Noted Houston Troll Shea Serrano’s New Book Names The Best Rap Song Of Each Year.
Shea Serrano trolled me before we even got on the phone.
Days before our interview took place, he emailed me his phone number. I just glanced at it, saw the area code — 281, a recognizable first three digits from Houston — and went on with my day. Finally, when it came time to give Shea a ring, I got a message saying the number was disconnected.
I stared at the number like it contained some type of mystery. I was confused. After looking at the number for easy too long, it finally hit me: 281-330-8004…hit Mike Jones up on the low. The guy gave me Mike Jones’ old number — y’know, from the song.
Serrano got jokes.
He went from being a middle school science teacher in south Houston who sometimes contributed rap columns to the Houston Press to being a Grantland staffer and the author of two books — thanks very much to that sense of humor. Those books? They’d be the just-released The Rap Year Book: The Most Important Rap Song From Every Year Since 1979, Discussed, Debated and Deconstructed, and 2013’s Bun B’s Rap Coloring and Activity Book, which is, you guessed it, a rap coloring book that the did with Bun B.
So the Mike Jones joke maybe should’ve been anticipated. Anyway, after some pressing, Serrano relented and passed me his real cell.
Once on the phone, we spoke about a number of things — Selena Quintanilla, The Outfit, TX and why Serrano spreads bold-faced lies about Dallas being an epicenter of sexually transmitted infections.
We also spoke about his new book, which was illustrated by Central Track contributor and native Dallas son Arturo Torres, in anticipation of an event Central Track is co-presenting along with our friends at Paranoid Fan in celebration of its release. From 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Sunday, October 18, we’ll host a book signing and Q&A with Serrano and Torres. The Outfit, TX will perform, DJ Sober will DJ and many other surprises are in store. You should come!
But, first, read up what Serrano had to tell us before that event.
The first question I wanted to ask you is this: Why is Dallas inherently a better city than Houston?
I think it’s because y’all have more homeless people and more pollution and stuff. I guess that’s why. And a higher rate of syphilis.
Your book is about the most important songs in hip hop for each year. What would 2015’s most important song be?
“Alright” by Kendrick Lamar.
I agree. But why would you say so?
I don’t even have to think about it. It’s important. It’s just what rap music is. It’s a reflection of what’s going on in America, really. Black America, specifically. There’s other songs out there — like, J. Cole made that fake anthem. This one is a declaration. Like, no matter what you do, you’re gonna be alright. Like, I’m messed up, you’re messed up, but, if God got us, then we’ll be alright.
I read another interview with you that said you tackled this project because, essentially, you were trying to get a new house for your family. What was the turning point that made you get really interested in the book?
The turning point was when I found Arturo Torres. Once I found him, I was like “Oh, this is gonna work.” Everybody who sees his work is blown away — because, to them, he came from nowhere. I found him doing flyers for The Outfit, TX, who are, I think, the best rap act in Texas right now.
Really: What is it about you and The Outfit? You’ve been championing them for years.
They take all of these elements from southern hip-hop — and not just from Texas or nothing, they got Three Six Mafia and UGK stuff in there. They’ve got Outkast in there. They took pieces of it and turned it into this new thing. Because they’re borrowing from all these old influences, it feels new. And it’s so hard to do that.
Let’s talk Drake. Did Drake bully Meek Mill?
Yes, and he was supposed to at that point. He said “I need to make sure nobody else comes after me.” What he did was beautiful.
Who peed on Drake?
It doesn’t matter. I mean, it should have mattered, but it didn’t becuse Meek Mill didn’t make a statement. Drake did the same thing over and over; he made fun of him for not being a famous rapper. With the whole “Is this your tour or your girl’s tour,” he was coming at him with that stuff over and over. You gotta pick one thing and hammer and hammer. Meek didn’t do that — he just mentioned it at the end, like “Haha.”
What is it about J. Cole that you hate so much?
He’s just corny. Real simple.
He’s got a lot of fans out here.
So do horoscope Twitter accounts. That doesn’t make them good.
In your new book, you pick “Still Tippin'” as 2004’s song of the year. Also in that chapter, you make a few jokes about Pharrell’s age. Do you think Pharrell is a vampire?
Nah, he’s just got good skin? He probably drinks a lot of water and gets a good amount of sleep.
Why did you choose Macklemore’s “Same Love” as the song of 2012. That’s a bit divisive.
Was it? What else was there?
Off the top of my head… OK, I’m drawing a blank.
Nah, there wasn’t anything. Even if there was, that was the clear most important song because of what he was trying to do. He did it in a corny way, but you don’t get points taken off for that. He made a song about gay rights a national song, and he was rapping with complete sincerity. Nobody had ever done that. People have tried — like, Murs had that one song that was sort of like that but was crazier — but nobody had ever done that. People wanna pick on Macklemore because he’s a goofy white guy, but he’s out here trying to do good things.
Hispanics played a pivotal role in the in the formation of hip-hop. Why do you think they don’t have a more pivotal role today, at least in the foreground?
Oh, for the most part because they’re just not good at it. that’s all it is. If you got a cool guy making cool music, you can make it out there. But there hasn’t been one yet. Y’know, there was Big Pun, but he was just around for a tiny amount. But, nah man, they just aren’t that good. Same reason they’re not in the NBA.
Imagine an alternative universe in which Selena was alive in the late ’90s and early aughts. With whom would she collaborate?
Oh, Ja Rule. Ja Rule would’ve been the first phone call she made. Ja Rule was killing it — that was like his whole lane. He was a big, big star.
Who are your top five rappers ever.
Imma start with Missy Elliot, how ’bout that?
Thank you, thank you, thank you.
DMX — early DMX, ’98-’99 DMX. Gotta put some Tupac in there. You know who I’m gonna throw in there? Mos Def. Then I got one spot left. Let’s put Biggie in there.
Do you miss teaching and coaching?
What is it about teaching and coaching that you miss?
You just build those relationships. You feel important. Like, when you’re writing, you post something and people say they like it. It’s really good for your ego. But when you’re teaching, you’re putting good out into the world.
Paranoid Fan and Central Track present: The Rap Year Book Signing and Q&A at 5 p.m. on Sunday, October 18, at Spinster Records. Head here for more information. Cover illustration of Shea Serrano by Arturo Torres. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.