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November 29, 2018

Lance Scott Walker's Playlist for His Book "Houston Rap Tapes: An Oral History of Bayou City Hip-Hop"

Houston Rap Tapes: An Oral History of Bayou City Hip-Hop

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Jesmyn Ward, Lauren Groff, Bret Easton Ellis, Celeste Ng, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Houston Rap Tapes is a fascinating portrayal of the Houston hip hop scene through interviews and photographs.

In his own words, here is Lance Scott Walker's Book Notes music playlist for his book Houston Rap Tapes: An Oral History of Bayou City Hip-Hop:

My recently published book is a collection of interviews I conducted between 2005 and 2017 with members of the hip-hop community in Houston, Texas. The project was conceived by photographer Peter Beste, who began shooting photos in 2004 and brought me in shortly thereafter to handle the text. We published the books Houston Rap and Houston Rap Tapes in 2013 and 2014 respectively, with this newest tome being a more encyclopedic arrangement of the latter with lots of additional interviews, photos, album art, maps, and essays. History was the foundation of the whole project, but music was the driving force, and though our conversations split off into all kinds of different directions, we always returned to that central theme. So I created two libraries along the way: one of transcriptions of my interviews and one of the music that came up in those conversations. The life of a book is a long arc between idea and pages you can put your fingers through. This was a long journey. Here are a few selections from that library.

“MacGregor Park" by The L.A. Rapper

This 1985 single wasn’t the first Houston hip-hop record, but it was the first one that made a splash locally, so a lot of the artists I interviewed for the book had memories of this song blowing up when they were in high school or middle school. The L.A. Rapper wasn’t from L.A. and he only made one recording after this one, but his song celebrating the Southside gathering spot MacGregor Park is important because it was the first Houston hip-hop song talking specifically about Houston. “MacGregor Park” is old school electro, with all manners of hot synths, wild guitars, vocoder vox, and electronic dog barks to give it resonance. I won’t say it’s timeless, but it’s bonafide.

“Assassins" by Ghetto Boys

“Ghetto Boys! Ghetto Boys!” This was back before they were known as Geto Boys, and there are two versions of this song to reflect two completely different lineups of the group. I don’t know which one I heard blasting out of cars when I was in high school in the late ’80s, but during that era this song was everywhere. It was how I learned about the Geto Boys, and thus how I learned that there was even such thing as rap music from Houston.

“Child 4 Freestyle” by Born 2wice ft. Rick Royal of Royal Flush, B-Fine

I think this is one of the greatest hip-hop songs ever recorded, and folks probably know I love it because I’ve played it half a dozen times on my radio show and every time I DJ somewhere. The beat hits hard for 1990, crisp like the tightest beer joint drummer tucked into a brick corner, the swing tight like punk rock, every sample bouncing through a pocket of air between the lines, each of which comes rapid fire in a cascade of verses. Drips with attitude and bravado. It’s freestyle but it never gets loose.

“Wild In The City” by Street Military (DJ Screw mix)

Street Military was an early ’90s group from all over Houston: South Park, Mo City, Trinity Gardens. One of them is dead, one of them is in prison, and the other three have continued on with solo careers. All of that activity has helped cement Street Military’s legacy as one of Houston’s greatest hip-hop acts, but the music has held up on its own. For extra credit, find DJ Screw’s insane mix of this one, where he winds back and draws out one of my all-time favorite lines by Street Military producer/rapper Icey Hott: “Late at night / smokin’ weed and eatin’ barbecue / nobody fuckin’ with me / nobody fuckin’ with you.”

“Get Ya Hands Up" by E.S.G. and Slim Thug

When Northside Houston rapper Slim Thug started really getting noticed in the early 2000s, the Southside rapper E.S.G. (Everyday Street Gangster) was in jail. When E got out, he reached out to Slim Thug with the idea of a collaboration. A Northside/Southside joint was still a new thing. DJ Screw’s death and the efforts of UGK did a lot to smooth out the Northside/Southside beef of the 1990s, but this was still a pretty big deal. The duo recorded an entire album together, but this was the song that carried the flag that read “Northside/Southside—y’all best get over it.”

“To Tha X-Treme” by Devin the Dude

I don’t know. It’s just the perfect soundtrack for driving around Houston at night trying to meet up with rappers. When that scenario (which happened on countless evenings) plays through my head, this song comes up.

“Move On” by K-Otix

I was handed this record when I met the producer The ARE (Russel Gonzalez of K-Otix) and to this day I’m happy that I own this bad boy on vinyl. Sample-rich. K-Otix had their own thing going on outside of the gangsta rap for which Houston is known, and they’re still making music in the lane they starting cutting in the mid-’90s.

“Still Tippin’" by Mike Jones, Slim Thug, Paul Wall

This was the song that set things off in Houston around the same time we were getting things underway with the book. Mike, Slim, and Paul are Northside rappers from Houston’s Swishahouse label, and this song came out right at the moment where each of their careers was on the rise, culminating in successive #3, #2, and #1 albums on the Billboard charts. We started the books just before this one hit, so it was fresh watching the wave crest.

“Knockin Doorz Down" by Pimp C

The late Pimp C was one half (along with Bun B) of the Port Arthur group UGK, who are noted as instrumental in helping to smash the Northside/Southside beef of the 1990s. Years later, Pimp released this one to directly call out some individual beefs. Slim Thug and Z-Ro was one of them. Paul Wall and Chamillionaire was another. Each conflict has since been resolved.

“Gotsta Get Paid” by ZZ Top

This was a nod both to Street Military’s “Gasta Get Paid” (1993) and to DJ DMD’s 1998 classic “25 Lighters” by the biggest group out of Houston besides Destiny’s Child. Dig the video where Top plays this one inside a frosty walk-in beer cooler.

"Galveston" by Glen Campbell

I’m from Galveston—born and raised—or “BOI” as we say on the Island (always capitalized). I moved to Houston when I was 19 years old, and that was the first time I ever heard this song. In fact, I didn’t even hear it then—people just started singing it to me and I had no idea what they were singing. That was 1992. Flash forward to 2018 and I planned my book tour to start in Galveston, so in the final stretch before the book came out, I had this song stuck in my head on loop. Soundtrack for a homecoming.

"Du souffle pour deux" by Ariane Moffatt

What does this have to do with hip-hop, or even Texas? As was the case in the aforementioned entry, this one was tied to the book tour. Ariana Moffatt is a superstar in Canada, where my dad is from and where I spent parts of my summers growing up, so I was familiar with her back catalog, but this song debuted when I was on the road driving across Texas and had the freshness of a new release. Moffatt sings in French, and my wife was on tour with her band in France at the time. Luckily, I don’t speak much French, so in my head I made the lyrics to this one all about missing her. Music gives us strength, especially in those uncharted wilds. This one is on my list because it’s about the growth that comes on the road.

“Abandoned Cities” b/w “Dark Star" by Harold Budd

Again, has nothing to do with hip-hop, it’s just one of the greatest ambient writing albums I’ve ever employed, and it was a big part of the editing process for this book. If you write, try it. If you relax, try it. Really—you need to relax. This hip-hop stuff will get you wound up.

Lance Scott Walker and Houston Rap Tapes: An Oral History of Bayou City Hip-Hop links:

the author's website

D Magazine interview with the author
Houston Chronicle profile of the author
Marfa Public Radio interview with the author
Texas Observer mixtape by the author
Texas Standard profile of the author
University of Houston Radio interview with the author
VICE interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

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