Going Deep Underground With Houston Rap

Photos courtesy of Peter Beste
The Terrorists' Dope-E, foreground, with K-Rino
For all but the hardest of hardcore local hip-hop adherents, there are going to be a few unfamiliar faces in Sinecure Books' new Houston Rap chronicle. When photographer Peter Beste and writer Lance Scott Walker began the project nearly ten years ago, they set out to document not just the most famous rappers in H-Town, but the underground innovators and originators who have been the backbone of the local scene for the past two decades.

That's not to say the book skimps on the all-stars, mind you. Scarface, Bun B, Paul Wall and other Houston emcees known far and wide are all present and accounted for in the new book, and often captured in ways fans have never seen before. But as we've discussed before on this blog, Beste and Walker weren't interested in simply shooting the big moneymakers. They made a concerted effort to delve far deeper into Houston's hip-hop culture than that, photographing and interviewing many of the old heads who laid the groundwork for the city's slowed-and-throwed sound and image.

It wasn't always an easy world to break into. But the pair had some help early on that paid big dividends in establishing cred with the locals they most wanted to meet with.

REWIND: How Two White New Yorkers Created the Ultimate Portrait of Houston Rap

"The first person I contacted was K-Rino, who was a great guy to start with," Beste says. "He's the founder of the South Park Coalition and started rapping in, like, '83, and probably has the most underground respect of anybody in that whole scene, as far as I'm concerned.

"I found him through Texas promoter Matt Sonzala, who's been working with these guys for years," the photographer continues. "We had a mutual friend, and he gave me numbers for K-Rino, Dope-E from the Terrorists and Big Mike, who used to be in the Ghetto Boys, and a few other real old-school cats. That got us started."

K-Rino and his S.P.C. compatriots in Street Military were the first people that Beste shot for the project. While the well-earned respect these old-school MCs command in the Houston hip-hop community is considerable -- very few have done it longer, or better -- gaining access to all of the faces and places the photographer was after was still no easy sell with some of the others he wished to document.

In the foreword to Houston Rap, Bun B himself explains the wariness some locals felt toward the white outsiders Beste and Walker as they patiently probed the H-Town neighborhoods where hip-hop resides.

"A lot of times, when we see these books or documentations of certain scenes, or if you go deep into the inner city, there's always wonder in the back of one's mind if this is for the expansion of understanding or just simply an exploitation of the environment," the UGK hitmaker writes. "The people in the community are already being exploited. They don't need it any more than it's already happening. So we have to be very careful when we allow people to come into our communities, into our homes, into our families and accept them and allow them to see things that we would never let other people see."

Other rappers were a tad less magnanimous in their caution, Beste says, none moreso than the fearsome South Park Psycho: Ganksta N-I-P of the South Park Coalition.

"Ganksta N-I-P, he was resistant for a really long time," the photographer says. "He brought us over to his house, and let's just say he didn't receive us very well. There was a little incident involving a gun with him. A year later, I guess he realized I was OK and opened up to me.

"Bushwick Bill was another one who was in the book, but not nearly as much as I'd like," he continues. "He's kind of all over the place, living in various cities at different times and isn't the most receptive guy; I'm sure he gets tons of press requests. We got pretty much everyone we wanted to get, but a lot of them took a really long time."

Beste's persistence paid off. In fact, some of Houston's hardest and most intimidating underground personalities eventually became his closest and most trusted contacts on the project.

Story continues on the next page.

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