Houston’s 713 Day celebrates its often overlooked hip-hop culture
Slim Thug, Paul Wall and Lil Keke, among others, performed after yearlong coronavirus pandemic restrictions
Among the many concert casualties of the coronavirus pandemic was last year’s 713 Day (named after Houston’s first area code), which celebrates Black culture and entertainment in Houston. But the unofficial holiday, created in 2015 by Lil Keke of the rap collective Screwed Up Click, came back to life last week.
Artists such as Lil Keke and Slim Thug took center stage at the Rise Rooftop in the midtown section of Houston, followed by rapper Paul Wall, DJ Chose, Big Pokey and Big Jade, among others. Wesley Benford II, a Third Ward native who was at this year’s concert, said, “When you think of 713 Day, you think of the music and hip-hop culture in Houston. From DJ Screw to legends like Slim Thug, Z-Ro and Paul Wall, that’s what I think when it comes to 713 Day.”
Despite heavy rain and traffic, hundreds of people found their way to the concert. Many attendees wore classic Houston Astros, Rockets and Oilers gear, and they were greeted with aromas from the food trucks offering barbecue and Tex-Mex. Local Black-owned businesses sold 713 Day and Houston “drip” such as customized hats, hoodies and shirts. When 11 p.m. came around, everyone set their eyes on the stage to watch Slim Thug come out with his James Harden-style beard and Paul Wall with his diamond grill-studded smile. Cheers and screams soon followed.
Houston’s sports and rodeo cultures are often more well known than its rap elements. Many people are drawn to the city because of events such as the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, or for teams such as the Houston Texans or the Astros. But since the late 1980s, numerous rappers have made a name for themselves in and around Houston: The Geto Boys, UGK, Lil Flip, Chamillionaire and Lil Troy, to name a few. The Geto Boys, which consists of Bushwick Bill, Willie D and Scarface, were among the pioneers of Southern hip-hop in Houston, cementing their legacy with songs such as “Mind Playing Tricks On Me” and “Six Feet Deep.”
After the Geto Boys, Scarface pursued a solo artist career and went on to be considered one of the greatest rappers of all time. Yet, despite its output, Houston was sometimes left out of the conversation of hip-hop culture. Slim Thug said in an interview with The Undefeated, “A lot of times people used to look down upon us. A lot of the time, New York guys would say y’all just sipping cough syrup and jamming slow music like we was slow or something.”
In 2005, there was a revival in recognition of Houston hip-hop with the release of “Still Tippin’ ” by Mike Jones and featuring Slim Thug and Paul Wall. The song, which has nearly 13 million views on YouTube, went platinum, was named as the best rap song of the year in 2004 by Complex, and ranked 93rd on the Billboard Top 100 Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs year-end charts in 2005. From jewelry grillz to swangas tires, the “Still Tippin’ ” video showed viewers the hip-hop culture and local pride in Houston. Benford said, “I have friends from New York that know ‘Still Tippin’ and know it word for word. That song is known throughout the South and along the East Coast. People know about the Houston culture.”
But 713 Day is not only a celebration of Houston hip-hop. It also pays respect to the godfather of this wave: DJ Screw. Before his death in 2000, DJ Screw produced and created instrumentals for Houston artists such as Lil Troy, Screwed Up Click, UGK and Trae Tha Truth. Throughout the 713 Day concerts, Slim Thug, Paul Wall and Screwed Up Click gave shoutouts to DJ Screw. Lil Keke told The Undefeated, “What he did for the city as a whole with the type of music that we spread through the city, [every artist in Houston] has a little bit of that in them … DJ Screw is an icon here for younger people. He put a spotlight on our city on how we do things here. We build things and believe in it.”
By night’s end, people throughout the room were drenched in sweat and singing at the top of their lungs all the lyrics to “Still Tippin,’ ” the song that Slim Thug chose to close the concert. There was high-octane energy, even as people began to file out, many already looking forward to next year’s fete. It was a proud day for Black Houstonians to honor the past and present, while looking to the future.