There was a point in the mid-90s when Suave House arguably had one of the most stacked rosters of lyricists in all of rap music. Memphis rappers Tela, MJG, and Eightball, and Houston natives, Mr. Mike, Crime Boss, and Thorough were all signed to the Houston-based indie rap label, and their early albums helped established early southern rap.
The label later added Chicago group Psychodrama, New Orleans duo, NOLA, and Rick Ross, and equipped with lush blues-based production mostly courtesy of T-Mix and Slice-T, Suave created a unique sound that was relatable and familiar, but difficult to emulate.
Founded by Tony Draper (he was born in Memphis and raised in Houston), and starting out completely independently with Eightball & MJG’s celebrated 1993 debut, Coming Out Hard, the label eventually gained distribution through Relativity, and later, Universal.
Suave, alongside Sick Wid It and Rap-A-Lot, was an early archetype for independent rap labels, and its output throughout the decade make it one of the most lauded labels in southern Hip-Hop history.
Here are 20 of Suave House’s greatest songs of the 90s.
“Space Age Pimpin’” - Eightball & MJG
Probably the most recognizable track on what was their most successful album at the time, 1995’s On Top of the World, “Space Age Pimpin’” almost plays like a 90s slow jam. A thick, molasses bass-line meets explicit, pimp-tinged lovemaking tales from Ball and G in what’s proven to be a timeless entry in the duo’s musical offerings.
“Sho’ Nuff”- Tela featuring Eightball & MJG
Tela links with franchise players, Eightball & MJG, on a Jazze Pha-made beat for what’s become one of Suave’s most popular tracks ever. Although following the release of his debut, Tela would leave Suave to join Houston-based Rap-A-Lot Records, Piece of Mind delivered on two fronts—gifting Tela with his most well-known track ( “Sho’ Nuff” peaked at 58 on Billboard Hot 100), and delivering a classic southern banger, defined by an instantly recognizable groovy bass line. Even today, “Sho’ Nuff” works like a charm in southern clubs.
“Lay It Down”- Eightball & MJG featuring Thorough and Crime Boss
Eightball & MJG’s sophomore album, 1994’s On The Outside Looking In, helped further shine light on Memphis’ bubbling rap scene. The album’s most popular track, “Lay It Down,” remains a southern rap staple, and one of the Orange Mound duo’s signature songs. It also served as a springboard to showcasing Suave’s talented roster, with South Circle’s Thorough, and Crime Boss both showing up to deliver memorable bars.
“All In My Mind” - Eightball & MJG featuring South Circle
An overlooked jam on Eightball & MJG’s 1995 third album, On Top of the World, “All In My Mind” featured Ball and G tag-teaming with Suave House’s other lyrical duo, South Circle (Mr. Mike and Thorough). They questioned reality, but mostly the four of them just showed off their above-average lyrical skill. You can practically hear the competition when they ping the mic back and forth over T-Mix’s haunting production. It’s difficult to pinpoint who came the hardest, but bar for bar, Ball’s countdown-style first verse might be one of the dopest in his extensive catalog.
“Attitudes”- South Circle
South Circle is one of the most under-appreciated duos in southern rap, maybe because they only released one album on Suave, 1995’s Another Day, Another Balla. It featured the blues-laced single, “Attitude,” and spotlighted the chemistry and lyrical talent of Mr. Mike and Thorough.
“Drama in My Life”- Eightball featuring Psychodrama
Chicago natives, Psychodrama, probably should’ve been bigger- and it’s obvious why that’s the case from their showing “Drama in My Life” featured on Ball’s 1998 solo album, Lost. Over a slow-riding beat, they proceed to devour the track, with Buk in particular taking it to the next level, much as he did a year earlier on Twista’s “Adrenaline Rush.”
“Tired of Ballin’”- Tela
Despite being the lead single, “Tired of Ballin’” is an often overlooked gem on Tela’s 1996 debut, Piece of Mind. Produced by fellow Memphis native, Jazze Pha, who also sings the hook, it’s one of Tela’s standout songs. He flips the southern baller trope on its head and raps about how the weight of being such a success is tiresome because he doesn’t really know who to trust.
