Photo courtesy of Slim Thug
When Houston rapper Slim Thug came to local DJ MIchael Watts with an idea for how to reconstitute an old freestyle into a new track, he probably didn’t expect what would eventually come of it. That song became “Still Tippin’,” and, with one wide swang of the wood wheel in 2005, it put Houston on the map for the mainstream rap audience. Texas rappers saw unprecedented major label success in the song's wake, and candy painted slabs and purple drank became immortalized in the hip-hop lexicon.
The lack of major label interest up to that point had created a healthy and lucrative indie rap scene, though. All three rappers on “Still Tippin’” (and Chamillionaire, who was on an earlier version) made their name freestyling as part of the Swishahouse crew on Watts’s screwed and chopped tapes. With a quick wit, a knack for hooks, and a distinctive baritone that sounds even better slowed down, Slim Thug was one of Swishahouse’s first real stars. His freestyles sold tapes by the thousands—his debut album's title Already Platinum took its title from his existing local status. A Neptunes-produced album, a feature on a Beyoncé track, and other impressive accolades later, he remains one of the most prominent faces of Houston rap and a constant in the scene ten years after “Still Tippin’” launched Houston's mainstream breakthrough.
Slim Thug dropped a new album called Hogg Life: The Beginning last month; it's the first of four releases planned in 2015. For the occasion, we gave Thugga the daunting task of choosing his top 15 Houston rap songs. His list is a mix of obvious classics, personal favorites and sneaky "you had to be there" joints. It also provides Slim's perspective on Houston rap history (especially the total dominance of the Screwed Up Click in the 90s). These are his answers, presented in chronological order:
Geto Boys - “My Mind’s Playin Tricks On Me”
“Mind Playin Tricks” was about pioneering the Houston rap scene. We from Texas... New York and LA—back then it was normal to hear rappers come those cities. But for our hometown to have some recognition—and not just in Houston, that song was everywhere—“Mind Playin Tricks” and Geto Boys paved the way for the whole city. Rap-A-Lot and Geto Boys.
Noisey: Did they inspire you to start rapping?
I definitely would give Geto Boys credit for making me want to rap... Geto Boys, Scarface, UGK... Willie D, he's from my side of town. He went to high school with my brothers and everything, so to have someone come up from as close to where I was from, it let me know I could do whatever he was doing too.
UGK - “Diamonds and Wood”
To me, it's a tie between "Tell Me Something Good" and "Diamonds and Wood." "Good" was the first time I actually heard a UGK song. I was ten or 11 at the time, just listening to it over and over again. But “Diamonds,”—it was a perfect record for describing the Texas sound. Geto Boys, when they came out they were lyricists. They had a New York style to them. When you heard UGK, it was how people talked around here. It was the slang we used. It was laid back and really captured our culture.
DJ Screw and Screwed Up Click - “June 27th Freestyle”
I have no idea the first time I heard it, but it was everywhere! It's like 17, 18 minutes. That record was so classic to Houston. Even as long as it is—it was 18 minutes, but you would hear it on the radio, you would hear it in the club, and it's off a Screw mixtape. It's one of the most popular freestyles ever in the city of Houston. That's our culture of freestyling: You go to New York, their freestyles are more lyrical. It's really written probably because it's so lyrical. But on the Screw tapes, it's all top of the mind shouting out where you're from and talking about fly shit. It ain't about battling or being lyrical. Anyway, when that came out, it took the Screw shit to a whole other level. That “June 27th” made people—not only in Texas but everywhere—fuck with that style of rap.
What do you think made “June 27th” so huge?
Yungstar. He was a young guy with a funny voice. You could barely understand what he was saying a lot of the time. Even with new rappers, like, that's part of Young Thug’s success. Once you learn the words, the song's over. But when you can't learn the words... it intrigues everybody. But Yungstar and Big Pokey and Big Moe, that was the real “June 27th,” that's what everybody listened to it for.
