By Terrance Turner
March 22, 2021
Last Sunday, rapper DaBaby was at the Grammys, performing “Levitating” with singer Dua Lipa (who won the Grammy for Best Pop Vocal Album) and his single “Rockstar” which was nominated for Record of the Year). This Sunday, he was in Houston, headlining not one but two single release parties. The day party was at Seaside Lounge (702 W.Dallas St.). The night show was at Cle Houston, located at 2301 Main St.
Upon arriving at the club, I enoucntered avirtual gridlock on Main. Traffic was at a virtual standstill, with cars bumper-to-bumper as they entered and exited the premises. It took over 10 minutes to park; vehicles lined the street and filled up the lot. One attendant waved me over to a parking lot adjacent to the club, despite the fact that the line of cars had spilled out into the street. He beckoned me to pull up, inching me closer and closer to the vehicle in front of me. I was nearly rear-ended when the car began backing out.
I drove up to a nearby lot just feet away, hoping to land a spot. I asked the attendant (clad in a black uniform with the Cle logo) how much it cost. $40, he said, adding that they were “overwhelmed” by the crowds. Were they ever. I ended up parking on the street at Space City (formerly known as Rich’s Houston).
I walked to the front of the club and waited in line with a mostly maskless group of clubgoers. (Some were in miniskirts and Daisy Dukes, despite the 55-degree temperatures.) How much would it cost to get in? “$80,” said one of the bouncers. “Turn around.” After frisking me, he informed me that the people up front had card readers. They did, but by the time I got there the price had dropped to $60. Was DaBaby inside? I asked. Was he onstage?
“We don’t know,” one woman said. “We outside.”
After paying, I made my way towards the entrance. Just outside the door was a blonde burlesque (?) dancer, twirling inside a pole with a circular ring at the top.
Inside, trap music blasted from the speakers as the mostly black crowd alternately watched and danced. The room was dark and hazy with smoke; it was sometimes hard to tell who was on stage. The chief source of light came from the sparklers carried by a group of young female employees (bottle girls?), a maskless group that lit the sparklers and carried them to various places throughout the club.
Some of the haze likely came from the sparklers and/or smoke machines. But some of it was organic: a handful of attendees walked by with blunts in their mouths. It wasn’t uncommon to spot a lighted cigarette or joint, either. Cle’s easygoing approach to smoking indoors also extended to mask-wearing. I observed roughly 150 people inside the club (likely an undercount); of those, five of them wore masks (including the author).
This isn’t the first time that Cle has flouted pandemic restrictions. In January, Cle Houston was one of three Houston nightclubs (along with Spire and Grooves) to have its liquor license suspended after the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission found them in violation of COVID-19 protocols. “All three businesses are accused of violating Gov. Greg Abbott’s Executive Order GA-32, which requires businesses which sell alcohol for on-premise consumption to comply with capacity limits as well as social distancing and facial covering requirements,” a press release stated.
As the clock rolled past 1:00 AM and then 1:30, my earlier question lingered: where was DaBaby? He finally materialized around 1:45 AM, sandwiched by a plethora of security and bodyguards. I thought he was there to perform; turns out that he was there for a single release party. The single was “Ice,” by rapper KayyKilo, who’s signed to DaBaby’s record label Billion Dollar Baby.
Born in Louisiana, KayyKilo moved to Houston in part to pursue music. She soon attracted notice from many — including DaBaby. “I came across Kilo [through] one of my potnas,” he said in an interview. “His name Money on the Mo; he a rapper. He just got out the feds like, last year. He shot me a DM and he like, ‘You gotta hop on shawty song,” DaBaby explains. (The song was “Bend It,” a provocative single that KayyKilo had released.) “He had sent me the video from her page, and when I went to the video it was like, a listening session that she had with Bay Bay — my potna Bay Bay, down in Shreveport, in the Dallas area.” (Hollyhood Bay Bay is a DJ and radio personality in Dallas, Texas.)
Impressed by her vibe — and the song “Bend It,” which he called “hard ‘den a mothaf—er” — DaBaby sent Kilo a DM, asking if she was signed to a label. She told him no. He offered to work with her, and Kilo flew to DaBaby’s recording studio in his hometown of Charlotte, North Carolina. Now she’s signed to his record label — and rapping to sold-out crowds in Houston.
As evidenced from the videos, the club was packed. The overwhelming majority of those in attendance were not wearing masks. But with Spring Break coming to a close (and Gov. Greg Abbott allowing businesses to reopen 100%), nobody seemed to mind.