“Unique” might be a more apt word to describe the artist himself, rather than the title “Unorthodox”. It’s what to be expected from a 6’4, white rapper that was born Rowland Wickes Folensbee III. But you can delve deeper into his psyche by reading his own insight on the blog he uses to self-promote (trehouston.blogspot.com) if you so choose. Southern rap gets a lot of guff for not being lyrical but Tre Houston aims to tear down those preconceptions by likening himself to such skillful emcees as Brother Ali, Common and Lupe Fiasco. While those are high standards, Tre does manage to bring a different style than the typical sound you are accustomed to from the Lone Star state by dropping an upbeat album without being needlessly misogynistic or gangsterous.

Tre kicks off the album with “The City” and immediately the listener is introduced to an upbeat sound, piano tones and clashing cymbals; all of these elements come together cohesively to create an enjoyable ode to his hometown of Houston, TX, in anthem form. Like most effective anthems “The City” comes complete with a rousing chorus:

“We’ve been through mile high water leaving homes in boats
And y’all, they think they know (but they really don’t know!)
Been through Enron scandals and the air is toast
And yo, they think they know (but they really don’t know!)
Been through massive evacuations, evading the coast
And yo, they think they know (but they really don’t know!)
Been through less than few and more than most
And yo, they think they know (but they really don’t know!)”

The special thing about this is that there is some clear social commentary thrown in the lyrical mix, which is rare of this type of track. This aspect of the joint is more obvious when Tre delves into his verses with lines like, “I remember when Katrina hit and the Katrina kids stayed in our schools ’til June/Well, some made it through December , it’s funny how I remember how they sat on the other side of the rooms.” Tre has filmed a video for this joint and it makes sense that he and Dream Big Entertainment would want to promote one of stronger cuts.

“The City” is followed up by the equally charming “Be Somebody” that plays out like Nas’ “I Can” with a humorous tinge. It truly embodies the likeability of Tre Houston’s straightforward rhyming. Everything is surface level when you hear lines like “I wish I could get Buffie the Body in the back of a Denali/ Vida Guerrera in the front seat of my Solara/And maybe if I had one HOT album/ Maybe I could net Jessica Alba,” but that does not make the music any less enjoyable. Therefore, “Be Somebody” really proves that he is dreaming big with his rhymes.

Though you might not need a thesaurus to listen to “Unorthodox”, there is a sense of depth nonetheless because of Tre’s ability to carry concepts. “Divorce” is driven by frenzied violins and deep keyboard tones. It is a far more standard portrayal of the hardships of breaking that sacred bond than say the psychotic “Kim” by Eminem.  Meanwhile, the marching rhythms of “War” and the background gunfire sample is not as generic as you imagine it, but the rock rendition at the end which adds soaring guitars is an unnecessary attempt to progress the idea.

Most of the guest spots on “Unorthodox” work, but the featured artist and beat maker Brian Bachman consume a huge majority of the album. This keeps “Orthodox” feeling like a cohesive piece of work. Blessing Offor sound a good bit like Matthew Santos from Lupe Fiasco’s album “The Cool” on “Rose in Rain.” But when he shows up again with a female vocalist Allison Daniels, on “Fade Away,” it is over sung. Perhaps Tre should have reached out to some other producers though as some of the tracks like “What Happened” and the monotone “Stars in Their Eyes” fall flat. Still, Bachman does make a good effort in varying his sound.

“Let’s Go” is another track that Tre is actively promoting with the possibility of shooting another video for, but it is certainly not the standout that he makes it out to be. In fact, he sounds less confident here than usual as he blurts out the chorus. There should be reconsideration on the label’s part on this decision since independent artists like Tre Houston do not push through career missteps like an established veteran does.

His rhyme schemes and vocabulary might be standard, but Tre does a good job in differentiating himself as an up-and-comer with his personality that exudes on his LP, “Unorthodox.” It’s recommended that you do not just write him off as another rapper trying to make it big without committing to the art of rhyme. It’s clear that he has put care and effort into this proper release. Thankfully the result of the album is more a refreshing breath of fresh air than the stale litter that too often invades your CD player.

Tre Houston :: Unorthodox
6.5Overall Score