Rap wasn’t meant for Texas. But it was only a matter of time before Texans started rapping, made the genre their own, and regifted it to the world. Today hip-hop is one of our state’s greatest cultural exports. But how did Texas rap come into its own? It’s quite the story. The twenty songs listed here are a good place to start.
Like many great Texas tales, this one has humble beginnings. Disco Al’s 1980 single “The Bounce Rap”—as far as we can tell, our state’s first rap record—borrowed its sound straight from New Jersey’s Sugarhill Gang. Eventually, Texas started looking to itself for inspiration, thanks in large part to entrepreneurs such as Houston’s J. Prince, the founder of Rap-A-Lot Records. Through ingenuity and steady cultivation of homegrown talent, Rap-A-Lot and other local labels gave Texas its own hip-hop scene.
Texas rap truly emerged in the nineties, especially 1996, which is widely considered its golden year. Five of our songs are from that year, which produced UGK’s classic manifesto Ridin’ Dirty, DJ Screw’s world-shifting 3 ’n the Mornin’: Part Two, and the Geto Boys’ unflinching, revelatory The Resurrection. All continue to inform rappers here and elsewhere.
Houston dominates this list, as it should; the city’s south side was and remains a cultural powerhouse. Indeed, Houston rappers rule the country’s hip-hop scene, with artists such as Lizzo, Megan Thee Stallion, and Travis Scott dominating the Grammys and Billboard charts. That trio has so far amassed twenty Grammy nominations and six wins, 7 number one singles, and 2 number one albums.
Houston rap has snaked its way into the verses and choruses of plenty of non-Texas hip-hop giants, from Jay-Z (who, as you’ll see, has taken more than one page from UGK) to Drake (who pops up on this list almost as often as the Fifth Ward’s ubiquitous Geto Boys). The chart-topping Harlem rapper A$AP Rocky owes his career launch to Houston’s particular sound, and Southern artists ranging from Tennessee’s Young Dolph to Mississippi’s Big K.R.I.T. have openly paid homage to Texas’s regional flows.
I grew up with these songs, which in some ways raised me—and other contributors to this feature. For all of us, to know these songs—which are just as intrinsic to the experience of being Texan as attending a Willie Nelson show or dancing to Selena’s “Bidi Bidi Bom Bom”—is to love them, and to feel them, through and through. And that’s what we’re inviting you to do.—Kiana Fitzgerald
Advisory: The audio clips below contain profanity.