Fat Pat - “Tops Drop”
Fat Pat was the first artist out of the Screwed Up Click to come out with an album. Screwed Up Click was known for freestyling off the top of the mind. It didn't have to be too lyrical; it was just about being swagged up and talking shit. “Tops Drop” was Pat’s first single off his actual album, where he had to switch it up from just freestyling to actually putting content in. So “Tops Drops” was like the first real song out of the Screwed Up Click.
Fat Pat is one of the rappers that captured the Houston style to the fullest. He had the slang, the look, the fade, the candy red car... he had everything that they rapped about and everything they was trying to represent. Even with his style, he sounded like a Southside player. He represented it to the fullest.
How do you think Texas rap would be different if Fat Pat hadn't been killed?
Man... I would just guess and say that Houston would still care more about the culture... nowadays the youngsters want to turn up more and that's more of an Atlanta style. Texas is known for being laid back.
Do you think Houston and Texas might have crossed over sooner?
It could have happened, but it could have happened with Fat Pat, Lil Keke, or Big Moe too. And I think Big Pokey had a deal. When Screwed Up Click came out, I don't know what happened or why it didn’t happen, if it was just timing or whatever. But personally I feel like they all could have made it. They could have as big as when the "Still Tippin’" shit popped.
Lil Troy feat. Yungstar, Fat Pat, Lil Will, and Hawk - “Wanna Be A Baller”
It was just one of the biggest songs out of Houston. It wasn't just local. It was everywhere.
DJ DMD feat. Fat Pat and Lil Keke - “25 Lighters”
That was another one of those Texas culture raps. It had Lil Keke on it. At the time, Keke and Fat Pat, it was a tie. I wouldn't put one over the other, but it was a battle as far as being the top rappers in the city and being the bosses of the Screwed Up Click. Freestyle, album-wise, they both, to me, were neck to neck. And they pioneered a lot of the Houston culture. I give UGK the respect for taking the culture worldwide, but as far as Houston and Texas, the Screwed Up Click—Lil Keke and Fat Pat—they were basically the pioneers.
A while ago someone said E-40 was the most popular rapper from Vallejo, but Mac Dre was the most popular rapper in Vallejo. That sounds like the difference between UGK’s popularity and SUC’s popularity.
That's exactly what it was. SUC ran the city. DJ Screw was the man behind the plan, but at the end of the day even if UGK was the favorites everywhere else, Lil Keke could come pack a show. I don't care who you brought out of town that was the shit... at that time, when "Southside" was the shit and Keke dropped his album, nobody could mess with them. You couldn't stand by them and shine. From ‘92 at least until ‘99, they had it on lock completely. There was no such thing as North Side rap. It was just all South Side, and they had everything on lock.
Big Moe feat. ESG and Big Pokey - “Mann”
Everybody was out here independent. We had our own distribution company called Southwest Wholesale, and "Mann" was in heavy rotation on the radio, number one song in the club. Big Moe, ESG and Big Pokey—that's three Screwed Up Click legends. That song was just so powerful. I remember it lasted for years, I just had to put it on here.
Did “Mann” totally replace Black Rob’s “Whoa” in Houston?
That's exactly what happened. We did our Texas thing, and it was over. Houston ain’t play “Whoa,” and if they played “Whoa” they played “Mann” right after.
ESG and Slim Thug - “Braids and Fades”
At that time, the city was split in half. It was kind of like Crips and Bloods at the time: The North Side had the blue cars, and the South Side rode candy red. We wore braids; they rolled with fades and shit. There was a lot of shit that separated us. They felt like we was robbers over here on the North Side. On Screw tapes they would always say "fuck the North Side, they be stealing and robbing" We had some dudes on the North Side from a neighborhood called Rosewood. Their whole hustle was to rob people and steal cars. South Side would get mad and blame it on the whole North Side when really this neighborhood did that on the North Side everywhere. They'd jack people on the North Side, South Side, wherever. But South Side took it personal and stamped us as the robbers and jackers of the city.
There was a lot of tension between the two sides of the city. The “Braids and Fades” song—immediately after that song took place we began to see more North Side/South Side interactions. And ever since then it's been cool and kosher. Everybody pretty much gets along and work together now. So that was a big song for the city.
