The finer points of regional rap geography are sometimes lost on listeners outside those places. Due to their tight affiliation with the Screwed-Up Click, UGK became honorary Houston heroes, but the duo was actually from Port Arthur, a coastal city over an hour away. Similarly, Big Jade has worked closely with Houston legends like BeatKing and DJ Michael Watts, but she’s a genuine product of the Third Coast; her hometown of Beaumont is technically closer to the Louisiana border than it is to Houston. Over time, the Texas rapper has carved her own place outside the currents of the industry, no longer content to be overpowered by the bright lights of the Houston metropolis.
While Big Jade’s early freestyles were lightning-fast sparring sessions that flaunted her verbal dexterity, her major label debut, Pressure, often felt more like a BeatKing project than one of her own. The self-styled “Club God” is a lynchpin of contemporary Texas rap, but the assembly-line rate at which he churns out bouncy, bass-heavy beats resulted in ready-made strip club rhythms. Jade’s 2021 EP, Jade Wins, was a soft reboot. It relied on uncleared samples of established classics—Crime Mob’s “Knuck If You Buck,” Z-Ro’s “Mo City Don”—the familiar instrumentals putting more emphasis on her voice. It was as much of a throwback to woozy Screwed Up-Click cyphers as to DatPiff-era mixtapes like Nicki Minaj’s Playtime Is Over. Now, instead of succumbing to the Hot Girl Industrial Complex’s demand for TikTok-ready viral hits, Jade operates more like NBA YoungBoy, favoring no-hook freestyles and breakneck flows over shiny pop choruses.
From the opening shots of her new album, I Can’t Help It, Jade hardly stops to take a breath. On “Gangsta Activity,” she describes her attitude as “militant,” and it’s a fitting word for her rapping itself: dominant and unrelenting, never betraying a sign of weakness. Across the album, there are bills to pay, children to raise, and hair to braid, but there’s plenty of pleasure to be had too. Jade finds time amidst the grind for a much-needed dick appointment on the gleefully raunchy “Lick.” It opens with a sample of Sharon Stone in Paul Verhoeven’s infamous Basic Instinct—“Have you ever fucked on cocaine?”—positioning Jade as the cunning and cutting femme fatale in her own erotic thriller.
Even if Jade’s production has its roots in Houston, you can feel the in-betweenness of Beaumont in her flow; her accelerated delivery recalls the out-of-this-world intensity of Louisiana rappers from the heyday of Cash Money and No Limit, as opposed to the slowed-down, melodic drawl often associated with Texas rap. There’s even a little Louisiana flavor to the production, like in the light bounce of “Real Street’” and “Lick,” and the triumphant MIDI horns on “Reloaded.” Despite her kinship with rappers over the state line, the project’s only appearance from a Louisiana rapper, Baton Rouge’s Fredo Bang, on “Soulmate,” is one of the few tracks that feel a little forced. It’s a rare slow number that trades exuberant eroticism for excessively Auto-Tuned wooing.
Jade finds a much more evenly-matched duet partner in Detroit’s Sada Baby on “What She Said,” and her tip-toeing flow feels right at home in the fast and furious Michigan style. Like Detroit rappers from Babyface Ray to 42 Dugg, Jade showcases an enterprising hustle and sly humor, informed by an environment that demands you fight to survive. Swishahouse-affiliated producer DJ Chose compliments Sada Baby’s raspy voice with a menacing synthesizer line straight out of an Icewear Vezzo track.
On “Dollas,” Jade pays tribute to the late Gangsta Boo with a sample of 1998’s “Where Dem Dollas At.” Instead of merely recreating the original, the flip is more of a shout-out; where Gangsta Boo’s track is laid-back and funky, Jade’s interpretation is up-tempo and in your face, rapping like she’s still got something to prove. Much like her idol, Big Jade is a furious tongue-twister who can scrap and spit with the boys but still have a good time with her girls—not quite a pop rapper, but not a strict lyricist either. She has the same unapologetic spirit, crafting a flow all her own regardless of expectations for who she is or where she’s from.