The history of Los Angeles rap and Houston rap as twangy cousins dates back more than a few decades. The first rap record in the 1980s from Houston, MacGregor Park, is about a strip of land located in Southeast Houston where cars populate the scene in various hues of color, class, and distinction. The creator of MacGregor Park was a gentleman who chose the name The LA Rapper. Over on the west coast, Dr. Dre and DJ Quik’s smooth, and chirpy reworkings of funk classics relied on the funk of ‘90s Houston rap as a slick common denominator.
One notable standout in this arena was N.O. Joe’s “gumbo funk” style, which, as his name suggests, originated in New Orleans, and was heavily influenced by the gospel church. Many hip-hop disciples state of Texas, including Dallas producer Cardo, have embraced how influential California has been on Texas rap. But perhaps no one has more than LE$, a 31-year-old rapper from Louisiana who moved to Houston more than a decade ago, and in the process, perfected this particular sound.
LE$, born Lester Matthews, seems nothing like a rapper at first glimpse. He dresses comfortably in clothes stitched with his Steak X Shrimp logo. He may choose one or two accessories to set off his attire, but nothing alarming or gaudy like a blinged-out chain. His neck and arms are covered in a dark scrawl of tattoos. But his eyes, a very noticeable sunburnt brown, flicker with the charm of someone whose signature skill so far in life is to create arresting, imagery-driven rap songs. There’s “free” game, there’s wisdom, and then there is LE$ sprinkling in just enough of both to make him one of the more relatable rappers around in 2017.
For months, LE$’s profile has been on the uptick. He’s been on the scene long enough that Texas-based burger chain Whataburger used his image in a recent Instagram campaign. According to LES, the biggest get is Pappadeaux’s, the famed seafood chain. In LES’ eyes, getting free plates of the dish he models his clothing and apparel line after would be icing on the cake.
“I think they’re all dope,” he says, when I ask about the music he’s released so far. “I think E36 personally is most ‘my sh*t.’ That’s when I like, grew my little wings and wasn’t afraid to be myself and do what the f*ck I wanna do. Everything else before I was being molded by my situations.”
LE$’ rhyme schemes and patterns glide. He doesn’t have the downhill speed of an A to Z storytellers such as Maxo Kream, one of his favorite rappers in Houston and a good friend. He doesn’t have the energy of Sauce Walka, who raps like the Ultimate Warrior stuck in a phone booth. Instead, LE$ delivers raps with a subtle humor and an old school, common sense logic. He doesn’t jostle for anything too big, doesn’t spend time concerned with the crumbs of the world. His voice has a buzz to it, a hum that casually makes him a descendant of New Orleans, Houston, and Los Angeles all the same.
“I hated that jacket of ‘weed rap’ ’cause it felt like people were trying to put me in a certain box,” he says of an old, lazy label attached to his work. “That was one of the things I was afraid of when I first started out. ‘Cause I like trying different things. It used to piss me off because there are rappers that make way more weed rap songs than I ever have, but people try to take my vibe and turn it into something else. Me and Sauce Walka? We talk about the same sh*t damn near, just on different beats and in a different way. I don’t like when they try to categorize anybody, honestly.”