Hip-hop is now a worldwide genre, but there’s no doubt that people look to a specific city or region for their music at any given time. Usually, at any one time, there is a city or a region that holds the beacon for hip-hop, and (even in the internet age) the same can be said for contemporary hip-hop, especially the city of Houston.
During the 1980s, it was undoubtedly New York that was the city holding the torch for hip-hop, but during the 1990s, most would agree that, although New York still had good artists, the sound of G-funk clinched the top spot, and hip-hop really started to warm to Los Angeles and its sound.
However, with the emergence of crunk, an electronification process began in hip-hop, and as the years went by, more and more people began looking to the south for their hip-hop. Sampling became less common in hip-hop as funk’s popularity began to decline and by the early 2000s, G-funk and boom-bap hip-hop were basically dead. Although artists like Kanye West continued the practice of sampling, there was undeniably an electronification of hip-hop, and Kanye helped cement this with his two albums, Graduation and 808s and Heartbreak.
In fact, before Kanye even released the latter, producers in the south had been using 808 bass kicks for years with their more digital production. When Kanye released the latter in 2008, 808s became much more popular in hip-hop, and by the year 2012, when an off-shoot of crunk music known as trap came out of Atlanta, the south began to hold the torch for hip-hop. Trap saw hip-hop evolve and modify, becoming less soulful and more electronic.
Now, trap is the de facto sound of hip-hop, with people not even considering it trap music, merely hip-hop, because it is so present in the mainstream. It has overshadowed and obliterated other forms of hip-hop, so much so that artists making other derivatives of the genre will most likely not enter the top 100. Trap is a Southern-born sound, birthed from crunk and at the present moment in time, Atlanta (and the South more broadly) holds the torch for hip hop.
With that being said, hip-hop has finally gained a new respect for the south and now more than ever, rappers from what are colloquially known as ‘The Dixies’ are being uplifted and empowered. Historically, the south has always been an extremely toxic environment for African-Americans, and unlike cities such as New York and Philadelphia, there still exists a fairly segregated society.
Many refer to Atlanta as the heart of the south, but Houston, Texas, would definitely be considered a close second. The city is one of the most populous in America and has birthed many stars over the years, some extremely famous and others not so much. The city’s golden child is undoubtedly Beyoncé. However, there are some other famous artists that have come out of the city, so in this article, we are going to highlight Houston’s top five rappers of all time.
The five greatest Houston rappers of all time:
5. Bun B
Bun B is a Houston legend. Born and raised in Texan, he is primarily known for his work as one-half of the hip-hop duo UGK. One of the city’s most prided groups, UGK, was among the first wave of rappers from the south to start turning heads. Along with the Geto Boys, during the late 1980s and early 1990s, they were quite literally the only act from the south who were known outside of the region.
Bun B, along with Pimp C (the other member of UGK) could be are the forefathers of Texas rap, and although they were not record-breaking, platinum-selling artists, they were the first glimmer of hope that the south had and proved that it was possible to reach beyond the Dixies. One of UGK’s most groundbreaking tracks was ‘Pocket Full of Stones’ which was released in 1993 by Jive Records. It was their first track to receive regular radio play in the US.
4. Slim Thug
Slim Thug is a more well-known Houston emcee who rose to prominence in the late ’90s and early 2000s. Another Houston native, aged only 17, the rapper signed with the city’s well-known underground independent record label Swishahouse. However, with an entrepreneurial spirit and not waiting for handouts, Thug quickly began independently pressing up and locally selling his own mixtapes.
Before long, the rapper (real name ) had a buzz in his city and, before long, his entire state. As a Houston mainstay, fellow Texas rapper Mike Jones asked Slim Thug to appear on what became his hit record, ‘Still Tippin’, in 2004. Following this hit, Slim Thug picked up even more traction, and (again supported by a Houston native) the rapper was asked by Beyoncé to feature on the Destiny’s Child song, ‘Check Up On It’ in 2005. He released his debut album, Already Platinum, the same year on The Neptunes’ Star Trak label.
