In the Spirit of Giving, Houston Appreciation Weekend Kicks Off

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Photo by Marco Torres
Somewhere in Europe, Houston Appreciation Weekend was born.

Drake's tour manager, Jamil Davis, says the Toronto rapper was still traveling for his Would You Like A Tour? tour when he decided he wanted to have a special event in Houston, the city he holds close to his heart. (See: "November 18th.")

"He always just starts with ideas, and then we just execute them," Davis says. "There's a lot of ideas, but the big ones, like events, they get executed. More times than none, they get executed."

So here it is. After Drake announced Houston Appreciation Weekend via his Instagram account in March, the special weekend has kicked off. Starting June 5, people began volunteering in the Houston area through an organization called RockCorps. That's the only way to get a ticket to HAW's biggest event, the Warehouse Live concert.


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The H-Town Countdown: Clearing the Table and Tying Up Loose Ends

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

Well, it's over. We stretched it out just about as long as we possibly could - do you realize that The Countdown started last July? - but it is now officially over. And we are heartbroken about it. Let's tie up a few loose ends.

Thank Yous

First and foremost, we wanna thank that nigga God for giving us the strength to overcome adversities. You a real ass nigga, God. Ba'lee dat.

Thanks to everyone who bothered to read this space each week, as well as to everyone who took the time to email after each one of these was posted; unless you sent us an email calling us a fag or a moron. That was pretty dickish.

Thanks to every rapper who was kind enough to talk to us about this stuff week in and week out, especially K-Rino, who is like an encyclopedia of Houston hip-hop, and Bun B, whose insight makes it seem like everything he's saying was written down and rehearsed ahead of time.

Sarcastic Thank Yous to Scarface - or, perhaps more accurately, the guy that led us around by the nose pretending like he could schedule us for an interview with him - and Lil' Keke, who completely brushed us off.

A lowercase thank you goes to Rap-A-Lot for being a lowercase amount of helpful.

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The H-Town Countdown, No. 1: The Geto Boys' We Can't Be Stopped

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

Note: With all due respect to Prince Johnny C, Raheem, K-9, Sire Jukebox and Big Mike, we're going to recognize the line-up of the Geto Boys to be 'Face, Willie D and Bushwick, with DJ Ready Red moseying around in the background.

The Geto Boys

We Can't Be Stopped (Rap-A-Lot/Asylum, 1991)

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This being the greatest, most consequential Houston rap album of all time, the temptation was to write a 6,000-word treatise about it (and them). Instead, we've settled on these nine bullets:

  • Grip It! On That Other Level, the first GB album to feature 'Face, Willie and Bushwick, did well to gain a lot of notoriety, but this album ushered Rap-A-Lot into the status of regional powerhouse more than any other. In hindsight, it feels a lot like Grip It! was a test run. "Mind of a Lunatic" was "Mind Playing Tricks On Me"; "Let A Ho Be A Ho" was "I Ain't A Gentleman"; "Gangsta Of Love" was "Quickie," etc.
  • The album starts with a diss song aimed at the music industry, specifically mentioning the label that refused to release their album after it was recorded, and ends with a track about how they should receive more accolades. This sort of long form thinking is something that all three of the MCs embraced. Which ties into...
  • I'm not sure you could name three hip-hop groups that had a more interesting and fulfilling dynamic. They were different, to a point - 'Face was the street-certified one, Willie was the In Your Face one and Bushwick was the wild card - but they all relied heavily on the same themes of paranoia and destruction to drive their interpretive lyrics. That's why it always felt like they were moving as one, like pilot fish following each other around. You can't overstate how important this is.
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The H-Town Countdown, No. 1: Mike Jones' Who Is Mike Jones?

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 it to sheaserrano@gmail.com.

Mike Jones

Who Is Mike Jones? (Asylum, 2005)

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Before you fire off some apoplectic email, at least - at least - hear the case for why Who Is Mike Jones? is the most important Houston rap album ever made. And try to be objective because despite the fact that Jones - subject of a Houston Press cover story last July - might be the most loathed rapper in Houston's history, the case for this album really is airtight. We'll even break it down into bullets since that's the way most of you all like to read about this stuff. There are two sections:

First, the paper stats:

