March 10, 2021 514 PM
FAR WEST TEXAS — Raymond Castille’s first big break as a rapper came around 2015, a couple years after he’d moved to Marfa. He was at the Tejano Super Show, a car, music and art event in Odessa. Castille, then going by “Raymo,” was signed with a Chicano record label in Odessa, Respect is Due Records.
Castille was in the parking lot, getting more mixtapes from his car, when another rapper approached him. “We should trade mix tapes,” Castille recalled the man saying. “He gave me some of his CDs, and I gave him a few of mine. We exchanged numbers.”
That rapper, Nicholas Brown, who performs as Highway Yella, would ultimately become a mentor figure to Castille. Castille soon joined the Highway Gang, a Texas hip-hop crew headed by Brown. Castille also changed his performing name to Highway Bandoe.
While neither man knew at the time, they both had ties to Houston — though Castille’s style, which combines soulful beats with fast-paced old-school rhymes and references to cough syrup-based “purple drank,” might have given away his Houston roots. “I grew up listening to that type of music,” Castille said. “All the OGs [original gangstas] from the Houston music scene, I grew up listening to.”
Originally from the southwest side of Houston, Castille says he’s been drawn to music all his life. He started playing piano at age nine and was soon also playing drums for his church. He started rapping around age 16 — and around 2010, and when he was 24, he decided he wanted to make hip-hop his career.
In an interview on Monday, Castille rattled off some of his Houston influences. He named Z-Ro and Trae tha Truth, two members of the legendary Houston outfit Guerilla Maab, and Pimp C, a member of UGK, short for “Underground Kingz.” Though technically from Port Arthur, the group has long been associated with the Houston hip-hop scene, and Castille says they had a big influence on his music.
Still, he stresses, not all his influences are from Houston. His two favorite rappers hail from elsewhere in the South, including Curren$y (New Orleans) and Gucci Mane (Atlanta).
“That’s what separates me from a lot of Houston and Texas artists,” Castille said. Another thing that separates him from many Houston rappers are his longtime ties to Marfa and Far West Texas.
Growing up, Castille regularly came to visit Marfa. His grandparents run the New Beginnings Church on U.S. 90, he explained — and besides, he preferred the pace of life in West Texas.
“I can perfect my craft out here,” he said. “I don’t have to be scratching, living in the big city. It gives me time to focus, to sit and write music.” In 2013, he moved to Marfa full-time, though he still travels to Houston regularly to see family and friends.
“The thing that brought me to Marfa was actually crazy,” Castille explains. He was on the lam from Colorado, where he was still on parole for a robbery charge. His mother was living in Marfa, and he wanted to lay low for a while. But he clarifies those charges are long behind him: “That’s all handled. That’s all squared away. That’s past. That’s history.”
In the near decade since, Castille has been slowly building up his rap career. There have been stops and starts, like in 2019, when he was arrested for violating probation on a threat charge. He was sent to a prison in Middleton, then to Toya, then to Beaumont near Houston.
Castille couldn’t do shows or record while locked up, and he says prisons in Texas offer a harder life for artists than those in Colorado. “All I was able to do was write my rhymes in a notepad that I bought from [the prison] commissary,” he said. Still, he stresses that “prison never stopped anything.” During his incarceration, Brown was “supporting me, putting money on books, and giving me words of encouragement.”
When he got out in December, Castille realized the rest of the Highway Gang had been promoting his work on social media while he was locked up. He was touched and grateful to have found a strong music community.
“He’s like my real brother,” Castille said of Brown. Castille is a “firm believer,” he said, that personal relationships — not blood relations — define what it means to be family.
“It’s the way someone treats you,” he adds. “You’ve got family members that will treat you just as dirty as a person in the streets.” He also expressed his appreciation for Fernando Carmona, who goes as Highway Nando and is the father of his sister’s child. Carmona has long supported his career and is a “crucial member” of the Highway Gang, Castille said, helping to design album art and other graphics.
These days, when he’s not working as a cashier at the Stripes on the west side of Marfa, Castille continues to record music. He recently put out two singles, “Crispy” and “Cool Whip,” and has an album in the works. His mixtapes are available online at https://soundcloud.com/raymond-castille.
Next week — on Saturday, March 20 — he’ll be performing at Highway Fest, a Highway Gang reunion and show at Longhorn Daiquiris in Austin. The show runs from 8 p.m. until 1:30 a.m., and the group plans to record a mixtape while they’re together. He’s excited for the show, not only because it’ll be his first show since getting out of prison but because coronavirus, he says, has disrupted the careers of Highway Gang and other musicians.
“It got rough,” he said of the pandemic, but “where there’s a will, there’s a way.”
Asked what comes after that, Castille says he plans to stick with music for the long haul. “This is a long-term goal,”he said. “I want to be able to support my children and my mother and give back to the community. And by the community, I don’t only mean where I’m from: I mean troubled teens.”
Castille admits he’s had some setbacks, from a stint in alternative school to time in prison. “I don’t want other teens to follow in the footsteps I did,” he said. That’s why, he says, he keeps his music true to his life. “You will never hear me saying, ‘I’ve got diamonds in my chain.’ I haven’t made it there yet. But eventually you will.”