The Next Big Texas Rapper Isn’t From Houston: An Interview With HOODLUM

Donald Morrison speaks to the San Antonio rapper about how important music videos are to his artistry, protecting his daughter, how his Mexican heritage influences his music and more.
By    May 9, 2023

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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.

The first song that I heard of yours was “OJ” in 2019. Back then you went by Southside Hoodlum. When did you shorten it to just HOODLUM?

HOODLUM: I’ll tell you what happened. I didn’t really know what I was doing with the computer. I put my Instagram name in the DistroKid and then it just came out like that and I was like, “f*ck.” That’s why on YouTube it’s how it’s supposed to be. Eventually I had to change it.

You seem to be the most famous rapper in San Antonio. Technically, Megan Thee Stallion was born there but she moved to Houston almost immediately after.

HOODLUM: Oh shit, I didn’t even know that. I know we had Shaq for a while.

Yes, we’ll count Shaq. How was it having a mural of you next to another San Antonio legend, Hispanic Elvis?

HOODLUM: It was a really cool experience to have, especially because I’m not dead and I’m still here to see it.

You’re still around to smell the flowers while they’re being given to you.

HOODLUM: They took it down, but it was cool. It was up for almost two years.

I’ve never been to Texas before, let alone San Antonio. What do I need to know about the state as someone who’s never been there?

HOODLUM: It’s just like everywhere else. Everywhere I’ve been is kind of the same. Literally everywhere is the same.

I’m from Five Palms and Indian Creek. It’s on the southside or southwest side of San Antonio. How can I explain it? It’s basically all Mexican’s, but it split half and half when I was younger. When Katrina hit a lot of people from New Orleans came to our area. That’s how I met my cameraman [AceTheShooter] when we were little. I’ve known him since I was a kid. I met him right when he got here so we’ve been friends our whole life.

I wanted to talk to you about your videos. Is that an important component for your music?

HOODLUM: It’s one of the most important parts, that and the production. It was like, how do I connect with people who don’t look at the city you’re from as anything? I feel like I have to make better videos and my production has to be at a higher level than rappers who are bigger than me career-wise, you know?

You feel like you’re competing with rappers who are bigger than you are right now?

HOODLUM: That’s the thing, I’m not trying to compete with no one. I’m trying to be with people who are way bigger than me, that’s the end goal.

How did the displacement from Hurricane Katrina change the demographics of the city?

HOODLUM: It changed it a lot. I feel like it split it down the middle. Same amount of black people, same amount of Mexicans, and we all get along. That’s the craziest part. I guess that’s the difference between Texas and California. Over there they still have a long history of problems. In Texas, we kind of work together.

We have an understanding out here. Even with the white kids, shit, the trailer park kids are just like us too! We have a lot of trailer park kids on our side. A lot of everything, really.

I watched your No Jumper interview. You said you knew from an early age that you wanted to be a rapper.

HOODLUM: I knew I wanted to be a rapper but I didn’t know when I’d start taking it seriously. A lot had to happen before we started dropping videos. I was just doing other shit.

What were you doing?

HOODLUM: I just loved selling weed so much. Me and my videographer were sitting there, I think we were on shrooms’ or some shit, he said to me, “you’ve always been the best rapper I know, if you just rap, I’ll buy a camera” and that was it. This was back in 2018.

What’s your favorite blunt wrap?

HOODLUM: Now I smoke a leaf or whatever. But my favorite blunt wrap as a kid were those big ass Dutches or the Phillies. I was really into New York hip-hop, so I was smoking fat ass Dutches, fat ass Phillies and shit.

When you were younger, would you say you gravitated more towards the New York rap scene as opposed to the West Coast?

HOODLUM: I listened to everything. That’s why there’s a lot of real funky-ass sounds in my music. Because that’s coming from like The Bay and the rest of the West Coast. And you got a lot of hard 808’s coming from the South and we do a lot of samples too.

You clearly grew up listening to chopped and screwed music, but you really are making a brand new sound.

HOODLUM: That was the goal. At the end of the day, I like shit that sounds good in a car. I used to be really into that old The Firm album. I also really liked Only Built for Cuban Linx, I loved any kind of drug dealer music. That fly shit. But honestly, people don’t really give a shit about that stuff right now. So we tried to blend it and make it our own. So we did that, then we did a lot of real hard 808’s, a lot of dark samples. It all goes back to what we listened to, I was a real big Outkast fan. I was a real big Lil Wayne fan.

