This month the Beat ‘N’ Track takes its final spin of the semester with the hip-hop stylings of December graduate Tre Houston. Houston, who takes his last name from his Texas hometown, grew up listening to ‘90s pop, talk radio and the soul music of his “Mama Nell.” It all came together to create what Houston calls “an experiment that stuck,” and his ever-changing style of hip-hop was born. Since then, he’s found mentors in professors and friends at Belmont, who have each helped to shape the music he makes today. As senior A&E writer Dustin Stout learned, with so many notable accomplishments already to his name, Houston has discovered “the sky’s the limit.”
How would you describe your current style of hip-hop?
It’s hard to describe a certain style because it varies so greatly so often. I have an affinity for topics that move my emotions and my mind at the same time. I try to make music that I could fall in love with even if it wasn’t my own. Currently, my style involves driving drum patterns, heavy – but not over the top – bass, both used in conjunction with live orchestral instruments. Six months ago I could not dream of a track that did not have a piano backing and jazz drums. Six months before that I would not use piano in a single song I made. I change with my influences, my life experience and taste.
When you look back on your career so far, how has your style progressed or changed?
My style and career have evolved in really amazing and unforeseen ways. My style is constantly morphing just depending on what I am listening to and where my interests lie at the moment. Even song to song, things change just depending on mood and circumstance.
What kind of music did you grow up listening to?
I was actually a little odd growing up. I listened to almost no music on my own until the sixth grade. I listened to talk radio and the news constantly, and the only music I ever indulged in was regular ‘90s pop radio on occasion and the soul music Mama Nell, my nanny, listened to. In the sixth grade, I really opened up to music and immediately began listening to just about everything.
When did you really start dedicating yourself to the genre of hip-hop?
In the sixth grade when I discovered music, I almost immediately began rapping. I was always a kid that liked to emulate – if I saw a cool movie, I would go home and use the family video camera to try to create an even better movie. Music was just the experiment that stuck. I loved it and dove in headfirst. My exposure to music is really tied into a series of five surgeries I had in the fifth grade that took me out of sports. I lost my form of expression and aggression release. Music replaced it.
Talk about how growing up in Houston, and how the location influences your music today.
Houston as a city had a great impact on my music in numerous ways. It taught me just as much about what I did not want to do as what I did want to do. Houston’s hip-hop sound is distinct, and if you listen to my music, you’ll see I do not necessarily fall into the subgenre of “Houston” or even “Dirty South” rap. I do, however, have a great appreciation and love for it as a listener. It’s a style that I certainly appreciate but have no desire or ability to imitate. Growing up in that sort of contradiction – being in a city full of the genre I love and yet not being able to fully grasp it as an artist – changed my style more than I can express.
How would you describe the hip-hop genre as America sees it today? Is that perception an appropriate one in your opinion? Where do you see the genre going in the future?
The genre is in such a state of growth and evolution at the moment that it is really hard to answer this question one way or the other; there are so many factors involved. Hip-hop tastes vary regionally, by socio-economic class and by the life experience of the listener. What is accepted as hip-hop in Houston won’t be on the radio in New York and vice versa. A song that may be the next fad in L.A. could be scoffed at in Atlanta. This is, of course, referring to the genre as a whole. If the state of Top 40 hip-hop is to be addressed, I really cannot say I have an opinion either way. I listen to it in passing, but that form of hip-hop does not contain the elements that I have grown to love in the genre.
You’ve had the opportunity to work with some pretty cool people so far in your career. Who are some of them, and what are a few memorable things you’ve learned since collaborating with them?
One that does come to mind is Dave Tough, who is a professor at Belmont. Even post-graduation, Dave has served as a mentor in the world of music production and publishing. I really enjoy … working with Dave both because he is brilliant in his own right and because he is always willing to listen and work things through. He has given me a great deal of knowledge as well as a great deal of success. He and I have successfully placed songs in numerous TV shows and movies, which was a giant career move for me. In addition to Dave, working with my DJ, Matt Phillips (DJ MP), has been a blessing in that it really brought many of the lost values found in original hip-hop into what I am trying to do. He is wildly professional when he’s on the turntables and is always open to new ideas. My whole band has really helped me grow as both an individual and as an artist.
I understand you have a new album called “To Sit on the Sun to Eat Stars” dropping soon, correct?
Yes, the album I am currently making has been a joint project with myself and Tommy Smith with assistance on individual tracks from both Dave Tough and producer Keynon Moore in Chicago. It has been a great experience working with all these people both because of the range of talent I’ve had at my disposal as well as the range of studios I have been able to visit and record in. I have been afforded great opportunities at the hands of these brilliant individuals I have been working with. Our goal from the start has been to make one of the most cohesive and beautiful – yes, beautiful – hip-hop albums ever.
One way you’ve stood out at Belmont is by winning the Urban/Pop Showcase this year and getting the opportunity to perform in the Best of the Best Showcase. How have those opportunities shaped your overall experience at Belmont?
The whole experience has been a roller coaster. A week and a half before Urban/Pop demos were due, I didn’t even have a band. We got thrown together in a whirlwind, and really I wouldn’t have had it any other way. So many friendships were made as well as tested, and what really came out of the whole process was music and a family. Being able to perform at Belmont was a blessing and something that I had always wanted to do.
I also understand fans should expect a new mix tape from you before “To Sit on the Sun to Eat Stars”?
Yes! This has been in the works for a bit and will be done almost strictly with DJ MP. It’s going to be an off-the-cuff, energy-filled 25-minute set that does not end. It will be composed of some written material but mostly freestyles and commercial beats mixed together by MP. We actually plan to knock it out in the next week or so – watch for it soon.
Besides a new album and new mix tape, what else is in store for Tre Houston?
I don’t know where to even start! Dave Tough and I have been consistently landing TV placement for the last six months. We must have impressed some music supervisor over at the CW because we managed to place multiple songs in all but one episode of their recent series “Remodeled.” Two of those episodes have yet to air, so over this summer everyone will get to see them. In addition to that, I plan to do more shows with my band, continue to create more music, and eventually do some solid touring. Right now I feel that my foundation is starting to solidify, and I am really beginning to build up. The sky is the limit.