‘Houston Rap’ Author And Photographer Discuss New Book

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    Macc Grace (Photo: Peter Beste)
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    E.S.G. (Photo: Peter Beste)
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    Klondike Kat (Photo: Peter Beste)
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    Papa Screw (Photo: Peter Beste)
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    Scarface (Photo: Peter Beste)

When photographer Peter Beste and author Lance Scott Walker set out to document the distinctive rap culture of Houston in 2004, they didn’t realize how deep the rabbit hole would take them. Nine years later, the duo surfaced with Houston Rap, a 278-page love letter to their birthplace and all things candy-coated, screwed out and grilled up. It’s a showcase of the emcees, players and places that shaped the syrupy sounds that have slowly influenced much of the globe.

XXL caught up with Beste and Walker outside of Austin, after a barbecue pit stop during their book tour. —Brett Koshkin

XXL: So why Houston Rap?
Peter Beste: I grew up in the Houston area and since I was a kid, I have had a fascination with old school Houston artists like the Geto Boys, Ganksta Nip and a lot of the Rap-A-Lot stuff. Many years later, as a photographer, I realized this was the perfect documentary project of all of these interesting individuals, artists and places being changed by gentrification. It’s a really colorful, interesting world that deserves more of an in-depth study.

Lance Scott Walker: Look how rich, autonomous and independent the culture is. Houston rap pops out of the water every once in a while and introduces itself. Maybe it was the Geto Boys or Raheem in the late eighties or Swishahouse or Lil’ Troy. It’s a vibrant subculture with so many stories.

The Houston rap scene is known for being rather insular. How did you gain trust and access to that world?
LSW: As we got photos and texts together, we’d bring drafts to show people. The more and more you talk to people about the history or music, you begin to relate to them and I think they understood that this is something we care about.

PB: I befriended the right people in the beginning. Dope-E, K-Rino, Street Military and the South Park Coalition is who I met first. I think they could tell we had honest intentions. We really wanted to shows them in an honest and good light.

What do you think is in the water there that shaped the Screw sound?
LSW: That sound of his really mirrors the city, that’s definitely part of it. Of course, we know about the consumption of promethazine or codeine syrup. The effects of that definitely goes with the music, though it’s not necessary to listen to it. It’s part of the culture you can trace way back before rap, when blues musicians would pour it with beer.

[DJ] Screw had a way of engaging the people around him and his attitude was infectious. I think that was a big part of it. The music is slow and dragging and sounds like Houston. You can hear the words and soak it in. It’s just a perfect cocktail of things that made Screw so vital.

PB: Smoking weed, listening to music, drinking the drank on the long flat sprawling highways in the hot weather—I think it goes hand in hand for lots of people there.

From starting their own labels to selling CDs out of car trunks, Houston rap is unusually self-sufficient. Why is that?
LSW: That’s the template that Rap-A-Lot laid out way back in the day. It was a label that turned Houston rap music into an economy. The biggest rap stars from Houston still live in Houston. There’s an autonomous micro-economy that’s a part of the city for them. They don’t have to leave.

You’ve got people that are producing for themselves and rapping like Rick Royal. They influenced people to get their own studios and learn how to get records mastered and pressed. When you’re selling CDs for $10 a pop and it doesn’t cost you much to make them, you’re making good money. Money talks and I think that’s a big part of it. They learn early on how lucrative the independent game can be if you work really, really hard at it.

Many of today’s biggest stars like A$AP Rocky and Drake cite Houston as a huge influence. Do you think the city will continue to shape rap in the future?
LSW: I guess the question is, why would it go away? Houston is such an “I don’t give a fuck” rap scene that what would make that irrelevant? There’s really nothing. That sound, whether it’s Screw or Scarface, Lil’ Keke or Street Military is never going to go away.

Do you think Houston rap has finally gotten its due in 2013?
PB: It’s such a huge region; those guys don’t need the approval of the powers in New York and LA. They can sustain themselves perfectly well on their own.

LSW: I feel like it has over the last few years. It’s so big and vibrant. I hope this book plays a part in helping people to realize how much is down here. It ain’t stopping anytime soon. Houston rappers don’t retire.