Photo from Lance Scott Walker
Hip-Hop in Houston has a very rich history. Houston possesses a special kind of Southern ingenuity一we’ve always been known for doing things ourselves, making something out of nothing, and making sure our voices were heard. From the early days of Radio Personality and Rap Pioneer, MC Wickett Crickett and Houston Mixmaster Daryll Scott to the sharp lyricism and horrorcore from Rap-A-Lot Records to DJ Screw and the Screwed Up Click, to now.
We’ve always found a way to be authentic and create a legacy that withstands the test of time. Although Houston is a large part of hip-hop history, our history is not well documented, and not many archives of our deep history are readily accessible. We can’t go online and dive deep into the origins of the Houston landscape like other cities or regions can. With limited access to records and history, it leaves many to wonder and others guess. Amidst our untold history, it leaves us with the vague idiom of “if you know, you know.” The documentation of Houston’s rap history has seen much progress in recent years, with one man leading the charge. Published author and writer, Lance Scott Walker.
The Galveston native talks about his first introduction to Houston hip-hop, his journey as a writer, and his new DJ Screw book coming out April 19, 2022.
DE: What was your first introduction to Houston Hip-Hop?
LSW: The Geto Boys in 1988 when I was in high school. That was the first thing I heard. I was in high school in the late ’80s and graduated in 1991. We heard everything that was from Houston because people from Houston would go to the beach in Galveston and play their tapes. We heard Geto Boys very early. I’m sure people in Galveston were listening to them in ’87 when “Car Freak” came out. The first things I remember hearing were “Assassins” by Geto Boys and “Dance Floor” by Raheem. I don’t know if there would’ve been anything other than Rap-A-Lot that I was turned on to that early.
DE: What was your first reaction to the Geto Boys or Rap-A-Lot Records?
LSW: It was so special because it was local. The fact that something like this was made right up the road was fascinating to me. I got into Hip-Hop when I was in middle school. This was in ’84 and ’85. So we’re hearing Fat Boys, Run DMC, UTFO, Roxanne Shante. Not too long after that, I got into punk rock. Punk was so special to me because of the DIY culture around it一like producing your own records. Punk rock taught me how special that was, so it was special to know that there was a record label in Houston producing local music, and there was a group from Houston that was making records like that. Hip-hop at the time was still mostly New York. Hip-hop was not this thing you then considered a ‘local phenomenon.’ So I appreciated hearing something so different and local at the same time.
Photo from Discogs
DE: When did you realize you wanted to become a writer and when you did know that you wanted to write about Houston Hip-Hop?
LSW: It wasn’t until years later. I started writing when I was a teenager. I started writing music and playing in bands then, but I didn’t start writing about music until 1993. That’s when I got a gig as a DJ at Rice University. I didn’t go to school there, but I had friends who were on the air there and they knew that I knew a lot about music. And one of the things you did as a DJ at Rice University was review records. So I would get a bunch of new records, take them home, listen to them, and write a little review so I could slip it inside the record. So then the next DJ can pull it out, look at it, and read about your experience with the record, maybe a note on what they can and can’t play as far as the radio laws went. So I was influenced by the other DJs who were writing there. They didn’t write it so pretentiously where you had to know everything about a certain group, genre, album, or label. But they didn’t insult your intelligence, either, and they pushed you to learn more.
I wrote dozens and dozens of record reviews because back in ’93–’95, if I took a record home, wrote about it, and it’s good, then I could make a tape of it. There were no CD burners back then. I mean we had CDs, but you couldn’t put music on a blank CD yet. It was a precious thing for me to take records home, learn them, write about them, and condense the experience down to where you’re doing a service to the person who’s reading it. I only did that for a few years. By ’96 I wasn’t with the radio station anymore, so nothing came up as far as writing about music until 2000. I had started a record label in 1998, and from that connection, there was a music website that asked if I wanted to write a piece for their website. This is right when Napster was gaining a lot of traction and there was a lot of pushback from artists, so I wrote a piece about that, quoting Chuck D and Metallica. They published it on the website, and I printed it out at work. I was a graphic designer at a big creative agency and one of the guys I worked with picked it up off the printer and asked if I wrote it. I told him I did and he said, “This is good. You should be a writer.”
After that, he started transitioning me to writing for the company because he was a content developer writing stuff for websites. But a few months later, I got laid off. Summer of 2001. It was the first time I’d been laid off ever. I’ve always had a job, since high school. So I took the summer off, filed for unemployment for the first time, and I just read and wrote all summer long. That was the summer I started pursuing writing. I didn’t think of it on a professional level; I just wanted to write. I didn’t care if I worked as a janitor or whatever I do. I was booking shows in Houston around this time with a collective called Hands Up Houston, so a lot of stuff was going through my orbit. Because of that, John Nova Lomax of the Houston Press, asked me if I wanted to write for them. I said, “Yes!” That was in 2002, and that’s how my writing career started.
