‘Houston Rap Tapes’ documents an influential scene’s humble beginnings


“Houston Rap Tapes” by Lance Scott Walker.

Part of hip-hop’s continued vitality is rooted in its fans’ perpetual fascination with what’s next. The flipside? The music’s history can evaporate.

Lance Scott Walker pushes against that with “Houston Rap Tapes,” a new book about Houston’s highly influential rap scene and the MCs, producers and promoters responsible for its success. It’s a companion to “Houston Rap,” a photography book by Walker and photographer Peter Beste brimming with images of Z-Ro preparing breakfast and Scarface getting a shave. Walker speaks at length with Z-Ro in “Houston Rap Tapes” – along with 40 others – and the results are just as intimate.

On Saturday afternoon, Walker will read from his book at Joint Custody, a record shop on U Street NW. We spoke with him over the phone about how “Houston Rap Tapes” came to be.

There’s so much rap journalism out there that’s fixated on the right-this-second. What made you want to go tell the history of this scene?

A lot of people focus on the now – and that’s fine – but when you focus on the now, you’re talking to people who haven’t had a lot of years to build up things to say. That’s not to say there isn’t substance to what they’re doing, but nothing beats experience. In Houston, you have people who have been making this music for 20, 30 years. It’s a scene with a long history and these people have a lot of things to say. And the history of the city is built into the history of their careers.

How did you get turned on to Houston hip-hop?

I grew up in Galveston, about 45 minutes south of Houston. People played it in cars – that’s how you hear the Geto Boys for the first time, that’s how you hear DJ Screw. So even if you don’t listen to rap, it’s part of the street culture. It seeps in.

But Peter Beste is the one who brought this project to me. He listened to more of it growing up than I ever did and he approached me in early 2005. He had been working on ["Houston Rap"] for a few months and said, “This is way bigger than just photos.”

Was there an interview that stood out for you?

I think the reason we ended [the book] with the Paul Wall interview is because it was the most wide-ranging. He talked about things from his perspective and from a global perspective – he’s a guy who got to take his music worldwide.

But Wood from the Screwed Up Click. whose mother became addicted to crack when he was a kid… He talked about bringing his family out of that, getting his mom clean and getting into a legit business. That’s the kind of story you might not hear from a 21-year-old rapper.

When scene histories like this one get published, there can be an implicit suggestion that the scene is over.

We tried to avoid that. But we talk about the music and its place in Houston’s history and the fact that it really helped a lot of people out. Music is what saved a lot of people from a much worse fate… But we didn’t focus on what’s going on now. Houston rap blew up so big in 2005 and you had new ranks coming in, and that was great. But we wanted to tell the personal stories that went into making that happen. It’s the story of the old hustle. The old ways of doing things.

Lance Scott Walker reads from “Houston Rap Tapes” at Joint Custody, 1530 U St. NW, on Saturday at 1 p.m.

Chris Richards became the Post's pop music critic in 2009. He has covered D.I.Y. house shows, White House concerts, go-go and Gaga.
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