One of the hardest things to accomplish in an industry as fickle as Hip Hop is maintaining relevance as an artist—especially when there’s a new rapper popping up every other day. After a couple decades of pioneering and leading the way in a metropolis as widespread as Houston, Lil Keke has cemented his place as one of the city’s mainstays.
Starting off in the 1990s as an original member of DJ Screw’s Screwed Up Click, Keke is vetted in the Houston Rap game, so much that the production of his upcoming LP Money Don’t Sleep, happened without much resistance. Now, with the release date of Money Don’t Sleep quickly approaching, Keke is ready to see if this contribution to his city’s culture will translate to what his city has become. It’s still the same ol’ slab-loving H-Town, of course, with just a couple differences.
How Lil Keke Benefitted From Befriending 2 Chainz &Drumma Boy
DX: How do you feel about the uber-popularity of Drake and A$AP Rocky as they both got on while being clearly influenced by Houston Hip Hop?
Lil Keke: I don’t have any issue with any of them. It doesn’t stop me from doing anything that I need to do. It don’t stop me from getting money or being relevant. Most people that are upset and have something to say about it, I guess it affects them in some kinda way.
DX: You actually had a part in celebrating Drizzy’s Houston Appreciation event recently. How was that?
Lil Keke: It was a beautiful thing. Anything for Houston is great. He actually put Screw House on the stage which is something people never seen before, that was big.
Here’s the thing though, man. You can’t make everybody happy. If Drake would’ve done his Appreciation Weekend somewhere else then they would’ve said, “He needs to do it in Houston!” And they think we [the artists] just say that because we’re a part of it, but anything that sheds a light on the city by way of a great Hip Hop artist…
DX: You’ve made mention of running into both Yo Gotti and 2 Chainz in one night and being able to cop a couple collaborations for Money Don’t Sleep during the same session. How did that happen?
Lil Keke: 2 Chainz happened to be in the same studio when I was recording with Drumma Boy in Atlanta recently. He came through, paid homage and said he’d been rocking with me since the beginning. He wanted to do something for the album. That’s when Drumma threw a track on, and he just jumped on it. Then Yo Gotti was across the hall recording. Drumma hit his phone—since they’re both from Memphis—they already knew each other. We sent the track over, and he sent it right back. It was cool because me and Gotti worked together earlier in our careers.
Lil Keke Details The Dynamic Between Screwed Up Click Factions
DX: Who else is collaborating with you on the new LP?
Lil Keke: This new guy out of Houston, Boston George, he’s buzzing. Paul Wall, I got Kevin Gates on there. Devin the Dude is on there too. Like, how often are you gonna see Devin the Dude on the same album as Kevin Gates? I tried to bring in the new dudes with the OGs.
DX: What was your first impression of Slim Thug, Mike Jones and Paul Wall when you initially got to Swishahouse in 2005?
Lil Keke: My initial impression was that I respected them for what they did for their side of town. When we grew up it really was just about our side of town to be honest. I was more impressed with them sticking with what we brought to the Houston sound from when we were moving our own tapes from the Screw tapes to the CDs like Hardest Pit in the Litter and so forth. So I did admire them for what the city had transformed into from a music standpoint. They were still with the music we created and they brought it all the way back.
DX: How much, if at all, does Swishahouse having their archives hosted at Rice University legitimize what they did musically?
Lil Keke: By the time I got there Mike Jones had already left. I didn’t get to see any of that era. When I got there Paul Wall was finishing up his album and Mike had already moved on to Ice Age, so me speaking on that history would just be the linking of both sides of town—SUC and Swishahouse. So yeah, any accolades they received going into Rice [University] is all theirs, and I really can’t speak on it because I don’t have a part in a whole lot of the history besides what I brought to the table when I got there.
Why Lil Keke Embraced Both Independence & Written Lyrics
DX: This is your first time working with Swishahouse since leaving in 2008. How does it feel to be back and working with 5000 Watts and G. Dash [co-CEOs]?
Lil Keke: It’s cool. It’s a 50/50 deal, between 7Thirteen and Swishahouse. So I appreciate them for showing me the steps to take as a CEO, and at the same time I’m giving them the opportunity to be a part of something that’s rising and getting to be bigger in the city.
DX: How long did it take you to complete Money Don’t Sleep once you decided to start recording?
Lil Keke: I usually work pretty fast. I can finish a mixtape in a week or a day if I decide to. I drop ‘em pretty fast too. I usually do four or five mixtapes a year, but this year I decided to do this series called ABA or Album Before the Album, and we usually do it with original tracks right before we do the CD. But as we got into the process of the series picking up, the tracks became better, so we kinda combined it to make an album.
DX: At this point in your career, are you still having wild nights at the studio?
Lil Keke: I’m still on my pen and paper. All the young kids, they’ve all switched to the phones now to put their verses in. I’m still old school with it, and I just follow the routine that I used to follow. I don’t really go in the studio, sit there and go over and over [my verse]. I take my beats home or in the car with me where I can go over ‘em and get into my zone. Most of the time when I’m in the studio, I’m in my zone, unless I’m in there with somebody else and I’m listening to some beats and lounging. But most of the time, if I’m in the studio, I’m already doing the work because I’ve prepared for it earlier. I don’t really hang out at the studio.
DX: Why title the LP Money Don’t Sleep?
Lil Keke: The name of the album Money Don’t Sleep just comes from me doing this for 15, 20 years, selling a million records independently and staying relevant where I am in my city. There’s always a race to the money here. There’s always a race to the fame and the publicity. Any time you sleep, you’re slacking, you lose. So going forward, that’s what I wanted to name the album so that people know that the grind don’t stop even after being in it for 20 years.
DX: Clearly, the significance of Money Don’t Sleep dropping on iTunes on July 13, is linked to your 7Thirteen brand. What are you planning on doing that day?
Lil Keke: That’ll be a day for the city as well as for my side of town. We’re really big on the slabs and having slab holidays. Then at the end we’re gonna do a fan appreciation concert: me, Z-Ro, Paul Wall, Killa Kyleon and my new artist Lil Brent.
DX: And you also have a powder puff team on Esquire Network’s Friday Night Tykes, right?
Lil Keke: Hopefully this season they’ll be coming to Houston then we’ll be one of the featured teams. That’d be great. I’ve been doing little league football for some years now, I love it, that’s my real passion, that’s what I’d do for free. I coach my team, I own it, we already got one Bowl ring. We work really hard, but it’s fun.