When Kenneth Moore passed away on October 14 of last year of a massive heart attack, hardly a shock was felt outside of his native Houston. The local legend known as Big Moe was an original member of DJ Screw’s Screwed-Up-Click, the crew that essentially defined the sound of Houston hip-hop. Slow, organic, soulful production incorporating measured, chopped vocal samples and lyrics often inspired by drinking promethazine cough syrup with codeine, the screwed-up sound has influenced all hip-hop regions, especially since the Houston scene enjoyed an explosion of national exposure in 2005.
Though Big Moe saw limited mainstream success (he sung the Stevie Wonder-interpolating hook an Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise” and his 2002 song “Purple Stuff” charted nationally for a brief period), his soulfully modest singing and laid-back rapping make it hard to imagine a hip-hop artist who was better suited to the Houston aesthetic. With this new album Unfinished Business, his record label has accomplished a rare feat in creating a posthumous rap album that doesn’t reek of exploitation.
Historically speaking, especially in hip-hop, artists have gained exponential rises in marketability postmortem. Instead of cashing in on his death by employing typical posthumous-project marketing techniques (emotional tributes, radio-friendly tracks with artists who would otherwise never have associated with the deceased, etc.), it appears Wreckshop Records chose to pay tribute to Big Moe’s legacy in Houston music by simply continuing it. It’s hard to tell which, if any, of the songs on Unfinished Business were completed at Moe’s time of death, but nothing seems to have been manipulated into he wouldn’t have willingly been a part of.
Unfinished Business is very heavy on guest artists; there are at least two per track. This is presumably due to a lack of material left behind by Big Moe, but it ironically adds to the album’s power as a statement of his contribution to his local scene. The guest list almost completely consists of Houston rappers, relatively unknown around the rest of the US – Lil’ Flip and Z-Ro being the most nationally recognized names on it – but all of them seem inspired to be furthering the contributions of a man who they consider a legend.
By extension, Unfinished Business becomes not just a celebration of Big Moe, but one of Houston music as a whole conducted by ostensibly revitalized artists. After disappointing mainstream second-offerings by the likes of Mike Jones and Paul Wall, this is some of the best nationally-distributed Houston hip-hop – outside of UGK and the aforementioned Z-Ro – to come out since the city gained national exposure three years ago.
// Notes from the Road
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