Image via HOODLUM/Instagram

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Donald Morrison believes in going to people’s birthdays.

It’s a little strange, when you think about it, that the only platinum-selling rapper to ever come out of San Antonio, Texas is Shaquille O’Neal. It’s true that Shaq was actually born in New Jersey, but what’s also true, is that Shaq Diesel moved to San Antonio as a teenager and so fell in love with the place that he’d eventually purchase a home there. It’s the seventh-most populous city in the entire country and the second-most in Texas, behind Houston, and yet, it’s H-Town that’s known for delivering the lion’s share of Texas rap exports. Artists like Scarface, Bun B and the late DJ Screw came to define the Texas sound with southern-fried musings on life and death, over chemically-slowed-down production. That’s not to say that San Antonio hasn’t cultivated a burgeoning local rap scene, but it’s yet to produce an artist that encapsulates one of the largest metropolitan areas in the country – an area that’s more than two-thirds hispanic.

Unlike Shaq, HOODLUM grew up on the Southside of San Antonio, which natives say exists in its own world separate from the rest of the city. More specifically, he’s from Indian Creek near Five Palms Drive, which HOODLUM tells me during an afternoon interview is “just like anywhere else, man.” His music tells a different story though, with the Mexican-American rapper, his in-house producer bigtexjohnny and videographer AceTheShooter, coming together to paint a picture of the Southside as a gun-heavy, lean-filled slice of South Texas, where you’re just as likely to run into a family member as you are an enemy. HOODLUM and his team remind me of early TDE in the way they’ve been able to enter the rap game with a fully-realized vision, polished in-house production and high-concept videos, seemingly out of nowhere.

HOODLUM tells me his city changed in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina. More than 273,000 people from New Orleans were displaced, with thousands permanently relocating to San Antonio. This is when HOODLUM met AceTheShooter, the seeds of their creative vision planted in middle school while engaging in street activities meant for much older kids. A typical AceTheShooter production is more patient and less frenetic than the modern-day rap video, showing HOODLUM with a boyish and mischievous smile that gives way to a set of perfectly gaudy diamond fronts, adorning him the look of a young person with altogether too much time and money on his hands. Most of his and HOODLUM’s videos are two songs uploaded at the same time with a small but significant aesthetic shift between the two. Take “Walk In,” for example, an early HOODLUM hit that captures different sides of him, the first being a slightly more animated version and the second being more subdued, almost chopped and screwed sounding.

YouTube has always been seen by HOODLUM as the easiest and best way to release his music videos. He says it’s free, everyone has it and it’s always there if people want to listen to it. It’s because of his success on YouTube that HOODLUM is finally looking to prioritize pushing his music onto other platforms. His past records, like Lord Knows in 2021, or Orange Tape in 2020, are great introductions to his music, but feel more like a collection of YouTube-loosies and one-off singles than an actual full-length project. His new album, Southside Story, is a tightly-woven origin story meant to be consumed from front to back in a single sitting. The songs are often short, bleeding into each other in a way that makes Southside Story one of the best albums of the year, with the cohesion and singular vision of an Alchemist record.

San Antonio is nicknamed Military City due to its rich wartime history and close proximity to a small constellation of U.S. military bases, and much like the U.S. Military, HOODLUM is trying to take over the world. He envisions himself in ten years with a Grammy, living somewhere outside of the United States, somewhere like Spain, he tells me. Somewhere he can raise a family where kids don’t have to worry about the same things he did, where they don’t have to grow up seeing their first gun at age 12. Yet, HOODLUM doesn’t look back negatively on where he grew up. The love he has for San Antonio goes without saying and is evident when viewed through AceTheShooter’s sympathetic lens. HOODLUM couldn’t have come from anywhere else.

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