This past week I had the honor of interviewing Houston Legend and hip hop hook master Z-Ro. The Texas emcee and I spoke for almost an hour, and I really got to know the man behind some of the hottest rap joints to ever come out of H-Town. We discussed his come up, his latest project No Love Boulevard, and how the Houston Rap community is rallying together to restore the community after the devastation of Hurricane Harvey. From this exclusive talk I learned that Z-Ro is not only an immensely talented artist, he’s a stand up guy as well. Read the full interview below and make sure to keep your eyes peeled for Z-Ro’s next project, as it could be his last before a well deserved retirement.
You’ve had a busy 2017, dropping No Love Boulevard earlier this summer, but there’s a lot more going on with you than just that. You dropped a song called “Houston 2 Gether” recently on your SoundCloud where you talk about the impact of Hurricane Harvey. What’s your take on all that’s going on in Houston right now, and how has the hip hop community responded?
I mean, first and foremost I gotta shout out to all of the Hip Hop artists down in Houston. They heard “Houston 2 Gether”, and were intrigued by it and now we got a remix coming out for the song called “Texas 2 Gether” with a whole bunch of Texas artists, from Slim Thug, to Paul Wall, Lil Flip, Keke, Trap Boy Freddy, Dorrough, a whole bunch of people, so that’s out now as well. A lot of these guys went out and and got a bunch of 18 wheelers together, 5 or 6 to be exact, and collected non perishable items and school supplies to give back to the community. If that type of thing can be duplicated by people everywhere, not just from Houston, I think it could be much stronger than it is right now. We definitely are putting it back together, but we definitely do need and appreciate all the help we can get.
One of the lines in “Houston 2 Gether” mentions a $25,000 challenge. Is that something you’re doing and trying to start? What is that exactly?
Nah, actually I have nothing to do with that. The line was:
” Shout out Kevin Hart, you are appreciated ’round here
25 thousand dollar challenge, we’ll need that
I know it’s looking like we outta there but we’ll be back”
So Kevin Hart is actually the guy who got on his Instagram, and was challenging all of his celebrity friends to donate $25,000 to the relief. So I just gave him a shout out in the song you know, I appreciate him for even bringing the attention on, because he didn’t have to do that. That’s just something I said that’s appreciated, and of course you know we’ll donate and do what we can as well.
Are you in Houston right now? Are you seeing the damage first hand that was brought by the Hurricane?
Yeah I’m here right now. It’s raining right now, real bad. There’s debris everywhere, in nice neighborhoods, in the projects and in the ghetto. It’s an eyesore everywhere you look. On my side, Georgia Bush Park is still under water, the shooting range is under water. It’s crazy everything’s been gone for a minute now and there is still high standing water. It’s crazy.
So you just dropped No Love Boulevard, and listening to it as a younger guy I notice this melodic rap style you have, and have always had. How does it feel knowing that this rap style you basically pioneered is being emulated so heavily in hip hop today with guys like Lil Uzi, Wiz Khalifa, and Drake etc?
Yeah that is all you hear. I mean, I never get credit for anything like that, so when I hear it it’s kinda like I hear it but I don’t hear it. But when I see these guys, they always give me respect and they tell me I’m the reason for this, and I’m the reason for that. I guess from an OG standpoint, it’s got to feel nothing less than super duper when you hear something like that. Especially when guys are pushing platinum and gold, these guys who are in the “mainstream” and they’re doing something that my ghetto ass came up with 19-20 years ago. So it’s a badge of honor, it’s definitely a badge of honor I aint gon lie.
When you were first creating this sound, were there guys around you in the studio or in Houston that would see you doing this new melodic sing/rapping style and be like “What’s this guy doing?” or say that you should’t be rapping like that?
Yeah all the time. I mean no one really said that to my face ’cause they probably knew they were gonna get fucked up, but I heard that from a whole lot of people indirectly. Even my own people in Screwed Up Click told me that it was gonna be a wash. You know that it would be here now, and gone the next day, which really I didn’t give a shit and a half about. I would listen to these guys rap and I would get bored with it. I knew how to hold a note, I’m no singer but I can hold a note, so I figured I would co-mingle the two. As the beat would change I would change my cord progressions, and just try to match and have my voice be the main instrument in the song. But yeah a lot of people would be like “You’re signing to much” and I’d be like “Bitch you’re hating too much!”.
When you were coming up in the game it was all about slanging mixtapes and pushing the physical music. Nowadays it’s all about Soundcloud and streaming, was this a hard transition for you to make? Do you feel like adapting to this changed your creative process at all?