I just wanted to rap over things that I liked listening too. There’s a song off my album Lord Knows called “SLIDE,” it’s such a funky beat, we didn’t even know if it would work. But it ended up going crazy and that’s when I knew I could do whatever. It’s that song and a song called “Do You Love Me?” I never thought I’d do a song like that. And then when my song “GOSPEL” started doing really well, I thought, ‘cool, this is the music I really want to make and people are still gravitating towards it.’ I didn’t want to keep making microwave music even though it’s easy. Even with “OJ,” which is my first big song, that only took me two minutes to make. I like it a lot, of course, but at the same time I wanted to elevate.

Southside Story really feels like your first complete record. I thought the features you picked were really smart. Valee and Maxo Kream are two of my favorite rappers right now.

HOODLUM: The features were all organic. They’re all my friends. Even with the Paul Wall song, someone asked, ‘why are you even doing that?’ I said, ‘because I want to bring back the feeling of listening to “Drive Slow.”‘

I liked that term you used, “microwave music.” Anyone can make that type of easily consumable music, but you want to keep growing as an artist. It’s satisfying when you experiment with a new sound and the fans still f*ck with you.

HOODLUM: That’s the main thing, because our generation’s attention span is so short. That’s why the two video idea worked out so well. No one knew who I was, obviously everyone knows me in our city, but no one outside of that. So it was like, “if I do two videos at once, you’re gonna click it and then before you exit out, there’s gonna be another song playing.” We treated this music shit like we treated selling drugs. That’s why everything was on YouTube, because if you want to listen to it, you gotta go to one place. Just like if you want something on the street and you know a person has it, you gotta go to them. That’s how we treated it and that’s why the YouTube vessel was so f*cking big because that’s how we play. Then people started ripping the songs off of that and putting it on SoundCloud, getting like 100,000 plays. When I dropped the album, it was mainly all the songs on YouTube.

YouTube can only take you so far.

HOODLUM: Now our whole goal is to build stuff outside of YouTube. This album, Southside Story, is the first time I’ve ever had marketing. I never said “hey, here, listen to my music,” I never messaged people, nothing, we just put it out. That’s it, just put it out and see what happens and it became what it is.

Now it’s like, “how do I make that bigger?” We’re used to doing everything ourselves. I never had a manager, I never had a f*cking booking agent, I never had nothing. Everything is just in-house. I’ve known my producer since I was 12 and my cameraman since I was 11. Same with my engineer, everything is in-house.

AceTheShooter is the cameraman’s name and also the name of the Youtube channel.

HOODLUM: Everything’s right there. I told him, “I know what I’m going to be.” I wanted to build something for everybody and I feel like the beats and the production by bigtexjohnny is also a huge f*cking thing, because I feel like no one can touch us as far as the production goes. If you really listen to it, there’s nobody on our level doing it like this in-house. We’re not going to big f*cking studios and we’re still putting out shit that competes with the biggest names. It’s only going to get bigger.

Does it feel like you’re entering a new phase of your career with the release of Southside Story?

HOODLUM: I just want to be around to see my daughter turn one. At the end of the day that’s what all of this is about. With what I was doing, it was like, shit, I could die tomorrow. I didn’t want it to feel like this was all I did, all that I accomplished.

Is that your daughter and wife on the cover of the new album? I noticed their faces are blurred.

HOODLUM: It’s like that because in our culture they could take that photo, put it on a mantel and they’ll f*cking kill you. That’s why I blurred their faces. I still rarely show my daughter’s face to a camera because they do a lot of f*cked up shit in Mexican culture with pictures, it’s crazy. I’m trying to protect their energy and shit.

Why is your face not blurred then? What about your energy?

HOODLUM: Everyone already knows my face. This is a funny story actually. My brother in law is in the U.S. Marines, staying in bunk beds and shit. He told me there were dudes over there that have my picture framed! So, yeah, there’s no way I can have my face blurred.

What part of Mexico is your family originally from?

HOODLUM: I really don’t know that far back. My dad was born in f*cking Gary, Indiana. Then he moved to San Antonio into some projects when he was really young. My mom is from New Mexico but they moved to San Antonio early too. Everyone’s been from San Antonio forever. My family’s never been the type to get together like that.

How does your Mexican heritage influence your music?

