Houston’s impeccable hip-hop history can be contributed to a multitude of people- but what about places? The Rhinestone Wrangler was the club that gave Houston rappers a platform for their music to be heard. Places like the Rhinestone Wrangler would hold more than 1300 people, which was just something unheard of in the northeast. Rhinestone Wrangler wasn’t the only place where party-goers could hear new music, Boneshakers and the Rainbow Roller Rink were also common places around the city that artists from across the country would come and perform at.
The Rhinestone Wrangler was for sure a place that party-goers came to party, but on Sunday nights? Rappers came there to battle. The battles wouldn’t start until 2:00 a.m. in the morning. From the words of early Houston pioneers, Willie D himself said that, “People would get fired from work, or show up to work late, have problems with their spouses, because nobody would leave that club until they watched that battle.”
Similar to how young people of today party and celebrate, the Rhinestone Wrangler wouldn’t get packed until 1 or 2 in the morning, right before the rap battle.
Curated by Steve Fournier, these rap battles were called the Rap Connection, and these battles would feature artists such as Thelton Polk, (Sir Rap-A-Lot), Ricardo Royal, Jukebox, and K-Rino. One of the more popular rap contests held at the Rhinestone Wrangler was Willie D vs. Romeo Poet. Even out of town artists would grace the stage at the Rhinestone Wrangler. It’s documented that Robert Matthew Van Winkle (Vanilla Ice) came to test out his skills. Vanilla Ice would go on to sell millions of records with his hit single, Ice Ice Baby.
These battle raps would not only have these rappers trying to outsmart and rank on one another, but needless to say, there were a few fights as well. Coming from Houston, specifically Fifth Ward at the time, these men weren’t just fighting each other, they were fighting poverty, the system and the rest of the world who viewed Southerner’s and Southern rap artists as lesser individuals.
Winners of the rap battles received cash prizes and, more importantly, notoriety. In the first round, rappers battled each other, rapping over any instrumental they found. The second part of the contest was a ranking/cap-rapping contest in which rappers “could cut down other rappers.” (Faniel, Maco L.. Hip Hop in Houston: The Origin and the Legacy . Arcadia Publishing Inc.. Kindle Edition.)
The Rhinestone Wrangler was also the official location for a few of Houston’s rising DJs, most notably R.P. Cola, who also mentored Chris Martin, (who we know as DJ Premier) one of New York hip-hop’s most influential producers of the ’90s.”
Car Freaks was the first Houston rap record to be played in the Rhinestone Wrangler. People went crazy over the song not just because of the insane bars, but because it was something that belonged to Houston. The mastermind behind all of this was then known as Lil J, or as most of us know him, J. Prince.
The Rhinestone Wrangler attracted national attention as well; big music executives such as Russell Simmons came to Houston to see what the hype was about. In addition, members of Death Row Records came to Houston as well, seeking inspiration for Dr. Dre’s album, what we know now as The Chronic.
Without the Rhinestone Wrangler, Houston Hip-Hop, and Southern Hip-Hop for that matter wouldn’t be what it is now. The Rhinestone Wrangler was able to put the Geto Boys on the map, and from there on, Southern Hip-Hop was something to be reckoned with.