In 2004, photographer Peter Beste, most known for his book, True Norwegian Black Metal, started taking pictures of Houston’s rap culture. A year later, Lance Scott Walker began interviewing the people in, and behind, Beste’s photographs. The result is a new 272-page book called Houston Rap, which captures the gritty charm of the predominant subculture in Texas. It profiles the bigger known musicians, such as Bun B of UGK and Willie D of the Geto Boys, but more than that, it tracks an impactful swatch of time that is slowly being scrubbed into obscurity. "In addition to paying homage to many of these artists who have been traditionally overlooked," Beste says, "I think it's important to have a visual record of these historical neighborhoods like Fifth Ward, Fourth Ward, and others which are changing at incredible speeds by outside money with little regard for their residents or history. In short, I felt compelled to make this book to document a rich and important time and place in American history." Here, Walker takes us on a 12-stop tour of the most memorable moments of Houston Rap. — SHEA SERRANO
"MC Wickett Crickett is a legend in Houston who arrived in the late Seventies from New York and became a pioneering artist and promoter in the city's early rap clubs like Fifth Ward's Fresh Connection. He is an active promoter and MC in Houston to this day, hosting multiple nights around the city each week. This photo was taken in 2006 at the Club Konnections nights he has hosted around town for years with another Houston legend, Captain Jack."
"This is Z-Ro at his home studio in Missouri City where rappers Point Blank and KB Da Kidnappa were invited to record on this day. 'You gotta stay grounded,' Z-Ro told me. 'You might be flyin', but it ain't really smart to pull your landing gear up, because you gonna come down one day. I don't give a fuck. That's how I look at that shit. Right now, I'm soaring. I know I'm soaring, but if I was to crash immediately, my motherfuckin' landing gear is out. I ain't never pulled that shit back in, 11 years later."
"In some parts of the world, people might call this 'outsider art,' but on Houston’s Southside, hand-painted advertising is commonplace. What might sell in a gallery in New York, here is an everyday tool made from basic resources. This is near the original Screwed Up Records & Tapes location on Cullen Boulevard, along a stretch of local businesses where hand-painted signs are abundant. Street art in South Park might be business-oriented, yet it's anything but corporate, as the DIY ethics of Houston’s rap artists are reflective of their communities."
"Z-Ro is a celebrity in Houston — especially in his home neighborhood of Ridgemont. On this evening he had people running up to take cellphone pictures of him, calling their friends and family members to tell them that Z-Ro was at the car wash. He is one of Houston's most prolific artists and one of the biggest draws in its clubs, with huge crowds often reciting his songs back to him word for word during performances. He still washes his own car."
"I used to not leave my house 'til after two o'clock in the morning to go out," says Lil' Troy, producer of the 1999 hit "Wanna Be a Baller," the standout single from his platinum selling Sittin’ Fat Down South, of Houston’s vibrant after hours scene. "The clubs we used to go to, we could smoke after four. But we didn't want to go there 'til after two o'clock, and after four o'clock in the morning, it's free for all. All the main clubs close, then you have the after hours, so everybody from the main clubs will come to the after hours and it's still a big old party."
"This Southside club has long ties to the family of South Park rapper Cl’Che — who drew the wine glasses painted on this façade as a teenager when her grandparents, Mrs. Mary and Mr. Floyd, opened it in 1993. Before that, it had several other names, including Sheree's Club and Drake & Moe's. MLK Nite Club was flooded by Hurricane Ike in 2008. The sign has since been painted over."
"This is Killa Hoe from 20-2-Life, who (along with Black) signed to Bigtyme Records in the early Nineties. He wore this brace at a South Park barbecue in 2006. 'I had been shot in the face,' says Killa. 'Shattered my whole mandible, my whole jawbone. It was a two-year process. I was still rappin' and recordin' at the same time! I actually have it fixated from the inside of my face now. You can't see them, but I can feel the screws and stuff inside of my face.'"
"Here, KB Da Kidnappa of legendary Houston group Street Military woos young fans at MacGregor Park for the annual South Park Coalition weekend. Children in Houston's rap community are involved in gatherings and grow up with the music. 'I left school at 16 and hooked up with Street Military," says KB. 'I really was on tour with them at the age of 16. It really swept in at the right time. Music saved me, man. I couldn't get to these places on my own without being able to do this music, without being able to rap and express myself with words.'"
"The biggest danger we have to our community is not light rail, or eminent domain by government," says Minister Robert Muhammad, of Houston’s Mosque No. 45. "It's tax foreclosures. It's moving control of the land. And it's not all because the taxes got too high and we couldn't pay 'em. We just moved away! Our middle class, our black intellectual and intelligentsia, in some cases have moved away."
"These women were prepping for Bun B’s 2005 video 'Draped Up,' shot at Screwed Up Records & Tapes in South Park. Their shirts refer to Bun’s counterpart, Port Arthur-born rapper and producer Pimp C, who had been jailed since 2002. Bun embarked on a solo career during that time, but 'Free Pimp C' was his rallying cry. This was a few short months before Pimp C's late 2005 release from prison and their reunion as UGK. Pimp C would die two years later from complications involving sleep apnea and consumption of codeine promethazine."
"The late DJ Screw is still an enormous presence in Houston, where his image is painted on walls and t-shirts. Houston still identifies with his music and his legacy is very much alive, 13 years after his death, as is his Screwed Up Records & Tapes, which sells just his records. This photo was taken at 2007's Screwfest in Pasadena, Texas."
Willie D, outspoken member of the Geto Boys, came up in Fifth Ward (or "The Bloody Nickel," after its violent reputation). He has been a vocal critic of Houston's gentrification and its effects on marginalized neighborhoods. "Where I stayed at, you wouldn't be able to recognize it, man," says D. "You know how they do, man — they start on the outskirts, then they go in. But hey — this is America. It's a capitalistic society, and if you want something to change, you gotta get money. You can't get mad, you gotta get money."