(L-R) Mama Duke, Bobby Sessions, Anastasia Hera, Fat Tony
Graphic By Lauryn Alvarez / Source Photos (L-R): Ronny Galdamez, Karlo Ramos, Michael “Blue” Smith, Aileen Son
Learn From Texas: How A New Generation Of Artists And Creatives Is Blazing Trails In Today's Texas Rap Scene
Bobby Sessions is a testament to the practice of determination. It was 2015, and the then-budding, Dallas-born rapper/songwriter spent his days stocking shelves at a local area Walmart. Bored of the humdrum of the everyday retail hustle, he quit his job; he only had $50 to his name at the time. But what he lacked in his bank account, he more than compensated with his burning passion for music and his dreams of rap stardom.
Later, Sessions, a strong believer in the concept of the laws of attraction, wrote an outline for his music career on a whiteboard—and then he executed it.
In the time since, he's signed to Def Jam Recordings, released his debut album, MANIFEST, in June, and, this past March at the 2021 GRAMMY Awards show, won his first GRAMMY as a songwriter for Megan Thee Stallion and Beyoncé's all-Texas rap collab, "Savage."
"Just to know that you can write certain things down, put a certain energy out into the universe and really believe in it, and then watch it manifest and unfold," Sessions tells GRAMMY.com about his almost-cosmic vision. "I think the power of it is shocking. The reality that it happened? Not so shocking, because it was intentional, like an intentional miracle."
Sessions' path to stardom outlines a particular lane numerous Texans have blazed in recent years. With the explosive rise of homegrown rap megastars like Megan Thee Stallion, Travis Scott and Maxo Kream, Texas has become a music epicenter where regional up-and-comers are on the fast track to headliner status. The tried-and-true method of Texas-based artists leaving home to break through beyond their city and state borders has shifted. Today, fans, outsiders and industry heads are looking to the Lone Star State to discover the next wave of rising rap artists and the future of the genre.
"I think Texas hip-hop is moving into a space where we, as a state, can be regarded as a cultural/music hub again," Shelby Stewart, writer and founder of the HTX Hip-Hop Museum, a museum celebrating "Houston's history and culture in the music industry," according to its website, tells GRAMMY.com. "For a long time, we were producing talent, but other cities would run off with the culture, but we wouldn't necessarily get the credit. I think now, Texas is reclaiming its time. You see rappers across the state representing in so many sub-genres of hip-hop music. We have rappers contributing to indie, punk rock, and trap, not to mention female rappers are moving into the forefront where they belong."
The Texas Sound, Then And Now
Throughout the years, Texas refined its own sonic identity, never able to be confined to one particular idea or concept. Creating and establishing identity is paramount to artists in the Lone Star State, which has produced a unique Texas sound that's since been transported across multiple genres and throughout the nation. The sounds and looks may have been adapted by others. But for many fans across the globe, the flair, attitude and style from where it all originated has remained Texas to the core from the jump.
Of course, the Texas rap scene has remained central to hip-hop's cultural and musical evolution across the decades. In Dallas, there have been no less than three major hip-hop generations to emerge throughout the years: from the D.O.C.'s unique blend of Texas and California styles in the early 1990s to the edge and grit of Big Tuck, Tum Tum and the Dirty South Rydaz in the early 2000s when Texas' variation on crunk music permeated the state to the rise of major rap producers like Symbolyc One (S1), who's collaborated with Kanye West, Beyoncé, Jay-Z, Eminem, and many others, in the 2010s. Led by now-elder statesmen Paul Wall, Mike Jones, Chamillionaire, and Bun B, Houston became a rap hub that "captivated the mainstream" in the mid-2000s, Rolling Stone writes. (Prior to this era, Houston icon and "chopped and screwed" innovator DJ Screw laid the foundation for the city's hip-hop scene in the early '90s.) Most recently, all eyes are on Austin's rap scene, now led by local rappers like Quin NFN, Mama Duke, J Soulja, and others.
Today's Texas rap sound is going global—and is undeniably led by a new class of women artists.
For Houston native Fat Tony, music has become his vessel to take him, and his art, all over the world. After first cutting his teeth in the regional market, performing at small venues in the city, he eventually began collaborating with artists across the globe; in 2016, he launched a monthly club residency, Function, in Mexico City that paired rappers from both countries.