HOODLUM: It makes me feel like I want to be bigger, you know? I don’t want to be put into a box as a Mexican rapper. That sucks. I don’t want to be a Mexican rapper, I want to be a rapper, man. I want to be the biggest. I want to be as big as I can be. You can be a Mexican rapper but you don’t have to be labeled as a Mexican rapper who is automatically going to be put into a box. You’re automatically going to be looked at as less than. Like, “you can’t rap as good as us because you’re Mexican.” That’s literally happened to everybody who’s ever called themselves a f*cking Mexican rapper.

I don’t want that. I love my culture. I know what’s in my blood and I know who and what I am. But there’s bigger things I’m trying to accomplish than just being a Mexican rapper. I want to f*ck around and make something that’s nominated for a Grammy. Money is cool, I’ve made money independently off of this. I bought a house from all this next to all these white people who are old and retired. I just want to be bigger musically. That’s the goal.

What’s next for HOODLUM?

HOODLUM: I want to drop another project this year, because I have a ton of songs. Next year, I just want to be big enough to be doing tours and all that. I want to do more festivals and I feel like that’s where I’m heading this year. In 10 years, I want to have a f*cking Grammy! Honestly, I probably won’t even be here. I’ll probably be somewhere in like, Spain, like a retired drug dealer, living next to the ocean. I’m from San Antonio, bro, I used to swim under a bridge in some muddy ass water.

If you could live anywhere, where would it be?

HOODLUM: Probably Spain to be honest. But I went to Norway to do like three shows and man, I love Norway. I like shit like that.

It’s probably crazy going over there and seeing Norwegian kids know the words to your music.

HOODLUM: It’s crazy, man, I was amazed. I really liked the kids over there. I was just marveling at their mindset. You know them kids ain’t never seen a gun, they don’t do anything like that, they’re just happy all day. They were explaining they don’t have the same problems that we do but they have mental health problems because it rains so much that people get bored in the house and they go crazy I guess.

The real enemy in Norway is yourself, it turns out.

HOODLUM: Right! I was tripping out, this Norwegian kid told me an example, he said some dude in the area couldn’t afford to buy beer one day and he just f*cking offed himself.

That’s crazy.

HOODLUM: But there’s kids eating damn roaches over here in the U.S. There’s some bullshit happening in the United States. They couldn’t believe all the shootings and violence they hear about.

What’s one thing that would make the U.S. more livable in your opinion?

HOODLUM: I think Texas needs to legalize weed but I don’t think it’s ever going to happen.

Yeah, that seems like a no-brainer. Do you think legalizing weed would make it less lucrative to sell weed in Texas though?

HOODLUM: I don’t think it would matter. I think the cartel runs everything right now. Even in places like Los Angeles or Oregon or Oklahoma. The weed you get from the dispensary, nine times out of 10 it came from the cartel or people like that, because they’re going to force your hand. They aren’t going to not be able to sell weed, you understand?

In San Antonio we have so many different problems being near the border. There’s a lot of human trafficking, moving people around, picking them up there and taking them here. There’s bigger things to worry about than weed, yet they treat weed like it’s this crazy thing.

What’s the state of lean use in Texas? Are people still doing that?

HOODLUM: It’s expensive. If you want real lean, it’s really expensive. Most of the bottles people have are fake anyway. I used to do that shit man. We’d make it ourselves just to sell it to people. I’d just smash up a shit ton of melatonin, shit like that. Mix it, put it in a baby bottle and put it in the freezer. People would buy that shit.

I have a weird relationship with it. I don’t really sip it like that anymore. I started so young, that’s why I talk about it so much. It was embedded in us. It was always the thing. Even as a kid, if you had a cold, drink cough syrup. If you can’t go to sleep, drink cough syrup.

Drinking cough syrup is probably the safest sounding way to take opiates when you’re that young too, as opposed to smoking shit off tinfoil or injecting yourself.

HOODLUM: As a kid I didn’t even think about it like that. I didn’t know what an opiate was. I was just thinking “this is what everybody’s doing.” The people that were famous for rapping in Texas, this was their culture. I didn’t realize it was an opiate until I started having withdrawals in high school and shit.

To be honest, it’s people who weren’t from Texas who f*cked everything up because they didn’t know how to pace themselves and people were dying. Here, you’re sipping the same cup throughout the whole day. You’re not drinking a pint in two days. You’re not doing that because you understand the culture and how you’re really supposed to do this type of drug. Even though that’s ugly to say, it’s the truth.

Nowadays, the fake shit is everywhere and with the fentanyl situation being so bad, I would tell kids not to do it. But it’s hard to say because I talk about it in my music.

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