Despite common misperceptions, hip-hop is an extremely diverse genre. It’s easy to forget that the sound has been evolving for the better part of three decades, but there’s so much to explore within the realm of hip-hop and rap.
Of course, there’s the funky ‘70s and ‘80s hits that set the foundation, then the ‘90s saw the emergence of gangsta rap. The 2000s and 2010s took advantage of the commercial success of the new ‘90s style, resulting in an interesting mix of trap culture mixed with pop culture.
But each city’s hip-hop culture has its own styles as well. For instance, Chicago has drill and gospel rap while Atlanta has the crunk and trap that makes up the “Dirty South” form. Houston’s style is a blend of old and new sounds derived from the general southern rap genre, but to understand what this means you just have to listen to some current Houston artists.
Space city hip-hop has been a roller coaster since the mid ‘90s, no “Astroworld” pun intended. When the scene got its start, most of the music that was coming out was just southern club music, emulating Miami bass and Atlanta crunk.
The city didn’t have its own culture until DJ Screw came up with the ingenious idea to heavily slow songs down instead of speeding them up, giving birth to a whole new style called “chopped and screwed.” The rise of DJ Screw’s creation, along with the increasing popularity of “purple drank,” swelled into the “swang” culture that put Houston on the map.
The 2000s saw the ascension of several key figures, including Slim Thug, Paul Wall, Bun B, South Park Mexican and Chamillionaire. Jump ahead to the 2010s with the emergence of Travis Scott, Megan Thee Stallion, Trill Sammy and Ugly God and you’ve got an assorted mix of styles and influences, old and new, that have fostered Houston’s hip-hop scene. But to see what the local stage is cooking up you’ll have to take a dip underground. Here are some Houston artists to listen to for a taste of what’s really going down in H-town.
1. Maxo Kream
Emekwanem Ogugua Biosah, Jr., also known as Maxo Kream, is one of the highly regarded Houston artists. He grew up in Alief and became friends with Scott in high school. Unfortunately, the young Kream also got caught up in a local crip set and was sent to prison. But, like Scott, he managed to find his way to music after overcoming significant obstacles. His first taste of the big business came in 2014 when he joined the Texas leg of Chief Keef’s national tour.
His first few mixtapes yielded him some attention in the game, but his 2018 debut album, “Punken,” earned him a deal with Roc Nation. His first major label release, “Brandon Banks,” dropped in July 2019. Because he has a major record deal, Kream isn’t as underground as others. However, outside of Houston, he’s far from a household name.
2. BBY Kodie
BBY Kodie is only 18 years old, but his music stuffs the SoundCloud feeds of youth across the city. His closest musical comparison would be Ugly God, as he spits some unique bars over equally unique beats. Scrolling through his SoundCloud profile, you’ll even find a “Milkshake” remix. Kodie’s particular brand of trap relies on heavy bass and interesting lyrics to entertain a live crowd.
Being an underground artist, he does record but most of his work is done in clubs and warehouse parties. Thus, his music is designed to keep a party bumping and everybody in it moving. But that doesn’t mean he won’t mix it up. Kodie’s releases use all kinds of inspirations and even feature some classic chopped and screwed at times.
3. Don Toliver
Combining trap and rhythm and blues into a distinct mix he calls “Trap-n-B,” Don Toliver is his own sound. Think Frank Ocean with trap drums and heavy bass. His mixtape “Donny Womack” is a wavy, futuristic project that ponders complicated female entanglements and the self-consuming quest for fame.
What solidified him as an artist on the rise, however, was his standout verse in “Can’t Say” from Scott’s “Astroworld,” which went platinum without even attaining official single status. The Cactus Jack apprentice has had a busy 2019, releasing his single “No Idea,” showcasing his talent as a writer and one of the great Houston artists. Be sure to check him out for some instant chill vibes.
4. OMB Bloodbath
Hailing from the Third Ward, OMB Bloodbath is everything Toliver is not: raw, edgy and gritty. She’s a product of her environment and she’ll be the first to tell you. As a woman covered in tattoos with a masculine aura, it’s easy to label her as Houston’s Young M.A. But the more accurate comparison would be a young Meek Mill or even Lil Durk. Where M.A. raps about hustling and chasing women, Bloodbath tells of a crime-ridden childhood and close encounters with death.
But Bloodbath is applauded for keeping it real. She once said in an interview, “I’m more about telling a story. But you gotta know the difference between rapping club music and telling a lie.” Her mixtape “Shootston” is the perfect example of her style, with rapid fire lines that almost sound like gunshots. To get an idea of where she draws her inspiration, watch her documentary “Escape from Section 8,” which chronicles the insanity of the Third Ward.
TisaKorean started out as a dancer then moved to producing. He actually produced a few of the songs that accompanied the #woahchallange when it went viral. Yet somehow, he’s more famous for screaming “eight!” in his songs, which most people mistake for “aaaayyee!” The “eight” is in reference to his team, 8jency. Because of his background, TisaKorean’s music is upbeat and energetic with an infectious jittery vibe sure to get an entire room dancing.
He cites his biggest influences as the “wide” sound of Houston bass and Pharrell. His two biggest singles “Werkkk” and “Dip” proved his popularity is on the rise, but if rumors of a potential collaboration with Lil Uzi Vert are true, he would finally get the final push into the limelight he needs.