So I started to write for Houston Press, went on to write for Houston Chronicle, and then an old friend of mine, Peter Beste, who was living in New York told me he was coming back to Houston to work on this project. That was 2004, and after he was working on it for a few months, he started thinking about wanting a text element to the project. He was always going to do a photo book, but after he started hanging out with the artists and hearing their stories, he told me that I needed to interview them and get their stories. That’s how it kicked off. It was all Peter Beste. I was writing about different kinds of music, but it would have not been my idea to start a project like that. That’s all Peter.
DE: I view you as more than just a writer and an author. I view you as a historian. Do you feel like you hold a responsibility to make sure that the history of Hip-Hop in Houston is well documented?
LSW: I do feel a tremendous responsibility in getting things as right as I can, making sure I’m looking at things fairly and doing justice with the history. Unfortunately, there are historical figures who are gone now, and you can’t interview them. The DJ Screw book was a challenge because I didn’t get to interview Screw. I never got to meet him, so you have to figure out how to tell that history without having the person around. Another thing is, some of these artists rarely did interviews, and I’ve dealt with that, too. Fat Pat has no interviews, and barely any videos. It’s a tricky history to write in that sense, but that’s why it’s so valuable to have the oral histories of the people who lived that experience. That’s why it’s important to talk to a lot of people and pair their stories up. I’m glad that folks like you, Shelby Stewart, Donnie Houston, Rocky Rockett, Julie Grob, Flash Gordon Parks, and Brandon Caldwell are making sure the history is being told. It’s such a rich culture and there’s so much to cover.
Photo from Peter Beste
DE: Besides the music, do you have an element of Houston Hip-Hop that you thoroughly enjoy?
LSW: Oh well, you gotta love the cars!
DE: Have you ever rode a SLAB or passenger side in one?
LSW: Yeah! It’s been a while though. I think the last one I was in was Baldhead’s. I love seeing those cars because they’re so creative. I also love the mutual appreciation people have for it and the special modifications. It’s just such a cool thing overall.
DE: You have rappers like Megan Thee Stallion taking over the game and you have new rappers such as Monaleo and Lebra Jolie making a name for themselves too. How do you feel about the visibility of women rappers in Houston currently?
LSW: It’s much better than it has been! It’s so great that so many more women are empowered to become artists and put their voices out there. We didn’t have that 30 years ago. You can almost count on one hand how many women rappers had records out. There was Choice, Lez Mone, 380 Dat Lady, but it wasn’t many. That’s why, in my book, I chose to interview somebody like Pam Collins. To show how people were working behind the scenes that weren’t high-profile artists but were so instrumental in the history of Houston hip-hop.
DE: You mentioned Pam Collins who was the Program Director of KTSU “Kidz Jamm.” I tried to find information about her and the radio show and not much came up. It’s truly difficult to find information about these certain things. How did you get access to these legendary figures?
LSW: You start from scratch. The way Peter started was he got a phone number from somebody. I can’t remember who it was or how he got it, but from that one person, he took photos of them and he got a phone number for somebody else. It helped that he knew the history, the records, and who people were. So he knew how to ask about getting in touch with people. For me, my access cascaded from his because he would already have a photo of somebody and tell me to talk to that person. But it was my duty in an interview to ask somebody about someone that they mentioned or I would write it down then circle back to it. I would ask them who they are, what they do if they’re still around, or if they have contact with that person. Although they may not have contact with that person, maybe someone they know does. You build that trust between you and the person you’re interviewing. You have to share yourself in the interview and they will be more likely to put you in touch with another person. Another way I pursued it was the same way that got me deep into punk rock. I would take a record out and read the credits to see who produced this record, did the cuts, did the artwork, etc. It’s way easier to find people now thanks to social media, but that’s the way I did it back then. People can’t tell you a story without bringing other people up. It’s your job to figure out who that person is and why they’re important.
DE: Is there an interview from a Houston rapper or legendary figure that you hold dear to you?
LSW: All the interviews with Wickett Crickett. If you ever read the article I wrote about him after he passed, you know our relationship was complicated, but we had an enormous amount of respect for each other. He had a busy life-promoting artists and getting them out there, so I appreciate that he took the time out to talk with me. The reason why I put Wickett Crickett first in the book was that he was an MC. He only released one record ever so he doesn’t end up getting the same legacy as artists who put out records do. But he’s just as important, and that’s why I wanted to lean in more on all the things he’s done. His legacy and contributions to Houston are so rich. He gave a lot of people their first shot and generously wanted to put people out there.
