Words fuel the art form of hip-hop. The strength of any rapper’s artistry lies in his or her ability to tell powerful stories, using poetic license to deliver messages that highlight societal injustices or simply recount life’s ups and downs. And Fort Worth’s rap landscape owes much to lyrical luminaries such as Renizance and Scotty Boy, the powerhouse behind Immortal Soldierz, who have been churning out top-selling albums since 2002.
The following local hip-hop artists each have a story to tell, and we encourage you to give them a listen.
Who is Lou Charle$? The rhetorical question begs answers. The Fort Worth rapper has globetrotted the world and opened for national acts like G-Eazy, Joyner Lucas and A-Boogie Wit, among many others. All great art is a work in progress, and Lou Charle$’ output is similarly "In Transit." From his 2015 aforementioned album, “Oh Damn!” speaks to the lonely hearts of the world. “Jay got Bey / Bill got Hillary / Behind every great man is a greater women / A women we stumbled upon,” raps Lou Charle$.
Fort Worth native Kevin DeWayne recently signed with 313 Entertainment, which means the veteran rapper has a direct line to Jeff Bass, famed producer of Eminem. DeWayne’s creative output spans pop, R&B, dance and rap. His upbeat single “Gangsta” was one of my favorites (adult language warning).
A breezy, syncopated ukulele provides a playful backdrop to what’s basically a two-way discussion between a sweet-sounding young female who wants to live a gangsta lifestyle and DeWayne, who plays a foil to her desires. The teasing back and fourths reminded me of a less PG-rated version of Gershwin’s “Let’s call the whole thing off.”
Young and mild mannered, Juma Spears is endlessly curious and open to new possibilities. My first meeting with him was to pass tickets to the Fort Worth Opera Festival after he responded to a Facebook post. When I ran into the young rapper more recently at Fortress Festival, he discussed his desire to rap over a live orchestra.
A recent article in the Fort Worth Weekly said Spears is fluent in Japanese and is currently learning Korean. I mention this as a long way of saying that Spears is an interesting dude. Out of his several albums and singles, I particularly enjoyed “Flashback,” the title track of his recent EP. (Adult language warning) Relentless and hard hitting, Spears rhymes about his experiences in the local rap scene. The upbeat number is road trip mixtape worthy.
Rapper JOE’s rhymes pair nicely with a frothy pint of craft beer. “Where my brew at / Where my dudes at / Where my chicks at,” is one line J/O/E raps on his EP "Craft Brew." He’s a regular performer at Rahr & Sons Brewery. You may recognize the young wordsmith from the promotional photos taken by Rahr Creative Director Jeff Wood to promote Dadgum IPA.
Smooth Vega, veteran rapper and owner of the talent agency Premier Live Experience, told me earlier this year that Fort Worth’s hip-hop scene is at an all-time high when it comes to talent and recording production quality. The Northside wordsmith lives a clean and sober lifestyle — something he does to counter rap’s oft-maligned reputation. While he actively supports and promotes the next crop of rappers, he remains prolific as ever as a composer. “Grand Champion” from his album "Natural Born Winner" posits multiple perspective while taking listeners into the metaphorical boxing ring with questions on religion and race relations that offer no easy answers.
Two rising rap artists from Arlington and Pantego respectively bear mentioning. Krum landed a record deal with Tooth and Nail Records as a teenager. The early break over a decade ago led to tours in the states and across Europe. His Christian faith informs his lyrical content. It’s a trope that he sometimes tires of hearing, but fans seem endlessly surprised that Krum doesn’t curse when performing.
We chatted over beers recently at Division Brewing in Arlington. He had just filmed the music video for “Oddball” and wanted to give me the scoop. Filmed in one take, Krum raps over a traditional Mississippi Delta blues progression. His message is a personal one: Be proud of who you are and don’t let others dissuade you from your path. At many points in his career, Krum felt like the “oddball.” Krum’s advice is to proudly let your freak flag fly.
Sam Lao has become a familiar name in a relatively short time. Her creative muse is boundless. Lao is also a professional painter, designer and sculptor. Her popular EP "West Pantego" showcases her divergent sounds and myriad talents. (Adult language warning) “Run!” is particularly captivating. Lao transported me to a smoky jazz lounge where beatnick hand drums and a mournful saxophone set the tone before the tempo went into overdrive. Refrains of “You should run, Romeo, you should run” added tension and questions like — what did this Romeo guy do to piss off Lao?