Peter: Many inner-city residents of Houston are resentful at this process of gentrification while many others embrace the change and see it as progress that will bring money into the communities. My question is when does it stop being their community and become something entirely different, turning into a neighborhood with nothing but expensive condos and nice restaurants? I am especially referring to Fourth Ward, which we managed to document as it turned from a historically black neighborhood into trendy “Midtown.” I am grateful that we were able to document some of these areas before they were completely changed by outside money and interests.
Lance: Fourth Ward is your prime example. You don’t even recognize entire blocks over there now. It’s been almost completely wiped away. That’s all over the city. Midtown is like a disease in Houston. Apartment buildings, strip centers. Developments get a green light, the buildings that were there for decades get torn down with no fanfare, no debate, no backlash, and then they raise up a block of condominiums and no one can remember what was ever there before. You just drove by one Sunday and the lot was clear. It keeps happening, and now it’s spread through Third Ward and they’re starting to chip away at parts of Fifth Ward with these condominiums that nobody in the neighborhood could ever afford. And that’s the goal — chase those people out and wipe the community completely over, bringing in better money.
It’s happened in Third Ward for sure. There are blocks and blocks of apartment buildings east of downtown where there used to be shotgun houses and old brick warehouse buildings. Now they’re all condos. The city makes it easy for those things to happen. There’s no zoning, the history isn’t important to the developers and the laws that are in place don’t protect anyone. That was one of the goals of the books — to document a history that’s being torn apart block by block. Churches get broken up, people that have been neighbors for decades get chased out — all in the name of progress. This is an American narrative, though. It’s not just Houston. We’re all seeing this in our cities — history being wiped away for development.
There has been a huge exchange of culture between Houston and the South, and the rest of the country (drugs, music). Would you say it’s been one way or two way? Has it had a good, bad, or indifferent effect on Houston?
Peter: Some of the Houston rap community is resentful at some of the newer rappers who borrow heavily from Houston’s sound, while others are honored at the homage paid by many of today’s Top 40 rappers. I think this exchange is a bit uneven, and more is taken from Houston than given to it. For example, Drake sampling E.S.G. or A$AP Rocky biggin’ up Bun B does bring outside attention to the Bayou City. I think most of the community would agree that they don’t need this outside help, but at the end of the day it does help sell records.
Lance: One thing about Houston we hope to show in the books is that the scene there isn’t just one scene, but a series of unique cultures that layer over one another and fit together to form a bigger thing. There has been plenty of stuff borrowed from Houston, but it’s been pretty one-dimensional. Houston rap music is so much richer and more complex than syrup and slowed-down records. That’s not at all a knock on that sound, but there’s just so much more to Houston music. Geto Boys, South Park Coalition, Street Military, Royal Flush, Devin the Dude… those artists don’t rap about syrup and their music isn’t slow in the same way as Screw’s, but their contributions to Houston’s culture and sound are huge. Most of them even pre-date Screw. When people talk about slowed music and drank, it’s just one slice of a very rich culture.
How do you see Houston changing or staying the same over the next 50 years?
Peter: Houston has very little regulation as far as city planning goes, so things are constantly torn down and rebuilt, changing the landscape almost overnight, with little respect or thought given to the city’s rich history. On the other hand, much of the Houston rap community is not concerned with getting the “white man’s” approval, or achieving nationwide or worldwide recognition. Many of these guys make a comfortable living without leaving the South and doing things how they want to do them without compromise. For this, they have my undying respect.
Lance: As far as the rap community and the rappers are concerned, they’ll keep making music for as long as they all can. You really don’t retire as a rapper in Houston. So those voices are going to continue to be a big influence on the communities that come up after them. You don’t grow up in Houston and not know about Geto Boys and DJ Screw. The young artists will still come up under that, but what they choose to do with it will be interesting. You can only hope they learn from the Houston rappers that came before them. One thing the rap community has that keeps it so strong is that there are a lot of guys who still get out there and hustle and earn their money. They go to the clubs, they make stops around the neighborhoods, they show their faces and they stay relevant.
They also continue to make new music, and to adapt to the landscape as it changes musically and business-wise. If the newer generations come up with the same work ethic that the previous generations have developed over the last three decades, then the population of Houston will continue to sustain a vibrant culture of rap music. Whichever way it develops, and no matter how people look at it from the outside, I think Houston will always have a rich rap culture. The landscape will change, but Houston’s rap history has been the one thing it has owned all these years, even if the rest of the world didn’t know about it. That’s not going to go away.