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by Matt Sonzala

June 19, 2013

A History of Texas Rap

by Matt Sonzala  |  June 19, 2013

It seems like a lifetime away now, but it really wasn't so long ago that the average person would think of hip-hop as something that came exclusively from the coasts, first from New York and later from California, more specifically Los Angeles. As the major labels picked up on the sounds of the streets in America's two largest cities, the rest of the world was catching on to and exploring this new culture, and soon every region seemed to have its own localized style of hip-hop developing organically on corners and in seedy juke joints in parts of town a lot of people wouldn't visit.

Nowadays, rap music can come from anywhere, and the best hip-hop generally directly reflects its surroundings. Regional flavor has taken the hip-hop mantra of "keep it real" to a literate extreme. No longer does a local emcee in the South, the Midwest or anywhere in the world have to mimic the sounds of the New York purists. In fact, it's quite the opposite: People want to hear music that sounds like its birthplace. Take, for example, New Orleans jazz, Mississippi blues and now, even Texas rap.

Hip-hop came to Texas the same way it came to most places: via movies like Wild Style, Beat Street and Breakin', and on mix shows on black radio stations that were adventurous enough to give it a chance. There were also New York transplants like emcee Wickett Crickett in Houston and others who brought the sounds of their streets to the great state most people never would have thought could become a hip-hop haven.

In Texas hip-hop's early stages, local bands would play the clubs and incorporate an emcee into their sets. But soon, artists in Houston like K-Rino and his group Real Chill, Willie D (who would later become a member of the Geto Boys), and the Fila Fresh Crew and U Know Who in Dallas began releasing independent singles and brought the realities of the Texas streets to wax.

The sound spread like wildfire, and since then every pocket of Texas has produced regional hitmakers. The late '80s saw the rise of Houston's Rap-A-Lot Records, which would release (most famously) all of the records from The Geto Boys, and many others from Houston emcee like Choice, The Odd Squad, The Terrorists, Gangsta NIP and Big Mello. Suave House followed with releases from Crime Boss and South Circle that are regarded as regional classics. In Dallas, things started popping off when Profile signed Ron C and the group Nemesis. Both were more specifically considered bass music artists with a distinctly Texas twist. Austin's Project Crew and San Antonio's P.K.O. also played strong roles in bringing the sound to the center of the state. And soon a duo from Port Arthur called UGK moved to Houston and took the entire South by storm. They remain one of the most influential Southern rap groups of all time.

At that point, it didn't matter what anyone else thought: Texas hip-hop had one of the biggest hometown fan bases outside of New York City. Simply put, Texas residents support Texas music, and it was no different when the state began producing hip-hop. Those artists hit the same "chitlin' circuit" towns as their blues and funk predecessors, and built their own scenes.

After seeing the success of Rap-A-Lot and the mixtapes of DJ Screw, a music distributor based in Houston called Southwest Wholesale caught on to the sound and began giving distribution deals to local rappers and labels. This spawned careers for artists like ESG, Lil' Keke, Lil' O, Fat Pat, Hawk, Lil' Flip and other members of the famed Screwed Up Click. Many of these "local" artists would sell more CDs independently in Texas alone than many major-label artists would nationwide. Dallas artists like Kottonmouth, Rally Boys, Bo Leg, DSR and Pimpsta would follow and build up dedicated fan bases in cities such as Tyler, Longview and Killeen. The mid-'90s even saw artists like Waco's Hustler E and Austin's Flo Mob getting love in different corners of the state.

The majors started taking notice, as they always do when an artist (or in this case, a whole state full of artists) starts making money. Local entrepreneur Lil' Troy signed a deal with Universal and released a compilation of Houston artists, many from the Screwed Up Click, that spawned the mega-hit "Wanna Be a Baller." South Park Mexican also signed with Universal soon after, but with so many Texas rappers already successfully making money, the majority of the artists remained independent.

Southwest Wholesale closed down in the mid-2000s; one of their final success stories was the Swisha House, a collective of artists and DJs from the Houston's Northside, who, like the Screwed Up Click, flexed their strength in numbers and forced another feeding frenzy. Slim Thug, Chamillionaire, Paul Wall and Mike Jones all scored major deals. And right behind them, artists like Trae tha Truth and Z-Ro forged a whole new sound for the city. The rest, as they say, is history.

Nowadays artists like Fat Tony, Doughbeezy, Killa Kyleon, LE$, Delorean, Lyric Michelle, Uzoy, Riff Raff, Chingo Bling, A.Dd+, Worldwide, Kydd, The Niceguys, League of Extraordinary G'z, SoSanAntone, Kirko Bangz, Question, Tunk, Topic, The Cannabinoids, Snow Tha Product, 10YR and Hoodstar Chantz are carrying the torch and working their music just like those who came before them. From their blocks to the world.

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