It’s been almost 25 years since the Geto Boys put Houston on the rap map with an eponymous 1990 album that introduced national hip-hop fans to horror-film imagery and ghetto-life reality in some of Houston’s oldest and poorest neighborhoods. It was 2004 when writer Lance Scott Walker and photographer Peter Beste began compiling the photos and interviews for Houston Rap, published by Sinecure Press late last year. Their timing was fortuitous. Artists and entrepreneurs including DJ Screw, and Devin the Dude had expanded Houston’s reach into hip-hop’s Dirty South alternative to the music’s East Coast/West Coast epicenters, and Mike Jones’ 2004 double-platinum breakout Who Is Mike Jones? heralded a continuing deluge of largely self-sufficient industry from Houston rappers like Chamillionaire and Bun B.
New Yorker Beste and Galveston native Walker not only gained access to stars like the Geto Boys’ Willie D. and Swishahouse Records’ Paul Wall, but documented life in the neighborhoods—Fifth Ward, Third Ward, South Park, the Southside—from which they sprang. These same neighborhoods, pressed alternately by revitalization and neglect, had birthed earlier generations of Houston blues artists, and the duo found there not only “…the love of music in Houston and the independent spirit of its artists,” but “crime, violence, poverty, sex, drugs, and the lingering effects of the crack epidemic that has ravaged these communities.”
Bun B’s introduction credits Beste and Walker with “compiling a true sense of who we are, at our rawest and at our realest … that it’s nothing to be ashamed of, it’s nothing to be embarrassed about. It’s something that should be praised. Because we are not fake people. We’re real people.”
The photos and text that follow are excerpted with permission from Houston Rap.
People don’t realize how far South Park actually goes back. And what I mean is, Martin Luther King Boulevard was actually called South Park Boulevard, and it started where Calhoun is, so that went all the way there where [the University of Houston] starts. So all of that on the side of MacGregor, all of that was called South Park. I always considered like where I grew up was like the gates to South Park, because that was your introduction. This is where it starts. You go past all this, you go under the freeway, now you’re going all the way down to the Dead End and all of that stuff, but on my side, it was … people forget. This is one thing a lot of people don’t know—people who live there now don’t know. First of all, the fuckin’ neighborhood was a white neighborhood in the first fuckin’ place. All of that—MacGregor and all that shit? These were fuckin’ white neighborhoods. Black folks moved in when we got a little money, so what end up happenin’ is, of course, they were like, “Well, shit, there’s a lot of black folks over here, man—we need to fuckin’ get the fuck up out of here!” Once that started happenin’, certain things stayed, certain things couldn’t survive anymore. So you started seein’ these changes. You know, even the stores started changing. —DJ Cipher
The people that are buyin’ the jewelry, they don’t give a damn. They want the cheapest diamonds they can find. They don’t care where it came from. They just wanna look good. Honestly. ’Cause, shit, honestly—somebody from Fifth Ward who wants a diamond grill—man, you think they give a damn where the diamonds came from? About the diamond conflict? Hell no! They just wanna look good. They wanna good lookin’ grill, and they ain’t tryin’ to spend extra money for anything. But the benefit of it is, shit—it’s not like a diamond is Kimberley-certified, that it costs more, ’cause it doesn’t. It costs the same thing. It’s just it’s just a motivatin’ force to get the jewelry stores to subscribe to the Kimberley Process. But I don’t think the actual general public, the general consumer, don’t give a damn. There’s some people that care about it, like, “Oh, those are blood diamonds,” this and that, but them people don’t even buy diamonds. Those people don’t buy diamonds anyway, the people that care. Because some people will be like, “Oh, that’s why I don’t wear diamonds, that’s why I only wear this and that.” See, they not even buyin’ diamonds, so it don’t even matter. They’re not even in the market. The people that are buyin’ diamonds and buyin’ jewelry? Man, they wouldn’t give a damn, ’cause they have their own family members who lost their lives. They livin’ in their own modern day slavery, where they don’t have opportunities, and all they can do, all they feel like they can do is sell dope or hustle or doin’ those type of things. They don’t care what’s goin’ on in Africa. Man, a lot of these people that buy diamonds never even left their neighborhood except for once in their life to go downtown to go to court!—Paul Wall, Swishahouse
It’s kind of funny how we came together. I mean, after it was all said and done, we sat down, and none of us … knew our fathers. There was five ghetto bastards in the group. Now, that was kind of crazy, man. It was like we all vibrated to each other. It was like it was destined for us to be together. When we started, there was three members already in the group. Icey Hott, Lil’ Flea and Pharoah was already cliqued up. And they were coming out to this club called Charlemagne. It was a club on the Northside, not too far from my hood. It was off of Homestead. I’m from Trinity Garden. I heard about them coming to this club, and winning these rap contests. They was having rap battles, you know, and guys from my neighborhood was pushin’ me on to go get in it. Because I was a threat in the neighborhood—I was like a rap threat in the neighborhood … man, that’s when it was just so fun. Where I could see a guy coming down the street, walkin’ my way, and he see me walkin’ his way, and he got his little crew with him, I got my little crew with me. It’s almost like a western showdown or something, you know what I’m sayin’?—KB Da Kidnappa, Street Military
I think the exploitation of women and the misogyny in creative arts is not limited to the rap world. I think as a culture, when it’s projected… I mean the lives that some of these guys live, some of these dudes, they love women. They don’t necessarily want to honor them, but they do love them. They love them physically and all that good stuff, and they can’t live without us. They know that. But… I can’t judge in that sense, because there’s rock bands that I’ve heard that nobody talks about that talk about, “Fuck this bitch,” and “She’s crazy.” All kinds of stuff. It’s in other peoples’ lyrics, too. Not just bad rap. I just think rap gets a bad rap, because when it’s put out commercially, the overwhelming conversation about misogyny in rap lyrics is all… it’s not the only thing that’s out there. It’s really not. It’s about authenticity. There’s a lot of people out there that aren’t authentic. They might have respect for women, but they’re out there rapping this so they can get paid. Even some of the dudes that are talking about some really hard life stuff, men that beat women or mess them over, they’re still very authentic. They’re not going out and killing women or anything like that, but they’re very authentic in what they’re talking about, and I think what is important in creativity and in art is what you don’t talk about.—Ashlei Mayadia, South Park Coalition
The newer generation of kids coming up out of South Park, which is … I have a little brother. So, looking at it right now—my little brother is incarcerated again. And I’m saying again, you know what I mean? Because the new generation feels like the only way to survive is to sell drugs to make it. Or to rob someone to make it out of South Park. I mean, I’m like amazed every day seeing someone that I grew up with or that I remember was a kid from South Park to hear something or be looking at the news and see my people on there, and it’s like, “Oh my god, I couldn’t believe that they did this!” Because it’s somebody that we know. But it was happening like all the time in our neighborhood. This new generation is coming up, and they are learning the wrong things and it’s killing them. So many, every year. I know it’s most definitely over one, two or three that dies every year from South Park alone, people that I know for myself. And they’re kids. They’re probably not even to the age of 25 yet. The value … the value of life, throughout the world, but most definitely in South Park, those kids there … they have a whole different perception of life. Like the value of it is zero to them. —Cl’ Che
To support journalism like this, donate to the Texas Observer.
Hear five hours of Houston rap curated by Lance Scott Walker.