5th Ward Boyz feat. Devin the Dude and Willie D - “PWA (Pussy Weed and Alcohol)”
That song, that was the North Side representation we did have. 5th Ward Boyz was signed to Rap-A-Lot. When I was like 16 or 17, I used to go to the club, and that song was just epic. For years, that was the number one song in the club out here. I just remember it lasting so long.
Lil O - “Back Back”
That was another one of those classics. He actually got a deal off that song. When you play that record in the club, the response in the crowd and in the street—it was one of those records that lasted forever. Even to this day, you can play it, and people rock to it.
Where’s Lil O from?
He's from the Southwest. Screwed Up Click is Southeast, but he was with Screwed Up Click too.
Paul Wall and Chamillionaire - “N Luv Wit My Money”
This was the single off their album, and it solidified them as artists. Paul Wall and Chamillionaire started out in Swishahouse after me, about a year or two later. But they were underground royalty at the time, and when they got together to put a whole album together, they made that cross over to making music, like real songs. Everybody we named so far was the streets of Houston. Paul Wall and Chamillionaire had that other side though. The streets fucked with them, but they had the other side of the world, the suburban kids. Chamillionaire was already on the internet with Chamillionaire dot com! We ain’t fuck with the internet! I remember telling him "You're a fuckin nerd, always on the internet." But that's how he always been, real smart. Paul Wall always real humble. They weren't in the streets, but they was dope artists. And that record was huge for them.
We talked about Fat Pat going from freestyle tapes to singles and albums, and here’s Paul and Chamillionaire taking that more traditional route.
Yeah, but I wasn't thinking about doing no album. I started in ‘98. I started selling mixtapes. We wasn’t just giving shit away. I was makin a lot of money off of selling mixtapes. At 18, 19 years old, I was putting out mixtapes every month, probably making at least $20K to $30K off of each one. We had the whole everything. We're not going nowhere to press our CDs up. We're buying the blank CDs, we've got the burners at the crib, we've got labels, we're turning 55 cents into 15 dollars because I owned my own store at this time. And I’m selling to the stores directly. I don’t need no label. And everything I’m doing is chopped and screwed. You can’t even hear a Slim Thug song that's regular paced at that time. And I’m making so much money, I don’t care about putting out no album. This is paying like a muhfucker!
But it got to a point where I was doing the same thing. I felt like I was going around in circles. I wanted to do my first album on a big level, so I started taking meetings with different people. Like Universal flew us out early, Warner Brothers flew us out early. I wasn't even interested because they were talking $250K for 3 albums. And we were like “nah, we getting it already off mixtapes.” It ain’t ever make sense to do that until our buzz went up with "Still Tippin’" and they started coming with the real numbers. So that's when I got interested in doing an album.
Mike Jones feat. Slim Thug and Paul Wall - “Still Tippin’”
The song comes from a freestyle I did off a mixtape called Rollin Strapped ‘98. I did a freestyle over that old Ice Cube and Master P “I’m A Ho,” and my whole verse and the chorus is “Still Tippin’.” So I had ideas about chopping that up and making a song out of it. I got with Michael Watts to do that for this Swishahouse compilation he was doing. He had signed Mike Jones, so we did that track together. We had Chamillionaire on there. We took him off and put Paul Wall on there. There was some shit he had going on with Big Tyme, the original producer. He sold his version to Rap-A-Lot or something, I don't know. Paul Wall's the only one who rapped to the original beat.
What doors did that open for you?
I got a deal before “Still Tippin’.” I was the first one to get a deal out of all of them. I was already signed and working with Pharrell. I was doing Houston music, and it wasn't crossing over, so they put me with Pharrell to be able to do an album that could go anywhere. But what was crazy was "Still Tippin’" made the Houston sound take off, and I was already doing my album. But that song opened up every door for us. It had us performing at the BET awards—actually Beyonce wanted me to perform it at a concert out here at the Toyota Center, which turned into her asking me to get on "Check Up On It." And as a video, as a vision, it gave the whole world a look into how Houston really is, Houston culture. I think that's probably the biggest song ever in terms of putting the Houston scene on the map.