3. Megan Thee Stallion
Megan Thee Stallion (commonly referred to as Meg) is the ultimate new-generation female rapper. Along with the likes of Cardi B and, more recently, GloRilla, she is one of the many female rappers that are set to replace and surpass Nicki Minaj as a new era of female rap begins.
Born and raised in Houston, Texas, Megan Thee Stallion (real name Megan Pete) began to gain traction through her freestyles on social media, primarily Instagram. Across 2016 and 2017, she really began to make a name for herself as a hair and makeup influencer and rapper.
In 2018, Meg signed with 300 Entertainment, a subsidiary of Warner Music Group (WMG). As a result, she managed to get features from other WMG artists, including the likes of Nicki Minaj. As a result, the following year released her 2019 mixtape Fever which featured the hit single ‘Hot Girl Summer’ featuring Nicki Minaj. This shot Meg into fame very fast. The year after, while enjoying her newfound fame, she ended up getting allegedly shot by Tory Lanez. The court proceedings have kept Meg in the news, and she is just as popular today as she was when she first came out.
2. Travis Scott
Travis Scott is one of the most popular rappers currently. Like Lil Baby, Cardi B and others, he is part of the new generation’s upper échelon. Not only is he one of the most popular rappers, but he is also in a relationship with Kylie Jenner, one of the biggest celebrities in the world and has a child with her.
Both a rapper and producer, Travis Scott had a rocky road to fame. Born and raised in Houston, while in college, he formed a duo with his friend. However, under various names and trying various types of music, nothing came of it. After leaving college, Scott moved from Houston to the Manhattan neighbourhood of Washington Heights in New York to work with his friend Mike Waxx. Waxx was the founder of Illroots, a popular music, fashion and entertainment website.
Sleeping on Waxx’s floor, Scott managed to book time at Just Blaze’s studio, but his recordings went nowhere. Scott moved to LA and slept on his friend’s college dormitory floor. Atlanta rapper T.I. would get hold of the rapper’s music and signed Scott to his Grand Hustle Records in 2012. From here, the Houston rapper’s career snowballed as he released mixtapes and projects.
The rapper (real name Jacques Webster) became a mainstay following his third studio album, Astroworld. The project’s lead single, ‘Sicko Mode’ featuring Drake, debuted at number one on the Billboard Hot 100 and the album has since been certified four times platinum in the US.
Scarface is just a legend, and there is no way that he couldn’t be number one when it comes to Houston. Scarface, akin to Bun B, is one of the forefathers of Houston rap, but unlike Bun B, he actually managed to stay and thrive in the mainstream as a solo artist. Some would even go as far as to say he is the definitive ‘Godfather of Houston Rap’.
It is fair to say that without Scarface, there would be no Megan Thee Stallion. Scarface struggled and broke down doors so rappers like Slim Thug and Travis Scott wouldn’t have to. So although he never got to reap the rewards and get that ‘Sicko Mode’ moment where everyone loved him, he is recognised and respected as the creator of music that provided a foundation for Houston rap to be built upon.
As part of the Geto Boys, Scarface emerged in the 1980s. Releasing 12″ vinyl and distributing his singles independently at first, Scarface (real name Bradley Jordan) signed with the Houston underground label Rap-A-Lot but under the condition that he joins the label’s collective, Geto Boys. The first release he was part of under the label was the Geto Boys’ 1989 album, Grip It! On That Other Level.
As a southern gangsta rapper inspired by the NWA and other similar acts, Scarface’s lyrics were violent and coarse, so extreme that national radio and MTV refused to play Geto Boys. However, irrespective of national radio and MTV, they quickly became the biggest group in the south and quickly got noticed in other regions by other rappers.
In 1992 Jordan was featured on the Kool G Rap and DJ Polo album, Live and Let Die, on the track ‘Two To The Head’. This exposed Scarface to a broader audience on the East Coast and the mecca of hip-hop, New York. He grew in popularity from here and went on to have extreme success and sign with Def Jam. In 2002 he released his legendary album The Fix, which featured rappers such as Jay-Z and Kanye West.
With such a legacy, Scarface is undoubtedly the greatest Houston rapper of all time and will most likely remain the greatest. Below you can listen to his legendary track ‘Guess Who’s Back’ featuring Jay-Z and Kanye West.