My Mama, My Music, and Me
I have four tattoos - two on the inside of each forearm. They’re small, and each took less than a minute to get. On the left, I have a cross on my wrist, and an outline of my home state, Texas, just below the crease of my elbow; they’re facing each other. On the right, I have my mom’s initial on my wrist - a T, for her first name Teena - in her handwriting. Higher up and facing that initial is the outline of the Underground Kingz logo. The reasons for the left arm tattoos are pretty obvious, but the right arm looks and acts as a tribute to my mother, who passed in 2009.
My mom introduced me to the music of Chad Butler and Bernard Freeman, the yin and yang duo better known as UGK when I was a toddler. (Don’t judge us.) Formed in the late ‘80s and wildly influential since the pair worked together to construct their own version of hip-hop - “country rap tunes” - something they were forced to create after being frozen out of the nascent, purist scene brewing on the East Coast. The result of Pimp C and Bun B’s partnership is a discography that sounds as much like a blueprint to Southern rap as Outkast’s. “Diamonds & Wood,” from their classic 1996 album, Ridin’ Dirty, became my family’s anthem early on. Internalizing lyrics like “glitter and gleam ain't all what it look like” made it just a little easier to get by with what we had.
My mother was an anomaly. Ahead of her f******* time. As a single parent of three, you probably wouldn't assume that her favorite song of all time was “Mind Playing Tricks on Me” by the Geto Boys - it was. As a country ass Southerner, you wouldn’t assume she was the first in my small hometown to cop Biggie’s Ready to Die - she was. You probably wouldn’t even think she had an ear to the other side of the country, but there she was soaking up everything from DJ Quik’s G-Funk to E-40’s unintelligible hyphy raps to the most jammin-est misogyny and disrespect from Dre and Tha Dogg Pound. She was Pac’s biggest fan. (Fun fact: My mom had a rare Special Brew poster of Pac and Snoop tacked up in her bedroom. Every other day, I’d pace back and forth across the room, wondering how their eyes could always unfailingly follow me.)
As much as she appreciated the movements happening around the country, the South is where her taste thrived. Her willingness to dive deep into regional rap as it sprung up directly impacted the way I seek out new music today. Growing up listening to Three 6 Mafia led me to the warped genius of SpaceGhostPurrp and all of the new passengers on the trippy wave of distortion and self-medicated darkness down in Florida set in motion decades ago by DJ Paul and Juicy J. Her love of the demented, but slept-on, Ganksta N-I-P (“Pour some chocolate on your arm so it can taste like a Snicker”) is why it wasn't a big deal for me to listen to the “horrorcore” of Odd Future right off the bat and why I’m so quick to welcome abrasive punk rappers like XXXtentacion with open (albeit Edward Scissorhands-type) arms. Her fondness for all things Cash Money - the Hot Boy$, in particular - preceded my current, full-on adoration of Weezy 2.0, Kodak Black. My exposure to the charming drawl of Tennessee’s 8Ball & MJG, pimps in their own right, set me up to appreciate the laid-back stylings of Isaiah Rashad and TUT today - both from Tennessee and both just as deceptively sharp as their predecessors. Do I even need to explain the Dungeon Family / Future / entire city of Atlanta connection?
My mom also loved humor in her hip-hop. “Lookin’ A** Nigga” by Hotstylz made her cry laughing every time she heard it; I guess that’s the reason why I love the absurd comedy provided by Houston’s own Ugly God (one of his best songs is called “I Beat My Meat”). She lived for tracks that made her wanna dance. “Gifts” by Ray J and “Universal Mind Control” by Common sent her into a tizzy. I could just imagine the joy she would find in the countless, ready-made dance songs that have popped up in recent years. And, like me, she was always thrilled when she heard outlandishly flirtatious lyrics. The many, oftentimes hilarious, songs by UGK and Devin the Dude (see: UGK’s “I Left It Wet for You” and The Dude’s “Somebody Else’s Wife”) that spoke candidly to their carnal desires are on par with what I’ve heard from a couple of Miami’s best kept secrets: The Bone Thugs-influenced Pouya, whose bars are best when he’s being a cutthroat savage; and the strangely appealing gentlemen of Metro Zu, whose waterlogged, intergalactic beats are so consistently fire that they mask the grimy, nonsensical s*** they’re really saying. She was also a sucker for a visionary and obsessed over the videos released by Busta Rhymes and Missy Elliott as much as I do over new clips from Tyler, the Creator and Beyonce.
My mom stood up tall for Texas. It made her proud to be a fan of Devin, with his witty, trailblazing weed raps; Bun and Pimp, who truly set the scene for the South as a whole; and Scarface, who changed the game forever with his dedication to putting the truth and pain of his life on wax. I’m just as proud to support the new era of Texas rap, coming from the likes of Dretti Franks, whose production embodies the swangin’ and bangin’ spirit of Texas; Craig Xen, who manages to deliver vocals in his own way - i.e. literally screaming - and still reflect the illest rhyming styles of Houston’s latest and greatest; Jeff Mack$, whose dapper voice and flawless freestyles would fit right in on one of DJ Screw’s Grey Tapes - and a growing cast of others.
From the past to present, these artists appeal to us because every single one of them is disruptive by nature. With their lyrics and production, actions and images, they’re unabashedly adventurous. They’re bold. They’re unafraid. They’re everything my mother was, and everything I am. So, when you compliment me on my taste in music, just know that I literally got it from my mama.
Here's some homework. Go look up all of the artists mentioned that you were unfamiliar with. What artists stuck out to you? Got any faves yet?
Where does your music taste from? Did you get it from your mama? An older sister? Let us know in the comments below or tweet us at: @wowiwrite.