Album cover courtesy of MICK
Soul revivalist Leon Bridges already owns my heart in more ways than one. When I saw him in May, I proudly sat in the audience and listened to him play what turned out to be the entirety of his Coming Home album and was that insufferable fan, clapping after every song, whistling, and making sure other people realized they were watching a star in the making. Don’t blame me. Blame the Fort Worth, Texas, singer for being that good.
Bridges’ soulful, downright spiritual album met its fair share of criticism, with the New York Times’ Jon Caramanica, for instance, calling it “bogged down by tentativeness.” That hasn’t stopped like-minded people from enjoying it and imagining different sounds and dimensions for Bridges’ vocals (an aim that might, in fact, appeal to those critical of Coming Home’s anachronistic recording approach), Those imagining new sounds for Bridges include people like MICK, a Brooklyn-based producer and remix fanatic, who not only loved Bridges debut album but outright calls it a “classic”.
“He is going to be that next dude, for sure,” MICK said late Wednesday night, days after his collaborative remix album with Bridges, Coming Home To Texas was released for free. That album, a bouncy ride through Southern funk and Texas rap classics, takes Bridges’ soulful vocals from Coming Home and splices them together with some of his home state’s greatest rap productions.
“I thought it would sound cool updated with some more contemporary yet still class vibes,” MICK said of the creation of the project. “And what's better for a Texas soul singer than classic Texas hip-hop? I reached out to Leon for his influences and his blessing and went to work.”
Using production from Pimp C, Scarface, and others as an influence, MICK grabbed producers from all over the country, including three who have legit Texas roots: Houston-based producers Chris Rockaway, Donnie Houston, and Jett I. Masstyr.
“About a year ago, DJ Big Reeks of the Waxaholics brought MICK down to a club down here, Fox Hollow, to spin for a night. Big crowd, large turnout,” Jett I. recalled, describing how he got a chance to work on Coming Home To Texas. “Couple months later, Reeks told me he might have something I need to work on, emailing me and Donnie with MICK CCed… I hadn’t even heard of Leon before that moment, and this was right before his album came out.
“MICK asked me what my favorite songs were and I ended up doing “Shine”. I was surprised how well versed MICK was in Houston/Texas rap history. He genuinely loves that sound and era.”
For Houston, working with MICK a few months after leaving his home state and heading to Atlanta felt surreal.
“It was dope trading ideas with MICK. He actually already had the samples he wanted to use and left it up to me to flip however I wanted,” Houston said. Houston co-produced two tracks: the syrupy blend of Drake’s “November 18th” for “Smooth Sailin” and the twist of Big Tuck’s “Not A Stain On Me” with “Flowers.” The latter serves as a pimptastic prelude to closer “River,” which is mashed up with the greatest song ever, “International Players Anthem.”
“The remixes were legit remixes like the ones in the 90s, when Puff Daddy or Jermaine Dupri used to kill them,” Houston said. “We gave the songs a totally different vibe than the original.”
The soul of Coming Home To Texas is akin to throwing the original album in a reworked El Dorado with candy paint and a fifth wheel hanging off the back. The emotion and soul already existed with Bridges; it just needed to be pulled in a different direction. It’s one thing to tack on a bulk of the original album to select beats, its another to make them gloss under the Texas moonlight. It’s how Rockaway and Jett I. Masstyr managed to flip UGK’s “One Day” for “Shine.”
MICK / Photo courtesy of MICK
“I think the crux of the project was definitely a re-contextualization of Mr. Bridges’ project in a way that would lend the title ‘Coming Home’ new weight,” Rockaway said. “MICK reached out to some producers who could feel the essence of his aesthetic vision and lend it some sort of gravitas through experience growing up here. In Texas, the syrup delivers the funk.”
Jett I. agreed: “It resulted in some great reinventions of an already great project by Leon.”
The remix album spans different generations, too, stripping the opening chords from the Geto Boys’ “Mind Playing Tricks On Me” for Bridges’ to croon his way about making it back to his favorite lady. Trill OG himself Bun B and Slim Thug each lend brand new verses, with Bun on top of Scarface’s “Balls and My Word” for “Better Man” and the Boss of the Nawf giving a second look at his classic “3 Kings” record for “Brown Skin Girl.”
MICK gushes over the album, much like everyone else who’s streamed it over 25,000 times since its release Tuesday. “The level of musicianship everyone brought to the table is phenomenal. Slim and Bun took it over the top,” he said.
“I love it, Leon loves it. Our fan bases love it. It’s been a great win/win.”
Brandon Caldwell is a writer living in Houston. Follow him on Twitter.