The H-Town Countdown, No. 25: Big Moe's City of Syrup

Roughly 84,000 rap albums have been released in Houston since 1989. We're counting down the 25 best of all time every Thursday. Got a problem with the list? Shove it. Just kidding. Friendship. Email sheaserrano@gmail.com.

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The first thing we thought once this list was compiled and all the records had been ranked was, No fuckin' way are we starting it with an album from an MC who has passed. And then we realized: we don't really have much of a choice. Of the 25 best albums to ever come out of Houston, eight of them are, in one way or another, attributed to someone who is now dead. Think about that for a minute. That's 32 percent, nearly one-third. One out of every three. It's a crap situation. And really, even that number is a lowball.

Once you get into the thick of it, all the rappers and DJs in this town are tangled together. This guy was on that album which was sampled by this one that was featured on that one. For better or worse, they all rely on each other to survive. Houston is its own rap biosphere. When someone passes, everyone is affected, regardless of affiliation. Thirty-two percent is really closer to 57.

It's an unsettling irony that the title of Big Moe's shining 2000 debut makes reference to the exact thing that, most suspect, led to his death seven years later. But that doesn't take away from the fact that, as a complete project, City of Syrup was the best work he ever produced. If anything, it makes it feel more important, similar to how Big H.A.W.K.'s passing swelled the significance of Trae's "Swang," which was staggering in its own right.

City is 19 tracks of goopy, melodious Houston rap. And in retrospect, there are three things that really push this album into "It Would Be A Shame If Everyone Forgot How Good This Was status."

First, Moe tried auspiciously leaned on his subtle nasal croon to give the album an unexpected amount of consequence. And what's more, it worked. Technically, he was never the best singer in the room, and a lot of the time it felt like he knew that, but fuck if he didn't crush 80 percent of the hooks he ever did. He was like those guys that lose an arm in a boating accident and then decide they want to swim across the English Channel.

Second, he nabbed features from H.A.W.K., Keke', Z-Ro, Lil' O, Yungstar (what happened to that guy?), Will-Lean, DJ Screw and anybody else that had a bit of buzz back then. And just as important, with the exception of Screw and H.A.W.K., all of them felt like they were still in that Trying To Make A Name For Myself phase of their careers, so most of them wrecked.

And most importantly, it features the realest Wham! Interpretation of all time (see: "Choppaz"), not to mention "Barre Baby," the most representative Moe song ever, the wayward but likeable Black Rob retread "Maan!", and the famed "June 27" freestyle. All told, City of Syrup was the only way we could start this list.

Read the rules of The Countdown here. Purchase City of Syrup here.
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