  • Who? peaked at the No. 3 spot on the Billboard Top 200. Number three! And not on the "Billboard Top Hip-Hop Albums Between February 11 and 23" or whatever other little subcategories PR people try to pawn off as relevant. We're talking about the real deal: the Billboard Top 200. Guess how many other Houston rappers can say that? Here's a few who can't: EVERYBODY WHO MADE THE COUNTDOWN NOT NAMED BUN B OR SCARFACE. That's tough to overlook.
  • Who? went platinum. Think on that for just a second. That means more than one million copies of Who? were sold. ONE MILLION. And to that point, also consider how many illegal copies were sold, how many singles from the album sold in iTunes, how many singles were sold as ringtones, how many Who is Mike Jones? T-shirts were sold, how many people went to the club just to hear the radio singles and how many concert tickets were sold to see Jones perform songs from the album. Ballparking it, that album probably generated more than $100,000,000. Like it or not, that means something.
  • It received 7 out of 10 from Pitchfork. Scarface's The Fix, perhaps the second best album he's ever made and one of hip-hop's most respected efforts, got a 6.3. Quantitatively, that means Who? was seven percent better than The Fix. You can't argue with math.
Second, the cultural stats:

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The H-Town Countdown, No. 2: UGK's Ridin' Dirty

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 it to sheaserrano@gmail.com.

UGK

Ridin' Dirty (Jive, 1996)

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When UGK first came into focus with their proper debut Too Hard to Swallow, Pimp C was doing the yeoman's share of the work. He was both the better MC and producer of the two, attributed to the head start he got by his oft-referenced musical upbringing.

And with regards to production, Pimp reigned for the duration of his and Bun B's partnership. He just about perfected the "I'm Going To Make This Track Sound Exactly Like Short Texas, But In A Manner That Gives It Just Enough Mainstream Sensibility" formula. From 1993 to 1995, and then again for a stretch from somewhere near the end of 2005 to the middle of 2007, there was no one on the planet better at it. Bun was never going to catch him - not that he wanted to; Bun has zero production credits on no less than three UGK albums.

However, by the time their sophomore album, Super Tight, rolled around just two years later, the gap between Pimp and Bun as flat-out rappers had somehow all but disappeared. It was remarkable, and it became almost impossible to discern which was the better MC.

The "Who's Better, Bun or Pimp?" argument was one of the great music debates at Ronald McNair Middle School in 1994-95. Other notable debates from that time period: Did John Starks do more to help the Houston Rockets win their first championship than any Rocket not named Olajuwon? (yes); At the very beginning of Bone Thugs-N-Harmony's "Thuggish Ruggish Bone" Layzie says, "You're feeling the strength of the rump," so what the fuck does that mean? (still no clue); and "What does a boob actually feel like?" (still waiting on that one too).

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The H-Town Countdown, No. 3: Scarface's The Diary

Roughly 84,000 rap albums that 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 it to sheaserrano@gmail.com.

Scarface

The Diary (Asylum, 1994)

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Honesty time: Last week's post, the one with the basketball/rap metaphors, was just a stall.

Mind, it was fun to write, and it generated a fair amount of email responses. The best one we received compared Mike Jones's explosion into fame to Vince Carter's now legendary showing at the NBA All-Star Weekend's 2000 Slam Dunk Contest, saying "everything since then has been a disappointment." We spent the next 15 minutes trying to figure out a point in Carter's career that was the counterpoint to Jones getting punched in the face by Trae. There's nothing. Still, a solid comparison nonetheless.

We also received an email from a freshman at the University of Wisconsin named Yunus Allen Church, easily the best name we've ever heard. There's no way someone named Yunus Church doesn't do something amazing with his life. Just say it to yourself. It sounds like the name of somebody who hunted werewolves in the 1800s. But back to the point.

Last week was a stall tactic because, after a countless amount of time was spent trying to drum him up, word got to us that Scarface was down to talk about his albums that made The Countdown. And when there's a possibility that the greatest rapper Houston has ever seen might soon be dialing your number, you rearrange some shit on your schedule to accommodate the situation. Not to be all blow-jobby or anything, but the man is a legend.

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The H-Town Countdown: We Interrupt This Countdown to Bring You Some Basketball/Rap Metaphors

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 it to sheaserrano@gmail.com.

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You know how at the end of each American Idol season they drag the final two shows out in a completely unreasonable manner? That's what we're doing right now. We're at the final three spots of The Countdown; the holy trinity of Houston rap. It seemed like a good time to take a breather. Read this instead.

For the past 23 weeks, we have stood firm, unwavering, delivering the gospel of The Countdown without apprehension. Each pick has been measured and weighed justly. Within the construct of Houston's ultra-meta rap bionetwork, each album has received the absolutely accurate placement.

We're even glad to report that, after rehashing Pimpalation's placement in another blog post and likening it to Michael Jordan's famed "Flu Game" as evidence of its validity for landing a spot on The Countdown, no less than three separate readers emailed to say they had been swayed by the analogy.