“New Day” - South Circle
South Circle might be Suave’s rap act that most seamlessly melded R&B and blues-inspired production into their music. That’s evident on the mellow “New Day,” one of two singles released from their 1995 debut, Anotha Day, Anotha Balla. Incorporating flutes and a deep bass-line over mellow keys and g-funk synths, it’s a sound that works perfectly for Mr. Mike and Thorough’s fluid delivery, anchored by a grooving hook sang by Mike.
“Comin’ Out Hard” - Eightball & MJG
In 1993, Eightball & MJG came out hard, announcing Memphis’ bubbling underground rap scene as a go-to city to find talent, and also declaring Suave House’s presence in the southern rap landscape, peaking at no. 40 on the Billboard 200. The album’s title track is still one of Ball and G’s most recognizable.
“Please Stop” - Crime Boss
In 1997, Houston’s Crime Boss dropped his sophomore album, Conflicts and Confusion, which was also his most successful. Anchored by tracks like the creeping “Chemical Imbalance” featuring 8Ball and “Warning,” “Please Stop,” serves a warning to fake gangsters.
“Rider” - Tela
While it doesn’t get mentioned often, “Rider” just might be Tela’s best song, and it’s the lowkey standout on Suave’s 1997 compilation album, The Album of the Year. Relaxing into Slice T’s deep, wiggling bass-line, Tela crafts a perfect late evening, smoke-as-you-ride song that encompasses the very best of what Suave offered—melodic grooves brought to life by rappers who had something to say.
“My Homeboy’s Girlfriend” - Eightball
Quiet as it’s kept, Eightball is one of the better storytellers in rap, and on “My Homeboy’s Girlfriend” he weaves as an intricate, explicit tale about being seduced by his homie’s girlfriend. Featured on his 1998 solo debut, Lost, and produced by Mo Suave, it’s one of Ball’s most memorable solo outings.
“Trapped” - NOLA
While New Orleans duo, NOLA never really got a chance to properly shine during their Suave run, they did make an impression on “Trapped” from Suave’s compilation album, Album of the Year.
“Good Damn Man”- MJG
Following the success of their third album On Top of the World, their best performing release to date, Eightball and MJG decided to embark on solo missions before coming together for another group album. MJ was up first with No More Glory in 1997. While the album wasn’t as commercially successful as Eightball’s solo double album, Lost, it’s a southern classic, and firmly established MJG as one of the most clever rappers in rap, recognized or not. “Good Damn Man” a swinging, bluesy offering, is one of the album’s standouts.
“Where Ya Love At” - Mr. Mike featuring Christión
One of Houston’s best deep-voiced lyricists, Mr. Mike’s solo debut, Wicked Wayz, arrived in 1996, a year after his South Circle introduction. His best performing project, and his only solo album released on Suave, Wicked Wayz peaked at no. 40 on the Billboard 200, propelled by this wavy G-funk track, and Christión’s laid-back crooning on the hook.
“Shine and Recline” - MJG featuring Eightball
Even on his solo debut, MJG found time to reconnect with his partner-in-rhyme Eightball on “Shine and Recline,” which for those familiar, is considered one of the Memphis duo’s best songs. Both emcees are on point out the gate. MJG opens the track with introspective bars over a melodic, vintage T-Mix beat, and Ball later joins in to offer his brand of lyricism.
“Warning”- Crime Boss
Crime Boss’ stand out track from his second album, “Warning” is the rapper at his best, delivering street-wise, in-your-face bars over gutter-soul production.
“Middle of The Night” - MJG
Another MJG keeper from his 1997 solo debut, No More Glory this is one of the songs you point to when considering why MJG is one of the best to ever grab a mic. Perspective, smart, and able to engage in creative storytelling, or just deliver clever, acrobatic bars, MJ’s skill is on full display here.
“Just Like Candy” - Eightball & MJG
The most popular song on Suave’s compilation The Album of the Year, “Just Like Candy” is an airy R&B-inspired offering from the Orange Mound duo, where MJG in particular shines.
“Friend or Foe”- Eightball & MJG featuring E-40, Mac Mall and Big Mike
Featured on Eightball & MJG’s third album, On Top Of The World, “Friend or Foe” is one of the best east-west collaborations of the decade, and maybe one of the most perceptive songs about friends and enemies ever made. All four rappers deliver quote-worthy rhymes, especially Big Mike’s sing-songy preaching that closes out the first half of the song. But it’s MJG who goes all the way in on the last verse, with what might be his best verse of all-time.