The 10 Best Houston Rap Mixtapes of 2013

Check out the best mixtapes from Houston's elite underground rappers.

Not Available Lead
Complex Original

Image via Complex Original

Not Available Lead

There was no shortage of good rap tapes or good rap moments from Houston in 2013. The main guys that you'd expect main things from did those particular main things—Bun B released an album (Trill O.G. The Epilogue) and Trae tha Truth released a tape (I Am King) and Slim Thug released a tape (Boss Life) and Kirko Bangz (who is willing himself into Main Guy status) slept with probably like 600 guys' girlfriends and so on. But this isn't that.

What this list celebrates are the city's 10 best tapes from the underclass—the ones from the rappers who are clawing their way out of the muck and into the light, away from the emptiness of loneliness and into the warm e-hug of the sentients that lord over the national blogs and TV shows and radio stations. There are tapes from guys who are scary and guys who are funny and guys who are charming and guys who are legacies and guys who might not even really be from Earth. But above all, they are just good tapes. Check out The 10 Best Houston Rap Mixtapes of 2013.

Written by Shea Sherrano (@sheaserrano)

RELATED: 10 New Houston Rappers to Watch Out For
RELATED: The 50 Best Houston Rap Songs 

10. Roosh Williams déjà Roo: Times Have Changed

Not Available Interstitial

Roosh Williams seems to have spent the entirety of 2013 indirectly showing people why he belongs in any serious conversation about potentially lethal upstart rappers. He released two proper tapes, a proper music video (and a video where he walked around a mall while rapping Big Boi's verse from "Bombs Over Baghdad"), performed EVERYWHERE (including SXSW), and more and more and more.

With déjà Roo: Times Have Changed, he captures most of that momentum. On the tape, he receives cosigns from Scarface and Action Bronson, as well as a surprisingly charismatic showing from Bubba Sparxxx (WHO, TURNS OUT, IS STILL ALIVE!). If you were to argue that this tape should've been placed a spot or two higher, I don't think I'd argue too much with you.


9. Undergravity and Dante Higgins, The Freshest MCs

Not Available Interstitial

The running tag with Undergravity, Houston's ageless rap duo, is that nobody has told them that it's not 1997 anymore (Undergravity fucking LOVES organs). And at no point in their existence has that served them better than paired with the ultramodern Dante Higgins, known mostly for his longform freestyle rapping.

Here, the rigid song template that Undergravity operates in serves as a built-in word count for the otherwise endless attack Higgins favors. And the nebulous assault that Higgins offers in his I Can Rap Forever Without Stopping mode injects a very discernible amount of surprise into what would've been an otherwise predictable track. As separate entities, Undergravity and Dante Higgins are fine and will serve their fan bases well enough. Together, though—together, they are truly crucial.


8. The Aspiring Me, The Aspiring Me

Not Available Interstitial

The Aspiring Me is the son of Big Mello, a forefather of Houston gangster rap. So it'd be easy to anticipate that his first proper tape, TAM, would mirror Mello's mammoth 1992 debut, Bone Hard Zaggin, in style. (The Aspiring Me even uses a cutout of Mello from the cover of Bone Hard Zaggin on the cover of TAM.) It'd also be entirely incorrect*.

Where BHZ meant to cave in your chest, TAM is an introverted project that mostly** examines itself (to great effect, mind you). The best moment: "Easy To See," which sees The Aspiring Me bounce around an almost end-of-the-game credits roll rapping about the latent effects of his father passing away when The Aspiring Me was a teenager. He does so directly ("13 when my dad passed on/It was easy to see he was gone") and indirectly (The most clever bit: When he raps, "In the clouds so above/Haters? So what/You lazy motherfuckers still sitting on sofas/Show up to your life by the time your door shut/You lazy motherfuckers still sitting on sofas?"). Both ways are devastating.

*It's worth noting that even in his most frenzied state, Big Mello also displayed the "weirdness" that The Aspiring Me brightly displays. To wit: The intro of Mello's crippling "Bone Hard Nigga," which Mello opens with a lift of George Clinton's "If you will suck my soul, I will lick your funky emotions" line.

**The Aspiring Me is not entirely above provocation, the most obvious example being "T.O.P.," which starts with a clearly agitated The Aspiring Me barking, "I'm tired of all of this oppression, enough of all this abusing, they definitely misused us, they must think that we're stupid!"


7. Maxo Kream, QuiccStrikes

Not Available Interstitial

QuiccStrikes is harrowing/intimidating/terrifying. If Michael Myers listened to rap or if Charles Manson listened to rap or if the zombies from I Am Legend listened to rap, this would be the tape they all agreed on. It possesses a legitimate Song of the Year contender (the dark "Lewinsky," which also came with a powerful video that matches the song's rubbery death yowl), the best opening track of any of the albums listed here (followed closely by Roosh Williams's "Introduction") and a surprisingly enthusiastic bit of songwriting.

Extension of the last point: While a cursory listen of QuiccStrikes offers that dark-sided drone-drone-drone sound that's going to be very popular soon, a more thorough examination reveals moments of top notch craftsmanship, most favorably on "YMG," where Maxo stutter-steps through a light burst of lyricism, rapping "Head game in the corner / I go hard, no boner / Law 'Doh!' like Homer Simp, never been a Simp / O.J. Simp, kill a bitch quick crippin' ass pimp / Get a glimpse, New World Order." Great, great.