If you missed it, the general premise of the argument was this: Considering Rap-A-Lot cobbled Pimpalation together from some studio lay-arounds and released it without Pimp's input and it still turned out to be a very strong album, that magnified its importance even more. Incidentally, it encapsulated Pimp C's strength as a rapper without a clear agenda to do so, similar to what happened with MJ's "Flu Game," where he put up 38 points and 7 rebounds against the Jazz in the NBA Finals but it felt more like 53 and 16 because he looked like he was about to die from dehydration the whole time. The situation rightly hyperbolized the ends in both instances.

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The H-Town Countdown, No. 4: UGK's Too Hard to Swallow

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.

UGK

Too Hard to Swallow (Jive, 1992)

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How cocksure is Bun B?

The first time we spoke with him regarding the UGK albums that made The Countdown -yes, that's "albums," plural, meaning another UGK LP will pop up by the end of this list; aren't you clever for figuring that out? - he didn't ask to know what albums made it, let alone where they ranked. He even went so far as to explicitly ask to not be told what landed where so he could be surprised.

Devin the Dude also didn't ask where he settled in. When we let him know that Just Tryin' Ta Live fell in at the impressive 8th spot, he seemed genuinely and affectionately pleased, responding, "Ah, man, I sure do I appreciate that." He sounds the same way when he talks as he does when he sings, by the way. His words just buzz out in cadence. We kept expecting him to follow up his response with some rhyme about tits and weed. He didn't.

We didn't give Chamillionaire a chance to ask where Get Ya Mind Right landed, instead opening the conversation with how it finished in the Top 20. When we told him that it beat out his official solo albums - even the one that won him a Grammy - he seemed totally okay with that. He also seemed fine with our assertion that Mixtape Messiah was the best work he's ever done, confirming that he too feels he's at his best when he feels he has something to prove.

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The H-Town Countdown, No. 5: Lil' Keke's Don't Mess Wit Texas

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

Back in July (when this here Countdown was little more than a budding idea and a massive folder of scraps and notes and printed out emails) we wrote about the peculiar nature of Lil' Keke's underratedness.

Here's the thesis statement of that article:

"[Keke is] very John Everyman in his essence. His flow doesn't rumble under your feet like Z-Ro's, or rat-a-tat at your eardrum like Bun B's; it sits right in the middle [of your brain], which is where a lot of unimportant rappers fall, so he's lumped in with them.

However, Keke manages to sustain a feeling of importance despite this, which makes him subtly imposing, and that might be more impressive than being overtly imposing. Remember Eddie Johnson from those late '90s Rockets teams? He played 17 seasons in the NBA, was No. 22 on the All-time NBA Scorers list at the time of his retirement, and had one of the best "I just ripped your heart out" moments in Rockets playoff history against the Jazz in 1997.

But Johnson wasn't terribly athletic, so when you watched him play you never got the feeling that he was doing anything you probably couldn't do yourself. And you can't lionize somebody that you don't think is more talented than you are. It's counterintuitive. That's how it is with Keke. That's why he's underrated."

The important thing to glean from this though -- besides the obvious fact that it is, and will always remain, a spot-on observation regarding Keke's position on the Houston Rapper Ranking Scale -- is that there is no way that could have been written back when Don't Mess Wit Texas was first released.


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The H-Town Countdown, No. 6: Scarface's Mr. Scarface Is Back

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 it to sheaserrano@gmail.com.

Scarface

Mr. Scarface Is Back (Virgin, 1995)

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There's this phenomenon referred to as the Sylvia Plath Effect. Plath was a prominent writer around the middle of the last century. Her most famous work, a novel called The Bell Jar, is a factual account of a young writer who lands an ultimately unsatisfying job with a high-profile magazine, gets denied entry into a prominent writer's workshop, suffers a mental breakdown and eventually tries to commit suicide a few times.

An insufficient recap of a great book, for sure, but we're counting down the "25 Best Houston Rap Albums of All Time" list, not the "25 Best Books Our Wife Made Us Read That Incidentally Ended Up Being Somewhat Helpful While We Were Doing Something Completely Unrelated To The Actual Book" list. Although, if we did make that list, we suppose The Bell Jar would be at the top. At the bottom: Generation T: 108 Ways To Transform a T-Shirt, because what the fuck does anyone need to know how to make a handkerchief out of a child's T-shirt in nine steps for? Handkerchiefs are like a dollar at the corner store.

Anyhow, like the lead character in her book, Plath worked for a big-name magazine (Mademoiselle), was rejected from a well-to-do writer's program, suffered a mental breakdown and tried to commit suicide. She was hospitalized at a mental health facility and later released to pursue a happy, fulfilling, long life - the ending The Bell Jar implies. Except the real-life Plath killed herself several months after The Bell Jar was published by placing her head in a gas oven.

The Sylvia Plath Effect argues that, more than any other group of people, creative writers are more susceptible to mental illness. We suspect Mr. Scarface believes this wholeheartedly: To wit, Mr. Scarface Is Back.

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