So what happened to the guy with the scary gold teeth and the menacing stare? Turns out Chamillionaire, Houstonâ€™s Grammy-winning hip-hop artist whose 2005 disc The Sound of Revenge was an international hit, has found out thereâ€™s more to life than gold, girls and grilles. For instance, thereâ€™s bowling.
Whenever heâ€™s not on the road, he likes to head out to Jillianâ€™s on Katy Freeway and roll a few frames. â€œMy partner, Ernest, got me into it,â€ he says. â€œI never bowled before, but the first time out I threw four strikes. Ernest was like, â€˜Are you sure youâ€™ve never bowled?â€™ So now Iâ€™m kind of addicted to it.â€
Cham, who also goes by the â€œMixtape Messiahâ€ and several other monikers, has just put the finishing polish on his second record, Ultimate Victory, which is scheduled for release later this month. He grew up in the Acres Homes area, splitting time between his parentsâ€™ houses. And, as with most kids his age who grew up in disenfranchised urban areas, hip-hop isnâ€™t just music, but a culture â€” more importantly, a way out of the â€˜hood.
In his teens, he cut mixtapes at Houstonâ€™s Swishahouse Records, collaborating with other Houston rappers, like the also soon-to-befamous Paul Wall. He and Wall hawked the tapes on the street, in clubs and from the car. Eventually all that paid off; hip-hop fans passed around the mixes and found that Chamâ€™s styleâ€”steeped in the relaxed beats of the Dirty South, intelligently humorous and lyricalâ€”spoke to them.
â€œHe can rap about all the usual stuff, but he has wit and twists it and turns it so it really means something,â€ says Matt Sonzala, whose Damage Control radio show on KPFT and HoustonSoReal blog explore the city scene. â€œHeâ€™s got a good voice and character. Heâ€™s a great representative for Houston.â€
You can see a good example of that in the combined videos for â€œHip-Hop Policeâ€ and â€œEvening News,â€ which are all over YouTube. The issue-oriented songs deal with what Chamillionaire sees as the failure of the hip-hop industry as itâ€™s grown from an edgy underground movement to full-blown, sell-out pop musicâ€”and governmental and corporate hypocrisy. Subjects not usually taken on in mainstream hip-hop.
â€œIâ€™ve always been into issues,â€ Cham says. â€œRappers will get into the studio and talk about them, but they never do anything on record with it. I decided I had to do it. This is our format, and those things should be said.â€ It all sounds deadly serious, but thereâ€™s always a sharply humorous current running through the tracksâ€”the â€œEvening Newsâ€ video presents Cham as a middle-age white broadcaster with a bad rug, while a news crawler shows headlines like â€œFlava Flav Enrolls in Harvard.â€
Upcoming tour dates, still unconfirmed, will likely bring him back through H-Town. â€œWhen Iâ€™m there, Iâ€™m there to relax,â€ he says. â€œPeople sometimes try to get me to go to the clubs, but Iâ€™m at a club every single night. If I go, I like to hit the clubs on Main Street, where I can walk from club to club. Iâ€™d rather just knock out the whole thing at once.â€
If heâ€™s not hiding out at home, he spends time at his custom car shop, Fly Rydes, on the north side with Ernest, and maybe reflects on where this whole journey has taken him. â€œUltimate Victory is sort of a continuation of the first album, where I was going around and getting revenge on everybody. But now I understand that living life the way you want to is the real ultimate victory.â€
Howâ€™s that for throwing a strike?