As known, the genre of Hip-Hop was birthed out of immigration, struggle, and perseverance in New York during the 1970’s. While Rap will always have its spiritual roots in the Bronx, by the late 90’s the heart of Hip-Hop pulsated in the Southern United States. This created a cultural game of “push and pull” resulting in a symbolic civil war between the North and the South. Yet by the mid-2000’s, it was uncontested who the clear winner of this conflict was. Southern Hip-Hop had claimed control of the genre, bringing with it a foundation of unique artistry that is still present today.
Although the impact of cities such as Miami, New Orleans, and Atlanta, have had on Hip-Hop is never underestimated, no place has transcended Rap more than the city of Houston, Texas. Scarface’s vivid story-telling and DJ Screw’s slowed but concise instrumentals gave Hip-Hop a sound that has been duplicated by almost every artists and region in Rap. Yet despite this, Houston and its impact are often overlooked when the impact of Southern Rap is mentioned.
As he prepares for the June 30th release of No Love Boulevard, his 21st and final album, legendary Missouri City Rapper Z-Ro aka The MO City Don spoke about his lengthy tenure, his frustration with Rap, as well as his theory on why Houston’s influence is often undermined.
RESPECT.: “Can you talk a little about your life before Rap?”
Z-Ro: “Sh-t, before Rap? Nothing really trying to make a dollar. I’m from a group of Rappers where we’re half hustling, half rapping. Same story a lot of Rappers tell you about their life, some be lying, but I’ll tell you the real. There’s really nothing significant about that story though.”
RESPECT.: “You lost your mother as a child. How did that impact you?”
Z-Ro: “Not too many memories. I was young. I was six. At six you’re just realizing who your family is. Like ‘these are my aunties, this is my mom.’ I was so young all I knew was that my mom wasn’t there anymore. No more cookies and milk before I went to sleep, no one scratching my back to wake me up. But I found out what reality was shortly after, dealing with Child Protective Services and motherf-kers who didn’t give a damn about you like they would if you were their child. I guess you could say I had to grow up pretty quick. It made me not trust motherf-kers…. Put me in the mind frame of people will do anything to get by.”
RESPECT.: “So how did you start rapping in the first place? Was it just a means to get by that stuck?”
Z-Ro: “Well, coming from where I come from, there’s not that many things to do when you come of age. Play basketball, go out hang with your friends, and all my friends were hustling and shit. Me, I was always in some kind of church choir, singing, my people were church every Sunday. Being in that is where I got my gift for music. When I got to middle school, my aunt was like: ‘I found some of your poetry under your bed. It was kind of abstract. You should keep doing this.’ She bought be a Beastie Boys CD. I started listening to it. So, I started singing and writing in Rap lines. Then once I got to MO City and started hanging with cats that were selling dope and all that, it became second nature to get in it and first nature to talk about it. Then I would go to church after all of that and see people giving money for offering, but they weren’t giving me money. So, that’s how I got into rapping.”
RESPECT.: “What does the ‘Third Coast’ mean to your life and you as a Rapper?”
Z-Ro: “I’ll be honest, it ain’t really meant shit to me. I had my own sh-t going on, even when sh-t started getting better. I never really been a ‘Third Coast Rapper.’ I have been a ‘Rap Artists.’ I don’t really have a designated zone, besides MO City. I can rap in Cleveland, I can rap in New York, I can rap overseas. I have never been a ‘Third Coast’ type of nigga. That’s one of the reasons why DJ Screw put me in the ‘Screwed Up Click,’ because I was different. With all the different things growing up around me that I could have chosen to rap about, I chose to be more like Tupac. I chose to rap bout things that mattered like poverty, these b-tch ass hoes, these b-tch ass niggas, police, things like that. Don’t get me wrong, I love the culture of the city. I love to see the cars with candy paint, I mean I have a few, but that’s just isn’t what I chose to rap about.”
RESPECT.: “Can you describe your relationship with DJ Screw? How y’all met and how he impacted your career?”
Z-Ro: “Coming from Houston, Texas you couldn’t found someone who didn’t know where a Screw tape was. My sh-t was ‘Starship.’ Once I heard that I was like: ‘I gotta meet this guy.’ But, you’d think every time you go to DJ Screw house it would be all about the microphone being on, freestyle, smoking, drinking, and getting high. But most of the time we’d go to Screw house-yeah we would be doing those things-but then we’d get in the car. We’d ride around listening to his latest tape, then he’d just turn the music off and talk to us. DJ Screw taught me a lot about life. He was like the father/older brother I was looking for my whole life. He taught me a lot about life not, just music.”
RESPECT.: “How does it feel being a part of the Southern Rap foundation as well as being considered a staple in the game?”
Z-Ro: “To be honest, I don’t care about none of that. I only care about being a father. Yeah everyone says ‘Oh, you’re a staple in the game’ but I don’t feel like it. I guess when your accolades don’t reflect that sh-t, it’s hard to believe that. All I can say is: I hear it a lot and I know I’m on the radio still and that’s cool, but I really don’t feel it like everyone says. I know I’m a part of it, but I don’t really care.”
RESPECT.: “So has far as Houston being a goldmine for talent as well as being a jumping point for a lot of major artists, like Drake and Rick Ross, who do you think the city’s influence is overlooked at times?”
