Houston rap has always prided itself on being "major without a major deal," as local powerhouse label Swisha House puts it. But ever since the breakthrough of Mike Jones—whose "Still Tippin' " introduced the world to Houston's drowsy flow and candy-paint car culture—the long-overlooked scene is the toast of the rap world. Now top H-Town talent is gunning to be major with a major deal, and a flood of releases is on the way. Here's the latest from the new capital of the Dirty South.
The idea behind the album title is that Slim Thug is already an established star in his native Houston. "Don't get me confused with the rest of them dudes/ I been the boss down South, I'm just new to a few," he explains. But despite his apparent confidence, Slim Thug hedges his bet on his major-label debut, turning production duties over to the Neptunes. The result is a highly unorthodox take on the Houston sound: still slow-motion, but aggressively futuristic. "I Ain't Heard of That" (featuring Bun B and Pharrell) pairs a lazy, menacing synth with light, clicking percussion. "Like A Boss" rides over a distorted, almost flatulent horn. For a more traditional Houston sound and more on local beefs, check out his recent mixtape, "Boss Basics."
Paul Wall The Peoples Champ (Swisha House/Atlantic)
Listen to "Sittin' Sidewayz."
Paul Wall is something of a Houston mascot. The only notable white rapper in the scene, he paid his dues pushing mixtapes for Swisha House founder DJ Michael "5000" Watts. In addition to his rap career, he's a popular DJ—screwing and chopping projects for T.I., Young Jeezy, Lil' Flip, and thug rockers the Transplants—and one of the city's top dental jewelers, designing custom diamond-studded grills for the hood-rich. "Sittin' Sidewayz," the first single from his new album, is the hottest thing out of Houston since "Still Tippin'." In fact, it's virtually the same song: another sluggish ode to Houston's candy-paint rides.
Chingo Bling & Stunta Man: Undaground's Most Wanted (Mixtape)
Listen to "Taco Shop."
Chingo Bling is to Tex-Mex rap what Bubba Sparxxx was to hick-hop: its leading minstrel and, just possibly, its breakthrough artist. He's a zesty molé of Chicano stereotypes. Known locally as the "Tamale Kingpin" (he sells them out the back of his tricked-out '83 Monte Carlo), he carries a fighting rooster, Cleto, on his arm, wears oversized belt buckles, and has affixed Nike swooshes to his ostrich-leather cowboy boots (lawsuit pending). But Chicano culture isn't his only target for parody; he also skewers the rap game. At first blush, his songs sound like typical hip-hop fare—all about hustling and slinging drugs—until you realize he's talking about selling tamales, not crack.
Bun B Trill (Asylum/Rap-A-Lot)
Listen to "Draped Up."
If anyone in Houston has earned his shot, it's Bun B. Part of the locally famous UGK duo (the other half, Pimp C, is incarcerated on weapons charges), he has been reppin' H-Town since the early 1990s. At times, his breakthrough has seemed imminent—even assured. With his nimble, staccato flow, he nearly outshone Jay-Z on his own breakthrough track, "Big Pimpin." More recently, he has stolen the show from Mike Jones, Paul Wall, and Slim Thug on their own albums. With Trill, his major-label debut slated for next month, Bun B's bridesmaid days may finally be over. "Draped Up," the first single, is a synth-heavy Dirty South masterpiece. All hail the king of the trill.
Lil' Jon Crunk Juice (Chopped & Screwed) (TVT)
Listen to "What U Gon Do."
Since the late DJ Screw invented the psychedelic chopped and screwed remix style—inspired, as legend has it, by recreational use of prescription cough syrup (known locally as "syrup," "purple," or "screw")—it has become standard practice for Houston rappers to put out two versions of an album: one at normal speed, the other molasses-slow and cut-up. In the end, the chopped and screwed style may be Houston's most enduring export. TVT Records recently teamed up with Michael Watts to release official chopped and screwed versions of the latest albums by Lil' Jon and Ying Yang Twins. The effects are especially transmogrifying when applied to Lil' Jon's sound. The whistling synth notes on "What U Gon Do" become dripped candle wax, and his usually cheerful growl sounds like it belongs to Satan himself.