I mean, it didn’t fuck with my creative process at all. I think the only thing that it effected is the way that records are sold. It’s more streaming now, which to me is better because you have your own fan base in the palm of your hand. If you’re a hustler you can still go out there with your street team and hand shit out and pass it out, if you’re a real artist. Now, you can have a dope 60 seconds worth of a visual and audio, and promote the shit out of it, and you can make a lot of money off of it. For me it’s better now, because I was with a whole lot of people throughout my career that weren’t shit at promoting. We would sit there and have some dope shit, and nobody would know about it besides the people within arms reach, and now you have a device that you can hit a button and 600,000 motherfuckers can know about whatever you’re pressing the button about. When you think about it like a hustler you say shit, I can get hundreds of thousands of people to see something and spend $1 dollar on it and make hundreds of thousands of dollars at the end of the day. If people don’t like that better than going to go get your shit pressed up and going to drop this off and drop that off, man they’re crazier than a motherfucker to me.
It seems like the way Houston exploded in the late 90’s/early 2000’s came about again in 2012 with Chicago and Chief Keef, and now again with South Florida artists like Kodak Black and XXXTentacion exploding onto the scene. It’s almost like in Hip Hop geographic pockets or areas will blow up at certain times. What was it like being within that initial Houston Rap explosion? Was it crazy at that time?
It was crazy, by then I had already been in the game since ’97 so I was a regular. Right after DJ Screw died in 2000 is when that attention came. Of course at first it was negative attention with syrup and overdose, all that type of shit, so of course they’re going to focus on the negative. But I think every artist took advantage of the attention in a different way and started making a whole bunch of music, including myself. To be apart of that, just to see how fast we went from “Oh those country motherfuckers down there” to being on the cover of Source, that shit was awesome. Not just for me but for everybody down here, everybody was getting a chance to be looked at. How could you not like having a telescope on you to show your craft, not a microscope but a telescope. To be apart of that is awesome, and seeing these areas blowing up now, they’re doing a lot of shit differently that we fucked up. There was a lot of us that blew our chance out here because we couldn’t come together. It seems like a lot of these guys can put their beef in the pocket as long as the camera is on them, or the microphone is on, and then when the cameras are gone they can go back to beefing. In Houston we didn’t do that shit. It was dope to be apart of it all, I just wish it would’ve lasted a little longer.
Working with DJ Screw was a big part of your come up, and Screw was huge in the Houston scene back then. How would things be different in Hip Hop if DJ Screw was still around today?
Well first and foremost, I think it would be different for my organization, which is his organization Screwed Up Click. It would’ve been different for all of us because everybody around the world has a “Screwed & Chopped” something with their music. A song can be Screwed and Chopped, they/re mentioning his name, I mean all the top guys are saying something about Screw, or Syrup, or some shit that we started. So if the originator was still around, it would be like some Kay Slade type of shit. Like when you go to New York you gotta go fuck with Kay Slade, it would be the same way in Houston with Screw. The type of dude he was, you weren’t gonna get signed to Screw on a deal, he would’ve just put you on. I think it would’ve been like another Atlanta, not discrediting us cause we’re still the shit down here, but there music scene right now is a little more rich and bigger. Everyone in Atlanta is doing something, everyone in Atlanta is singing or rapping. If Screw was till here, we would’ve been still on and been a contender with Atlanta. And there would be a lot more Screwed & Chopped music. He’d be doing the same thing Drama and them are doing.
Being from New York, I watched the A$AP Mob blow up using a lot of Houston influences and style in their music, with the the slowed down beats, talking about syrup and things like that. When you see that does it feel like a compliment to the Houston scene, or like these artists are almost biting off of your style?
It’s a little bit of both. You know trends are set to be followed. You can’t be mad at someone for loving what you’ve done or did so much that they want to emulate it, but there is a geographical type of anger. Some of these places where these guys are getting deals off of our style or sound, there is a record label on every corner. We don’t have shit in Houston for us to even get out of this motherfucker. For the most part, if we’re rapping about that type of shit down here, we really mean that. It’s not like they’re biting, they just have better opportunities. If I could have walked out of my house back then and had Sony on the corner, it would’ve been a lot easier. I’m not mad though, shout out to all those guys that are doing their thing.
What do we have in the future to look out for from you?
I still have work, I still have songs. I said I’m retiring on my Instagram post but I still have records I’m going to release. One is called “Ghetto Gospel” mixed and mastered by the band Beans & Cornbread. Then I have 2 collaboration albums, one with Mike D of Screwed Up Click called “Two The Hardway”, then me and Slim Thug got one scheduled to release called “The King & The Boss”. Then as of late, even though I have trying to get away from this shit, Lil Keke hit me up and we decided to do an official Screwed Up Click Album, with all the guys still alive. And even the ones that are not we still have verses from, so we can put them on the album.
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