Z-Ro: “I think the light was on us after Screw passed for those six years because Screw passed. He was getting so big, but when he was gone it was like: ‘f-ck it, let’s put a light on the whole city.’ It was like whoever put a light on us made us look good, but down here our togetherness ain’t sh-t. Like in other places they can fake it while the camera is there then shoot and kill each other in the dark. There’s no sense of comradery. That’s why we get overshadowed. Everyone wants to be the man by themselves. I’m guilty of it too. There are some people down here I’d never f-ck with. We don’t know how to put our differences aside to get a bigger check.”
RESPECT.: “You mentioned the success Houston experienced after Screw passed, do you think the city will have a similar resurgence?”
Z-Ro: “Yeah, I mean probably with the new movement that’s going on. If these new guys start killing each other than yeah. But for those of us who are supposed to be ‘staples’ that won’t happen. The young niggas got a chance, but to be honest, I don’t care about anyone other than Slim Thug, Lil KeKe, and Mike G. I don’t really give a f-ck outside of that.”
RESPECT.: “I know we spoke on being a staple, but do you feel the impact your style of rapping has had on Hip-Hop?”
Z-Ro: “Yeah I know I have the impact. The credit, no. But the impact, yeah I know I have that. Just watching a couple niggas who are big give me my props. Like they aren’t gonna do a song with me. People like Drake has given props time after time, even performing one of my biggest hits at their concerts, saying things like: ‘this song influenced the song I’m about to do’ but motherf-ckers won’t do a song with me. I’m not gonna be not b-tch ass nigga and say people should put me on, because I know I’m on. They’re just taking what I did when I came into the game, but I know why I’m not on like them. I never sacrificed anything to get what I have. So, I’m cool doing what I’m doing. But yeah, I feel the impact.”
RESPECT.: “With your career coming to the end, and young entertainers like Travis Scott and Maxo Kream on the rise, do you think you’re leaving Houston in good hands?”
Z-Ro: “Like I said, this some new shit going on. I mean they’re doing what’s gonna get them a check. Maxo, I’ve talked to him a couple of times over texts. I’ll never bang his sh-t, simply because I’m always focused on what I’m doing. But, I don’t know, and to really tell you the truth, I don’t give a f-ck. We’re f-ck up down here. Everybody f-ck up because this new shit doesn’t teach anyone anything. It doesn’t teach girls how to be women or boys how to be men. It’s just like go get your own, let’s be out here doing all different types of drugs… I’m not with this sh-t. I’m a real nigga. I’m not gone hate on it because it’s these niggas life. But as far as me thinking I’m leaving it in good hand? No, I don’t think that. I’m just leaving this sh-t.”
RESPECT.: “Right now in Hip-Hop, there’s a lot of veteran artists still putting out music. I’m just wondering why you decided to retire?”
Z-Ro: “I mean, what else am I gonna do? I don’t want to keep putting out great bodies of work and let them just sit there and get wasted. Because people my age and the young people don’t buy music anymore. My fan base where they shirt tucked in and go to work every day. I still have a cult following. Imma still do shows. There’s still a lot of albums left that are recorded and ready to go. By this being my ‘last’ album, I’m saying that I’m not going to record any new music. I have enough music that’s ready. Just when they drop it I’m not going to be a part of it. Unless there’s a ‘Real Nigga Reunion’ coming up, I don’t want to be a part of this shit.”
RESPECT.: “You say you have more finished albums, why did you decide to make this one the one you drop as you ‘last’ project?”
Z-Ro: “I didn’t plan none of this shit. I’m just standing on my principles. There’s a lot of shit that goes unchecked by others, that I can’t not check. They think ‘I’m real because I fight, I’m real because I shoot people.’ That shit is real dumb. I know if you’re around something for so long you’ll either rub off on it or it will rub off on you. I know I have to get out before the latter happens or I end up killing someone. And I can’t do that. I don’t want to do 100 years over this.”
RESPECT.: “Since this is the end of your career and being around Hip-Hop for so long, how have you seen it evolve and what do you think the future of Rap is?”
Z-Ro: “I mean Rap been dead to me for a long ass time. There are a couple of people who still do ‘Real Rap’ like when I listen to J. Cole. His music ain’t about all that other sh-t everyone else is doing. Puts you in a mind frame, of ‘yeah this cool, there’s still people doing real sh-t.’ But Rap as I know it been dead. This ‘new shit’ though, it’s gonna take off and I’m excited to see where it goes.”
RESPECT.: “What are your plans after music?”
Z-Ro: “Like I said, I ain’t plan none of this. But whatever I do is going to be righteous. It’s going to be successful. I know the bills will be paid and I’m going to take care of myself. I’m not gonna be in the ‘hood on dumb sh-t. Imma be living righteously.”
In many ways, Z-Ro’s career has mirrored his native city. Throughout his tenure, Ro has given Hip-Hop a platform where it can transport itself to newer, otherwise unattainable, heights. But similar to Houston, Z-Ro’s impact on Rap has gone drastically under appreciated. Ignorance of talent has manifested into intense frustration. The lack of proper acknowledgment has forced a great artist, who clearly still has so much to say, into feeling unwanted and unheard. And as an iconic MC, Z-Ro deserved more. His impressive impact and abrupt exit personify the old Missouri saying of “give them their flowers while they can still smell them.”
As an innovative musician during this time of artistic redundancy, Z-Ro is an entertainer that Hip-Hop will surely miss. Whether or not he chooses to return to the mic is still unsure, however, what isn’t in question is the love and passion Z-Ro has put into this genre.
And for that, Hip-Hop will always be thankful.
Check out Z-Ro’s video for his latest song “Belongs to the Streets:”