Patrick Houston gets lost in the shuffle when discussing the most influential Southern artists of the decade, but as that decade comes to a close one could make the argument that few have had greater influence. If it was possible to take Pat’s love of bizarre cadence along with his dead pan sense of humor and combine that in a Petri dish with (the also not immune to Pat’s charms) Lil Wayne’s penchant for extending the metaphors tied to his willfully random pop culture references you’d get your favorite blogger’s favorite rapper of 2009, Gucci Mane. Pat came into the game embracing experimental weirdness in a still-cool manner apart from Andre’s beta poetry, space rap’s fanboyish glee or even his little brother’s nihilistic Horrorcore. Every time a new jack hailing anywhere from Peachtree to Mobile gets praised for adding a syllable or rhyming about tilapia they should cut Pat a check.
Listening to his early work as well as the surrounding skits featuring exchanges delivered in nearly inscrutable drawl gives insight to Pat’s Southern Gothic: A take on the hood tending more towards Friday’s everyday ghetto hilarity than Menace’s life or death, melodramatic stakes favored by Pat’s gangster peers sandwiching Memphis on both coasts. On his third LP Mista Don’t Play: Everythangs Workin’ Pat achieves this aesthetic as never before and sadly, never again. Pressing heavily on his poor larynx, rapping in a register that would sound at home coming from a Jim Henson creation on Sesame Street, Pat applies a self assured, swaggering nutty style to vintage DJ Paul and Juicy J production. Here the 3-6 team have enough seasoning to be great but are still a few mega hits away from trading in their low-fi perfection. If this recipe doesn’t sound crazy enough MDP went platinum off the strength of two quirky pop songs that rank somewhere on the low end of the album quality wise but do a fine job representing the work: Pat, self serious amidst bad singing and adlibs, strange dark production with a pimp concept that manages to be really, really funny.
Quirk aside, Pat’s style has firm roots in Memphis hip hop. The actual content here is the standard pimping, shit talk and story tellers that show the finger prints of 8ball and MJG all over them. But this album unquestionably moves the ball forward in both tone and approach. MDP plays over B slasher flick production that serves as an ideal set for Pat’s black comedy and never gets stale thanks to an active score filled with little interesting decisions and a handful of mid song beat changes. You could make the argument that Juicy and Paul have never been better, no touch feels off or out of place and the tiny additions are brilliant. Even without Pat’s presence this makes the album ideal for multiple listens. But then there’s the artist himself, and as a rap nerd obsessed with wordplay I live to write about the pyrotechnics he pulls off effortlessly all over this affair.
At times Pat seems to be rapping in his own language only you understand exactly what he’s saying. He often doesn’t settle for hitting multi syllabic punchlines but cadence patterns that persist throughout whole verses, often reappearing beyond the rhyme they’re introduced through. (See: the last verse on “Cheese And Dope”) No rapper I’ve ever heard works as creatively with space. Whole sentences are crushed together only to have pauses arrive mid word, words are stretched into the following bar, words have syllables fused onto them with the addition of a tacked on vowel or simply drawn out, stretching the simplest of one syllable words in the interest of conforming to a cadence. (See: real as “Reee-Uhl”) A rhyming word immediately follows a punchline, spilling into the next bar only to end with a non rhyme, and as for slant rhymes, there maybe no better practitioner. Pat uses his drawl to mash the English language, using his accent in a manner previously unseen but now almost common. In general the primary focus is on rhythm, with the language serving to assume a particular track's form. Then there’s the all important humor, adding such laugh out loud, immediately run the track back level punchlines and touches he sneaks into ruthless, relentless strings of fury. I could list about 500 on this album alone but my favorite would have to be on “Gorilla Pimp” where in the midst of threatening a ho with her life if she’s crazy enough to disobey orders, the young woman interrupts Pat’s rhyme to counter “I’ma call yo momma house”, to which an alarmed Pat replies “Bitch, that’s a no no”. The gorilla pimp afraid a ho will tell his mom on him.
Project Pat- Gorilla Pimp
In later work Pat increasingly pays respect to his Memphis Buck Music roots producing albums that are more rote menacing and aggro. Most disheartening to me is his increasingly streamlined flow, which today is far closer to his speaking voice than the cartoonish baritone I knew and loved along with what sounds like elevated production value. There's a palatable rawness absent. His humor is still present, and is arguably a more subversive super dead pan masked by his deadly serious flow but there’s an element amiss. Take “Bang Smack”, off this year’s Real Recognize Real, a collaboration with the aforementioned Gooch that makes it painfully clear how much he owes Pat. It’s a sex romp that sounds like murder talk over some of Juicy J’s slick menace: Kaleeko blips, a classic 3-6 doom horn and a prehistoric squawk. It’s a tight affair but no fun, something you could never say about Pat’s dope irreverence prior to his four year bid.
Mista Don’t Play is a perfect middle ground for those debating Project Pat’s catalogue. It shows a necessary polish and assuredness that was lacking from Murderers & Robbers as well as portions of Ghetty Green. The very solid Green ailed from wack hookitus and the occasional off beat, Mista Don’t Play sounds like not only the author, but Juicy and Paul understand exactly what a Project Pat album should sound like and execute with nary a misstep over the course of a pretty mind boggling 20 tracks on what should be regarded as a classic.
Bonus: The world's most random Project Pat collaboration
The Roots ft. Project Pat- Should I