Photo from Peter Beste
DE: If you had to choose your favorite era in Houston, which one would you choose?
LSW: That’s tough. Music comes to you at a certain point in your life and it affects you because of where you are in your life. So I hold the era I was talking about earlier very dear to me. When I was in middle school and I first heard hip-hop acts such as Run DMC and Fat Boys, it was special. Then when I heard the local music in the late 80s and when I heard DJ Screw in the mid-’90s, it was special as well. However, to answer your question, when Peter Beste and I started the book, I started to get familiar with a new era of Houston Hip-Hop that I didn’t know. One of the places that we started with was the South Park Coalition. I got up to speed on K-Rino, Dope E and The Terrorists, Klondike Kat, Murder One, DBX, and so many others. South Park Coalition I think has more members than the Screwed Up Click. I may be wrong about that, but it’s a lot of people. So the records I was getting into when I started the project are dear to me. Klondike Kat is one of the greatest artists in the world and he has such a deep catalog. He sings, raps, does reggae, produces, and writes. The records from the South Park Coalition mean a lot because I was getting into the music as I was learning the culture as well as the people who made that.
DE: You have a book about DJ Screw coming out on April 19th, 2022. What can people expect when they read about the life and legacy of Robert Earl Davis Jr?
LSW: They can expect to hear from a wide range of people that were part of Screw’s life. I made it a point to try to talk to everyone that I could. Whether that was a famous rapper or just someone deep in his life. When a lot of people think of who was close to DJ Screw, they think about the SUC. People such as Big Hawk, Fat Pat, Big Moe, Mike D, ESG, and Lil Keke. There’s also the second generation in Trae, Z-Ro, Wood, Macc Grace, LOS, and Yungstar. But sprinkled throughout that, there are more underground people who were involved in his life and knew him very well, people who could tell rich stories about him. I tried to go deep into the parts of his life that I didn’t know about or never saw anyone write about. I also tried to rule out including things that I thought were kind of iffy. I had seen all of the documentaries, read the interviews that are out there, and tried to look at it from all different angles. I didn’t want to just move forward with one camp. I wanted to talk to people who all knew Screw, but might not even know each other.
Plenty of people can say, “You didn’t see Screw without seeing me” and that was their perception of how their relationship with Screw was. He made people feel so special, but the truth was Screw was close to a lot of different people. Some of those people didn’t even know each other because they were in different scenes around him. There were people around him for different periods of his life especially when he moved away from Southside and moved to the Southwest. It was a different scene that followed him out there. I dug up a lot of people that have never been interviewed, maybe have done one interview, or did not want to be interviewed until I eventually got to talk to them. It took years to do this.
DE: If I remember correctly, didn’t it take about 10 years to make this?
LSW: Well actually, it took longer than that. The first time I thought about the idea was in the first couple of years when I was writing the book with Peter Beste. In 2008, it was the first time I mentioned it to anybody. I mentioned it to Al-D, Screw’s little brother. I asked him about it because nobody had done one and asked people around if they heard of anybody doing one. It’s such a deep underground community. I had a good subsection of the people who were around Screw. I started conceptualizing it and I knew I wanted to do it, but I didn’t know when. Peter and I didn’t know how long it would take to find a publisher for Houston Rap, so we decided to do the book first, and then find a publisher who would be interested. Those were published in 2013 and 2014. I didn’t start on the DJ Screw manuscript until 2015 but once I did I worked on it for six years straight.
DE: It’s crazy how the Houston Rap Tapes book has been out for years, but the DJ Screw book has taken this long to do. Would you account that to how protective his legacy is?
LSW: To a degree. But I knew this would be a long game because I knew I had a lot of people to talk to. Also, I knew certain frameworks of his life were out there. For example, if you watch one of the documentaries, it would kind of give you a framework of his life, which is great. However, that’s not my framework. That’s not what I’m going to work from. It’s something that I will pay attention to and take note of, but I couldn’t go with those as being completely 100% correct. You kind of have to build that part of it from scratch, too. So I knew it was going to take forever because I had a lot of people to talk to and I needed to talk to them a lot of times. You call and text some people forever and you just can’t get anything back or they blow you off. They can tell you to call them at 8:00 PM on Thursday, you call them, and they don’t answer. Sometimes you keep calling them, you finally get a breakthrough, and they tell you to call them in five minutes. Those are the reasons why things take a long time. People are as protective of Screw’s legacy, as they should be! They want to make sure that if you’re going to do it, you need to do it right. They will tell you some stuff, but they want to know that you know some stuff, too. Sometimes you have to wait for people to come around.