6. DeLorean, Grace

Not Available Interstitial

I don't know that any new Houston rapper made more headway in 2013 than the gruff Delo. His face was on MTV plenty of times, on BET plenty of times, and on the important sites plenty of times (Complex included, duh). And all of that spirals back to Grace, a calculated collection of tracks ranked as two perfect songs ("Done," "Love Me Now" featuring Bun B), six great songs ("Young Legend," "Everything Epic," "Breathe," "Whip" featuring Big K.R.I.T., "Sing On Key," "Feel Like I'm Winning" featuring Trae Tha Truth, and "Let's Say GRACE" featuring Mookie Jones, who offers up a wonderful hook), and eleven good songs (the rest). He stands staring 2014 in the eyeballs.


5. Fat Tony, Smart Ass Black Boy

Not Available Interstitial

The corporeal Fat Tony lives and exists right now in this time and age but the Fat Tony spirit lives and exists in some as-yet-to-be-determined future time and age. Smart Ass Black Boy sounds like it was built inside of a video game that nobody's thought of yet. Smart Ass Black Boy sounds like it's the subconscious of a self-aware robot.

Smart Ass Black Boy sounds like if you Bluetooth-connected the Internet into a Bose Soundlink speaker. (All of the songs were produced by Atlanta's Tom Cruz and he did a very good job, obviously.) It's full of meta jokes told without smiling ("I can't see me coming out of her thighs, so I gotta make her man cry") and meta jabs at latent racism and gentrification (all of "Hood Party") and stratospheric intonations ("Frenzy").


4. Le$, Gran Turismo

Not Available Interstitial

There are two things that you can do. You can either (a) Play the lottery. Win something like $300,000,000. Use all of that money to build a spaceship. Take that spaceship and fly it up to Saturn. (Use Google Maps to get there, I guess?) Once you get to Saturn, open the door, jump out and fall all the way back to Earth*. Or you can (b) listen to Gran Turismo. They both feel exactly the same, I'm sure of it.

Le$ knows precisely what he wants to do on each of his tapes (sound like he's a nebula, in case that wasn't clear), which is why he's able to put out so many. And of those that he put out in 2013, none** topped Turismo, if for no other reason than because of "All Night," a song so surprisingly melodic (he sings on the entire track, which is something he'd never done before) that it negates gravity.

*Please stay out of the comments section with your That's Not How Space Works, You Wouldn't Fall Back to Earth Because Earth's Gravity Wouldn't Have Any Effect on You if You're at Saturn comments. I get it. I saw Gravity too. Thanks.

**All of Le$'s tapes are spongey and languid and possessed of the same sunburnt style of production. If you listen through his discography, it's hard to tell where one tape ends and the next begins.


3. The Outfit, Cognac/Four Corner Room

Not Available Interstitial

Cognac/Four Corner Room is, in effect, a double album; one full solo album from Mel, the figurehead of The Outfit (and a star in waiting, it's worth mentioning), and one from Dorian, the group's primary (and indispensable) producer. Together, it equals out to 27 songs of an unmatchable, endlessly progressive version of Southern funk. Somehow, there are bits on there that echo Kanye's robo-angst on 808s ("Straight No Chaser") and bits that echo UGK's pitch-perfect country swagger ("Isyougoneshakeit") and bits that echo Outkast's cosmic charm ("Munky Musik") just the same. To read that, it sounds like a mess. To hear it, though, it sounds like The Outfit is legitimately walking towards being the South's next great rap group.

Note: No skit on any album this year from any place on planet Earth was more creative or entertaining than the two part A Hoodrat Goes To Hell series that show up on Mel's half of Cognac/Four Corner Room. I'd describe it to you, but it's better if you just listen to it. Sorry for being cryptic. Just do it.


2. Dustin-Prestige, Dharma

Not Available Interstitial

In 2012, Prestige released a very sturdy but completely overlooked tape called Plaid. It was mostly him making music a bunch of different ways. In 2013, he released Dharma, and it was mostly him making music in one very specific way: heartbrokenly. And it was gorgeous.

The specifics remain to be sorted—despite pestering, Prestige refuses to acknowledge whether or not the Dharma he addresses on the tape is a literary device or if she is a real, actual woman that really, actually broke his real, actual heart—but the conclusion is concrete: In ten songs, Prestige glowingly captures the arc of a relationship dissolved by whatever it is that dissolves relationships these* days.

*I've been with the same woman for nearly 14 years, so I have no real way of knowing the sorts of things that can unravel a courtship that wasn't formed when the Internet was still mostly unknown. I suppose it's entirely possible that someone, somewhere, right at this moment, is breaking up with someone for retweeting something or reblogging something or whatever. Kids are so fucking stupid.


1. Propain, Ridin' Slab

Not Available Interstitial

There are some truly inspired, sparkling moments on Ridin' Slab, the first tape in nearly two years from Propain. There's the kinetic guest verse from the mysterious Z-Ro; his appearance alone is a co-sign of sorts, but to have him show up and so very clearly work at not getting run over by the always ferocious Propain is an indirect indication of Propain's growing cachet. There's the overachieving topicality, sewn together by the under-the-streetlight philosophy course lectured by the royal Lil' Keke throughout the album.

And there's the undeniable radio hit "Two Rounds," featuring a remarkable hook from the suddenly unbeatable Rich Homie Quan. And still, despite how wonderful all of those bits (and many others) are, no moment on Ridin' Slab laps "Father's Day," which takes all of the mania and fury and heartache and dissonance and confusion and pain Propain appears to have stamped onto his subatomic particles and explodes them. When Propain is wired in like he is there, it makes me mad at inanimate object. I hear him and I'm like, "Man, FUCK YOU, stapler."


Latest in Music