with air conditioning being a person’s only respite (even the swimming pools and the Gulf of Mexico become quite tepid as July rolls around in Houston), it’s hard to move swiftly in this town. The incessant heat and extreme humidity depletes every ounce of energy from even the strongest bodies and as you sit in your car, A/C on blast, nothing soothes the soul of these streets like a good Screw tape.

Though DJ Screw passed almost five years ago from what some say was an overdose of codeine cough syrup (though his mother maintains that he died after his fifth heart attack and some say he might have been poisoned – yet another hip-hop death surrounded by questions) his click is still alive and well. The Screwed Up Click is one of the hottest brands in the south to this day, and Screws tapes, all at least 5 – 10 years old, still sell briskly.

Lil O was an original member of the Click and reps it to this day. He’s seen deals come and go from MCA and Atlantic and is now concentrating on his independent hustle and even makes his own mixtapes. He says, if Screw were alive today, things would be moving a little differently in H-Town. “If Screw was alive? Hell yeah it’d be different. Simply for the fact that you gotta remember what gave us the edge on a lot of cats is Screw was our own radio station. When radio didn’t want to play us, we didn’t care because Screw was gonna play us and Screw was the radio of the streets. When you have your own radio on your side of course it makes things a whole lot easier.”

And it sure seemed easy back in the ‘90’s. Devin the Dude released two highly critically acclaimed albums, South Park Mexican gained a lucrative label deal with Universal, Rap-A-Lot was being distributed world wide through Virgin, ESG and Lil Keke hit the 100,000 sold mark on a couple of strictly independent releases and Wreckshop Records scored distribution with Priority Records for their thick catalog that included records from Screwed Up Click vets like Big Moe, Fat Pat and later, ESG.

The Present to the Future

Now in 2005, after a slow couple of years, due in part to the closing of the independent distributor Southwest Wholesale – who handled the bulk of the indy product coming from Houston for decades – Houston seems to be on everybody’s mind. The emergence of the Swishahouse, a rap crew modeled loosely after the Screwed Up Click, with their leader Michael Watts being the most prominent “slowed and chopped” DJ today, has brought all eyes on our town and once again the majors are circling.

But will they be able to do a better job with this new legion of MC’s than they have in the past? Recently we’ve seen many artists score major deals. Mike Jones and Paul Wall of the Swishahouse will both have releases on the streets under Asylum and Atlantic before the summer is up, Chamillionaire inked a huge label deal with Universal for his Chamillitary imprint, Slim Thug was picked up by Pharrell of the Neptunes for his Star Trak/Interscope imprint and Rap-A-Lot released a Geto Boys record under Warner/Asylum that’s every bit as firey as their early records.

Time will provide the true test, but in an industry that is so quick to dispose of an act they are working in favor of the next big thing, hopefully it will allow this sound to gain the momentum it needs to go worldwide. A true independent, Michael Watts of the Swishahouse isn’t really worried about it. “Well we got a deal with Warner Brothers/Asylum, but we’re still an independent label, just with major distribution. We’re gonna do basically everything the same, we’re just gonna take it to a higher level. We’re gonna take the same style we had, and just boost it up a notch.”

But it’s the independents who are really keeping Houston crunk right now. Word on the streets is that everyone is certainly happy for Mike Jones and the like, but fact is, Houston as a whole likes to support is homegrown own, people they can see in the streets everyday. An independent label can happily thrive if they just learn the game and work hard day in and day out. Latino rapper/comedian Chingo Bling has built an independent and unprecedented network for himself that spans the entire south from Miami to San Diego and even up the west coast into the Bay Area. His mixtapes, clothesline and even his bobblehead dolls are all major commodities. Rappers like Z-Ro, his cousin Trae and their little brothers SLAB (Slow Loud & Bangin’) have the real street cats on lock and can sell tens of thousands of discs every time they drop. And relative newcomers like the G.R.i.T. Boys and Yung Redd are building their fanbases just like their mentors in the mid-90’s did, one ear at a time.

On top of that, Houston artists are finally really beginning to break out of their regions and let the world see what makes Houston such a great place. K-Rino recently performed his first shows abroad in Finland of all places, Devin the Dude recently played Amsterdam, Lil Flip did tours of Canada and Europe and Slim Thug has performed with Pharrell in Japan. That lack of international presence, hell lack of hustle outside of the south, is one thing that has held Houston back all these years. Today however, artists from the deepest recesses of our old school on up to our most current bangers are all broadening their vision to include other regions and even countries in their marketing plans. Could this new attitude help keep Houston on top of the rap game for more than just a fleeting moment?

“Hell yeah man.” Willie D of the Geto Boys explains, “I just know that the world is bigger than the United States. I finally realized that. I didn’t think like that, even up to five years ago, but I know now. The world is bigger than the United States so when things slow down here, it’s always happening somewhere.”


Anonymous LeanSippa said...

Good Read, good usual...

Much fun with the shows in Canada!!...

Much Luv,

6:27 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

read that article in hip-hop connection last year - best houson hip-hop history published anywhere. keep on keepin' on, sir.

9:22 AM  
Anonymous Shawn said...

Hey your blog is great, I wanna talk with you about if you want to interview some people ever.. hit me back

9:59 AM  
Blogger Pushermania said...

Interview people for what?

3:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

actually the link for Rapid Ric's myspace is :

you wouldnt happen to have more information for the
Feb 17 2006 6:00P
George Brown Convention Center Houston, TX

show? with rapid ric.


9:16 AM  
Anonymous bgn79 said...

I have the Rime magazine with that article, great article too bed it wasn't accompanied by some of Peter's photos. Once i seen K-Rino's name in the article I had a feeling you wrote.

1:37 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

You grew up in Erie? No way! I am from Erie as well. Small world. Smith's hot dogs, baby.

8:10 AM  
Blogger DJ Stef said...

Please take a picture with my boys Fritz and Druncnes on Sunday. Wish I could be there!!

11:11 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home