“I don’t even know where I fit / Too old for youth group concerts, too young to call it quits” – Lil Raskull on “Set It Off”
On a crisp, early December day the more artsy residents of Space City have gathered in a warehouse near downtown for “Pop Shop Houston” – a nomadic, indie craft fair and music festival.
Amid the booths hawking hand-made jewelry and fair-trade organic snacks a table offers hip hop-loving hipsters a deeper look at the “Houston Rap” scene. It’s the launch of the same named coffee-table book by photographer Peter Beste and writer Lance Scott Walker that catalogues the artists and neighborhoods that incubated an urban music community both admired and misunderstood by purists on the coastal shores bookending the “Dirty Third.”
The authors have invited Houston rappers from the Screwed Up Click and other local crews to join them and draw in a crowd. “25 Lighters” legend and recently-redeemed-rapper-for-Jesus DJ DMD is there – both in the book and booth. He’s uniquely positioned to share history and His story. A few hours into the event, Delbert Harris arrives.
Harris, known to many as Lil Raskull, flips through an open copy of Houston Rap and comments that it seems to focus mostly on the city’s south side and not the northern neighborhoods he came out of. He doesn’t make a big deal of it, but it’s an observation worth noting – particularly from a man who arguably deserves his own feature in the tome given his work in the regional rap scene and the Christian hip hop subgenre he now sees soaring to heights only dreamed about.
“Those were visions I got – that we would have those size and type of concerts,” Raskull laughingly recalls. “I didn’t know it would be ten years later or I probably wouldn’t have… I might have been like ‘No Lord, I don’t want to do this.”
He’s released more than a dozen albums since the mid-90’s, been nominated for Dove Awards, and is viewed as a forerunner in
some circles. Of course, after a seven-year layoff to focus on family, going back to college, and working on various business ventures, there’s also an entire generation who barely recognizes the Lil Raskull legacy.
It’s why, during an interview, he takes time to clearly explain why new listeners shouldn’t assume he’s biting Lecrae when they hear the car song “Texas” on his new album. It’s a track he recorded before ‘Crae’s “Let It Whip” from Church Clothes 2 dropped and one that was also supposed to feature Paul Wall.
“Me and Paul communicated about it on Twitter and e-mail but just never made it happen,” Raskull explains. “[Growing up] he was a member of a friend’s [church] youth group and even invited me over to his house to meet his mom and all that. As a matter of fact, whenever I see her now it’s still like no time has been in between that.”
Paul Wall isn’t the only one who grew up listening to Lil Raskull rap about Jesus. Today’s top Christian hip hop artists like Tedashii and Dre Murray have also publicly acknowledged the role Ras’ music played in their spiritual growth.
The need to re-establish his pedigree is a paradox Lil Raskull is quick enough to acknowledge even though you can hear a bit of frustration in his voice as he talks or rhymes about the situation.
“I don’t introduce myself like ‘Hey, I’m one of the pioneers of this thing’ but yeah, I’ve been doing it a while,” Raskull says.
The 5ft Mogul
Perhaps it’s part of the character built upon his small stature and eternal babyface – physical traits that have led to years of quick pre-judgments and automatic dismissals of his talent, desire, and drive.
In turn, it’s an identity he’s co-opted with a bit of pride, first as “Lil Raskull” and now on social media as the “5ft Mogul” – a name that graces the cover of his new non-mixtape mixtape available on iTunes.
On the album, Ras proves he hasn’t lost a lyrical step as he plays with the image of hip hop at large, examines his space in the culture, and uses his art to worship the Messiah who saved him nearly two decades ago.
Fans of his older projects will even recognize hints of the “Controverse All-Star” who doesn’t mind turning a phrase like “hip hop needed a climax, be glad I came” to push buttons and provoke thought. It’s the kind of thing you can do when you’ve earned your stripes and own your own record label.
During his entire time at “Pop Shop Houston” Lil Raskull has been trailed by a shadow; a miniature version of himself who calls him Dad.
He’s dubbed “E-Man,” shows an interest in comic illustrations like his pops, and has a physical profile bequeathed by his father. The kid is 11 years old, but looks like he’s 7.
E-man is a tangible representation of Raskull’s legacy even though he’ll probably pursue athletic fame instead of the music scene that made his dad a nationally known name.
Those efforts have inspired Ras’ latest business endeavors like the Dash Track Club and Hardeman 112 sports gear – companies that add to a profile that already includes Eli Wear, Javo Records, and Harris & Company.
He’s a man of his word and The Word. He’s the 5ft Mogul.