So how did you end up working with Pharrell?
I signed with Interscope. That's the formula: Put the new rapper with the hot producer, and that's how they work their magic. Pharrell came to the city, played me a couple records, and they told me the idea of me working with them. I mean, it ain’t like I ain’t rapped over their shit before! All I do is rap over other people’s beats anyways. It was no big transition or nothing. But I respect him as a music genius. We made some great music that I really love.
Any reason why you didn’t work with him on the next album?
The separation had nothing to do with me and Pharrell. It was the people I was signed to at Geffen/Interscope. All these people that I met with who signed me, who believed in me, they all left between the first album and the second album. I was going in there with a new A&R who didn't sign me. We didn't really know each other like that, and we couldn't ever get on the same page. They was cool people, everything was good, but when it came time to work I felt like they was moving slow. I was like man, you know what, I’m independent, I’m used to being able to move when I want to move. Let me get back to that. So we worked it out. I had to pay them out for my second album, Boss Of All Bosses. But like I said, the people that signed me were great people, Pharrell's staff was all 100, great people. That was the best time I ever had making an album, working with them.
There’s a bootleg of Already Platinum that’s pretty different from the retail version.
I heard a few people say they liked the bootleg more than the real version. It was less Houston. I still had access to do all my independent shit and mixtapes—they gave me that. So I’m with Pharrell, trying to to do shit bigger than Houston. But at the same time, "Still Tippin’" woke everybody up, they started being interested in it and opening their ears to that laid back Houston sound. Dudes was going platinum: Mike Jones sold a million, Chamillionaire sold a million, Paul Wall sold a million. But at the same time, I’m dropping a Pharrell album that ain’t no Houston shit. It's still Houston but not like "Still Tippin’" Houston.
You had this opportunity to really do something different and stretch your legs, but at the same time you felt like you were missing out because your original sound was blowing up nationally.
I wouldn't say I was missing out because at the end of the day I felt like the driving force behind "Still Tippin’." So I was still benefitting, but I had already started trying to get to that next level with Pharrell. I love that album! But when I look at Already Platinum and Boss Of All Bosses, I can't pick which one I like the most. Boss Of All Bosses is a whole album of me doing my sound. If it had dropped when Already Platinum dropped I feel like it would have been super successful.
Z-Ro - “Mo City Don”
He probably the hottest Houston rapper right now. He's got a cult following. Z-Ro writes about pain, he writes about hard times. He ain’t a party rapper, he's an emotional rapper. He always going to have people that connect with him. And not only that, he raps and sings. He's been doing that shit long before Drake and everybody. He's going to forever be successful in the music game in Texas. He'll forever get paid. And that “Mo City Don”? It was just flips, just talkin shit for four minutes straight. And the vibe was just so turnt up because he ain’t stopping, he's just steady talking shit and rapping fast. That's the culture out here: Freestyling for four minutes is what we used to do. That's what we listened to on mixtapes, but he just did it in song form and at a faster tempo.
Lil Keke feat. Birdman - “Ima G”
That's selfish of me probably. Other people would probably say “Southside” or “Pimp Tha Pen” because those were his biggest records, but to me, “Ima G,” I never got tired of it. When I hear it on the radio I still turn it the fuck up. It's just raw lyrics about the struggle of coming up and keeping it real. I just love that record. I tell him every time I see him.
J-Dawg feat. Slim Thug - “First 48”
We had no idea this was gonna be on the radio! J-Dawg’s another one of those Z-Ro types that raps about pain. If you go to a J-Dawg show, people gonna say every word he say. You go to my shows, they don't know as much shit as they do from J-Dawg. He's one of those emotional rappers that'll make you feel that pain. “First 48” we did that on some real street shit, but it stayed on heavy rotation on the radio. It was in the club heavy, and it took J-Dawg to a whole other level on his career.
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