THE HIP-HOP HISTORY OF
Houston
with Travis Scott
THE RICH HISTORY OF HIP-HOP IN
Houston
with Travis Scott

TOUCH DOWN OUT IN H-TOWN

The average rap fan imagines Houston as a land of slab drivin’, screw jammin’ music heads, but the city’s hip-hop culture goes deeper than rap. H-Town — home of the Geto Boys, Scarface, UGK, DJ Screw, Chamillionaire, Paul Wall, Slim Thug, and even Beyoncé — has become an epicenter of hip-hop culture. While Houston’s 30-year-plus hip-hop history has been admired and utilized by many of today’s favorite artists — including Jay Z, A$AP Rocky and Drake — mainstream attention on Houston has come in fits and starts since the late 1980s.

Houston first gained prominence with Rap-A-Lot Records and its premier group the Geto Boys, whose claim to fame was raw tales of the inner city with their 1989 sophomore LP Grip It! On That Other Level. However, it was the success of the Geto Boys’ 1991 hit “Mind Playing Tricks on Me” that put Houston on the map. From 1989 to approximately 1996, the Rap-A-Lot label was able to keep the attention on Houston with success of other local acts like the Convicts, Ganksta N.I.P., Big Mello, the 5th Ward Boyz, and Trinity Garden Cartel. Solo records from Geto Boys members Scarface, Willie D, Bushwick Bill, and Big Mike also found glory in the early 1990s.

Around the same time, Port Arthur, TX natives UGK (initially signed to Houston’s Big Tyme Records) and Memphis natives 8Ball & MJG (originally signed to Houston’s Suave House Records) also garnered attention for the city. While 1996 was an important year for Houston hip-hop, seeing the release of two classic albums, the Geto Boys’ reunion album The Resurrection and UGK’s genre-defining Ridin’ Dirty, Houston hip-hop shifted to underground and establishing an entirely new sound that not only defined the city, but one that became unorthodox in hip-hop.

From 1996 to 2000, Houston developed the chopped and screwed style of hip-hop. The chopped and screwed mixing technique and concomitant rapping style started on the mixtapes of DJ Screw, which featured a squad of freestyle MCs, affectionately known as the Screwed Up Click (SUC) as well as chopped and screwed versions of popular songs and bars about the superstars from South Side neighborhoods. On the north side, DJ Michael “5000” Watts and OG Ron C began to try their hand at screwed up music calling their collective of rappers and subsequent record label Swishahouse.

Fans across the old cotton belt flocked to Houston or their nearest record stores to get these mixtapes. The underground success of these projects spawned successful solo careers for SUC rappers like Lil Keke, Big Moe, Big HAWK, Fat Pat, Big Pokey, Z-Ro, Lil Flip, Lil O, and Yungstar as well as Swishahouse rappers Paul Wall, Mike Jones, Slim Thug, and Chamillionaire. By 2004, mainstream attention zoomed into H-Town because of the success of Mike Jones’ “Still Tippin’” featuring Slim Thug and Paul Wall.

To the chagrin of Chamillionaire and his Grammy-winning hit “Ridin’ Dirty,” the rap world began to sound like Houston. He even spit “just watch how they pick up the slang, just show ’em your grill, and pick up some drank and watch how they do the same.” The city’s hip-hop continued to thrive on its own with contributions from mostly independent rappers like Fat Tony, Kirko Bangz, Doughbeezy, Killa Kyleon, Travis Scott, Guilla, Kyle Hubbard, Lyric Michelle, Blackie and Jon Black. Some fully embraced screw culture while others experimented with various styles, still representing Houston.

— Maco L. Faniel



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Timeline
10
G.O.A.T. Chart
Houston's Top 10 Rappers of All Time
in Houston

Birthplace of the chopped and screwed style, Houston is home to some of hip-hop’s most revered groups and collectives, yielding several solo superstars. Check out the region’s top 10 artists, based on their performance on Billboard’s Hot Rap Songs chart*.

