|Photos by Jamaal Ellis|
A few years back, Houston was the city the rap world was talking about. Artists like Paul Wall, Slim Thug and Mike Jones showed the entire nation (and beyond) what H-town had been up to for years. Those days are gone now, though, and the city is left wondering where local musicians are planning to take us next. No one has taken the reins as of yet, but after sitting down with the Nice Guys, the local group may be next at bat.
The Nice Guys - MC Yves Saint, producers Free and Christolph and DJ Candlestick - say they're "rappers of truth" whose creed is "Good clothes, good music, nice guys." Some artists make their primary focus dreams of material things they can only hope to someday own, but that's not what the Nice Guys are about. They've only been making music since March, and are only 80 percent done with The Show, the album they hope to officially release this fall.
"We'd been recording songs and not doing anything with it. Then we got a kick in the ass from someone saying, 'you need to do something with your music,'" explains Free.
"No matter how good you are, people won't come and find you," elaborates Christolph.
One thing they want audiences to know about them is that they use their lives as collateral, proving that there's nothing false (or modest) about their rhymes.
"We just set out to make music, it just so happens to be good," says Christolph. "We just do."
The Nice Guys' fashion styles are dramatically different. Whereas one might sport traditional hip-hop gear, another Nice Guy might wear deck shoes. Even within their group, each man strives to be himself.
"You have to open people's eyes before you open their ears and then they'll see 'wow, these guys really are different," says Yves Saint. "And the more they look, the more they realize it's a lifestyle."
As more and more artists forgo their own originality in the hopes of signing a deal, hip-hop has suffered. Artist choosing not to adhere to whatever is "popular" must stand firm and strong and, according to Yves, must be able to answer the question "why do you make music?" if they hope to survive this changing climate.
"Hip-hop, right now, is literally more about the production. There are a lot of people out right now who're literally just riding the beat," says Christolph. "We're just trying to not have it like that."
"We feel like it's coming back around," adds Yves Saint. "People are going to be held accountable, and if people are going to be held accountable, we want to hear what you have to say and it better be good."
This may seem like a bit of an uphill battle, fighting against the industry that is the key to any kind of major success, but it also holds true in the local rap scene.
"The Houston hip hop scene is so not broad, it can go anywhere that anyone with influence wants it to go," argues Yves Saint. "The Houston hip-hop scene probably wouldn't even consider us hip-hop. People are trying to fit into the mold to get Houston on their side; we're just trying to do us."
Luckily, the Nice Guys make being themselves seem easy. They've already landed an advertising gig with Gatorade and connected with local designer and artist "Dobale," proving it is possible to succeed without compromising oneself.
"You have to know what you want to do. You have to have your limits," says Yves Saitn. "You have to know what you won't do, but you have to be willing to do everything at the same time."
"I don't feel like music owes us anything, we owe Houston," says Christolph.
"You're not going to get anywhere being like anybody else, not now, maybe when rap first started," adds Yves Saint. "But it's so saturated, that you'll just blend into the crowd, now that it has to do with your image, your style, your vibe; everything. You have to find as many different ways not to stand out, not on purpose. But most generally think you will stand out cause no one's the same."
Tonight at the Tipping Point, 1212 Main, 713-655-0443 or www.thetippingpointstore.com. Free.
Check the Nice Guys out on the Web at http://nicelook.wordpress.com or http://www.myspace.com/niiceguys.