"I never left Texas. I've never been on a plane or really done anything until I started making music," Fat Tony bluntly tells GRAMMY.com. "I got booked for a music festival in 2015 down in Mexico City. I had never heard of Mexico City, but it led to a whole relationship where I'm creating monthly parties [there], and it became my duty to educate them."
Working with others, he says, has since fueled his creative process, from crafting his latest album Exotica, released in October 2020, to charting his next steps. "I feel like art is about community, and it's a big part of why I got into music. I think a big part of extending that is collaboration. And a collaboration doesn't have to be just [in] music; it can be a friendship, putting on shows, linking people together. I've had a lot of opportunities thrown away from people linking me to stuff, and I just want to keep growing."
Ladies First: Women Leading The Charge
As the wider rap community begins to diversify, including a blossoming rap scene in Africa and growing representation for LGBTQIA+ rappers, the American rap industry, including the Texas market, is also shifting.
Today, the vision and sound of Texas music, in both performance and curation, is far more women-led. Acts like Megan Thee Stallion and Beyoncé represent the highs of the genre, whereas others such as KenTheMan, OMB Bloodbath and Lebra Jolie offer an edgier, yet refreshing take on the levels that rap could continue to evolve towards.
Austin's Mama Duke, a queer, Afro-Latina woman, grew up listening to Tejano music by way of her parents before finding her voice in hip-hop. Now, she's carving out a niche in multiple areas and facets: On top of her original music, she stars as the voice of Hip-Hop Hippo on the popular, Austin-based animated hip-hop program, "The Adventures of Zobey."
"Here's the thing," Mama Duke begins, "with all these 'triple-whammies' of being Black, woman, queer—to be able to be heard and seen? Where I can go to those and completely be myself? That is a dream."
Duke's fearless, chameleonic nature has brought her name and art to the masses, and with purpose: to document, record and tell not only the history of hip-hop within Texas, but the foundational elements of Black music within specific regions as well.
"Texas is reclaiming its time. You see rappers across the state representing in so many sub-genres of hip-hop music. We have rappers contributing to indie, punk rock, and trap, not to mention female rappers are moving into the forefront where they belong."
Singer Anastasia Hera merges both worlds. After the release of her This Is Anastasia EP, an introductory escape that weaves both traditional singing and fluid rapping, in May, she's evolving in a way where her voice grows with every step on her own path as an artist.
"It's my job to tell stories to which listeners can relate, to speak their language, to make poetry out of everyday experiences," Hera says. "We live in such a diverse state with so much overlapping culture; there are countless sub-genres and niche markets within hip-hop and urban music. It's a beautiful thing, and an homage to the art form. As more of us achieve success as independent artists, it will become easier to reach the folks who want to hear music outside the mainstream."
The push for women artists, whether in the cultural crossroads of Beaumont, Texas, or the bustling Houston hip-hop scene or the metroplex of Dallas, can't be ignored. At the 2021 GRAMMY Awards show, Megan Thee Stallion and Beyoncé made history when they won the GRAMMY for Best Rap Song for "Savage," marking the first time a woman artist won the category. The unprecedented moment would have been unheard of as much as a decade ago, particularly for Texan artists, noted documentarian Donnie Houston professes.
"Where Texas is at musically right now shows that we aren't producing a singular sound. There's something for everyone. I can only see the state moving up in higher regard as a music state."
"The sound of Texas was more regional in the past, but I think the internet and technology has eliminated that," Houston, host of the wildly popular "Donnie Houston Podcast," says. "I also think women have taken more lead roles. As early as 10 years ago, you might struggle to come up with five female artists that represented Texas. Now, the first name you might mention from Texas could very well be a woman."
As Texas continues to influence music and culture beyond state borders, its reach seems limitless. The sound of Texas continues to challenge, always building worlds and manifesting new names and individuals to follow and champion. From the easy flows of unsung-rappers-turned-unexpected-heroes like George Floyd to acts such as Mama Duke, Tobe Nwigwe, Bobby Sessions, and a whole class of others, the belief in crafting purposeful music has become the priority.
"Where Texas is at musically right now shows that we aren't producing a singular sound," HTX Hip-Hop Museum's Shelby Stewart reflects. "There's something for everyone. I can only see the state moving up in higher regard as a music state."
This article is presented in conjunction with the Recording Academy's Texas Chapter, which celebrates Texan music and artists; delivers unique programming and opportunities to active members, industry professionals of all trades, and the next generation throughout the state; and enriches the music community through outreach and advocacy.