1
Geto Boys
Top Song: "Mind Playing Tricks on Me" (1991)
The Houston hip-hop collective -- whose core members were Scarface, Willie D and Bushwick Bill -- stirred up controversy from the Geffen Records, which wouldn’t distribute their debut for tackling topics like necrophilia and murder. Their best-known LP is their sophomore offering We Can’t Be Stopped. The band eventually got back together in 1996 for their highly esteemed set The Resurrection, and again in 2005 for The Foundation. The Boys’ 1991 release “Mind Playing Tricks On Me” maintained the No. 1 spot for three weeks.
2
Scarface
Top Song: "Smile" (1997)
After breaking away from the Geto Boys in 1991, Scarface launched a successful solo career that made him as one of Southern rap’s best-known MCs. Previously rapping under the moniker Akshen, he made his formal introduction on the Geto Boys 1990 effort Grip It! On That Other Level, which contained the song “Scarface.” Since then, he’s enjoyed national success thanks to records like 1993’s “Let Me Roll,” which peaked at No. 2; 1995’s “I Never Seen A Man Cry (AKA I Seen A Man Die)” (No. 2); 1997’s Tupac and Johnny P-assisted “Smile” (No. 2); and 2002’s “Guess Who’s Back” featuring Jay Z and Beanie Sigel (No. 5).
3
Lil' Flip
Top Song: "Sunshine" (2004)
Emerging from the underground rap scene in Houston, Lil’ Flip rose to fame quickly thanks to his 2000 LP Leprachaun, which landed him a deal with Universal Records. His 2004 double-disc set U Gotta Feel Me contained the hits “Game Over (Flip)” and “Sunshine,” which hit the chart at No. 4 and No. 2, respectively.
4
Baby Bash
Top Song: "Suga Suga" (2002)
A Houston transplant by way of Vallejo, Calif., rapper Baby Bash (formerly known as Baby Beesh) made his mark by teaming with singer Frankie J. for the smooth love note, 2002’s “Suga Suga.” He was a Top 10 regular thanks to “Suga,” which peaked at No. 10 in 2003, followed by the 2005 Akon collaboration “Baby I’m Back,” which landed at No. 9, and “Cyclone” co-starring T-Pain, which hit No. 6 in 2007.
5
Mike Jones
Top Song: "Still Tippin'" (2004)
As the marquee artist on the Swishahouse label, the Houston-based MC released his breakout album Who Is Mike Jones? in 2005, hosting the charting singles “Back Then” and “Still Tippin’” (No. 6 and No. 14, respectively) co-starring fellow Houstonians Slim Thug and Paul Wall.
6
Chamillionaire
Top Song: "Ridin'" (2005)
In the midst of Houston’s hip-hop takeover in 2005, Chamillionaire, the so-called “Mixtape Messiah,” released his breakout record The Sound of Revenge, which included the lead single “Turn It Up” featuring Lil Flip (the song hit No. 9 in 2006) and the Grammy-winning smash “Ridin’,” a collaboration with Krayzie Bone of Bone Thugs-n-Harmony that rode to No. 2 that same year.
7
Bushwick Bill
Top Song: "Ever So Clear" (1992)
The unfiltered lyricist, once a member of the Geto Boys, told gripping tales on his 1992 effort Little Big Man, sharing views from Houston’s inner city and the shooting incident with his girlfriend that cost him an eye. His 1992 single “Ever So Clear” remained at No. 1 for one week. His latest effort in 2009 was a Christian rap LP called My Testimony of Redemption.
8
Willie D
Top Song: "Clean Up Man" (1992)
Houston rhymer Willie D was known for his explicit bars with tracks like 1989’s “I Need P---y” and 1994’s “Play Witcha Mama” featuring Ice Cube. The one-time member of the Geto Boys (he left the group in 1992) also rolled out several albums as a solo artist, including his 1989 debut Controversy, 1992’s I’m Goin Out Lika Soldier, 1994’s Play Witcha Mama, 2000’s Loved By Few, Hated By Many (which was renamed and re-released as 2001’s Relentless) and 2003’s Unbreakable. His charting successes include 1992’s “Clean Up Man” which claimed the No. 6 spot, as well as “Dear God” which rose to No. 4 in 2002.
9
Paul Wall
Top Song: "Girl" (2005)
Beyond making grillz (shiny hardware for teeth) a popular accessory, the Houston rapper/DJ was a protege of DJ Screw, pouring the syrup-y, chopped and screwed sound into his catalog. He released a slew of projects under the Swishahouse label, like 2002’s Get Ya Mind Correct and 2004’s Chick Magnet, followed by his 2005 breakout, major label album The People’s Champ via Atlantic Records. His biggest hit was as a feature on Nelly’s 2005 offering “Grillz” in 2005. His hit “Girl” danced at No. 7 in 2006.
10
UGK
Top Song: "Int’l Players Anthem" (2007)
In 1987, Southern gangsta rap pioneers, Pimp C and Bun B, formed UGK (an acronym for Underground Kingz) and released their first major label effort Too Hard To Swallow in 1992. Their charting hits including “Pimpin Ain’t No Illusion” featuring Kool Ace and Too $hort, which hit No. 6 in 1999, and the Outkast collaboration “Int’l Players Anthem (I Choose You)” which slid into the No. 10 slot in 2007. Though Pimp C passed in 2007, three posthumous albums have been released through his Rap-A-Lot Records label.
*This ranking is based on actual performance on Billboard's weekly Hot Rap Songs chart, from the chart’s inception in the March 11, 1989, issue through the chart dated March 26, 2016. Rankings are based on an inverse point system, with weeks at No. 1 having the greatest value and weeks at lower positions proportionately less. Due to various changes in chart rules, chart length and methodology through the years, songs had varying reigns at No. 1 and on the chart. To ensure equitable representation of the biggest hits from all years, certain time frames were weighted to account for the difference in turnover rates from those periods.
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