There’s no longer a giant sense of divide among North Houston rap music and South Houston rap. They all border around moments of soul, points of clarity regarding success and failure wrapped around soulful production that either feels like a cathedral of old school funk or tips into the post-modern haze of staggering drums and bravado. You watch and listen to see who’ll climb above another to make it and in the case of Mike Red, that climb has been long and arduous.

Houston already has a rap class that cannibalizes itself left and right with a clear sense of hierarchy for those who might make it and a giant blob of artists who are far too talented to get ignored. Red is one of them, a rapper with a callous like flow that is slow building but memorable when placed upon soulful production and flourishing drums. He & George Young trade small pieces of round about abstract greatness behind the boards, Young on KAB Tha Don’s “Houston” and Red throughout much of his Smoke & Soul which at times feels like a dreary walk through the rain, eyeing the sun because you’re aware of its existence.

It hits with cooing vocals on “And It’s Going Like” with RoyalT and Young, spaces out on the rolling snares and chaos of squeaking shoes on “Running” and for inspiration sake has Ray Lewis delivering another hymnal about achieving the most while being given the absolute least. Red understands the constant movement of the Northside, how competitive it may be and how fluent he is in describing the ups and downs of the hustle. He just wants to make it as a producer and rapper for the sake of it, devoid of a gimmick outside of living the life. Maybe that’s the way you can get it these days.

DOWNLOAD: Mike Red – Smoke & Soul