There are those in the rap game who are forever virtuosos. Their talent on the mic is unparalleled and their songwriting abilities set them apart. Then there are the innovators, the people who broke from tradition and did what no other artist would dare. Rarely do they intersect; innovators often rebel against the masters until they shift the landscape and set a new standard. But every so often an individual is both the doyen of their conventional craft and the trailblazer of a new one. Z-Ro is one of those individuals.
Ever since the start of his career in the early ‘90s, the Houston rapper has stood apart from the crowd. He dropped his first album Look What You Did To Me in 1998. The album was an unprecedented torrent of emotion, and while he had a fearless approach to examining the hardships of his own life, his rapid-fire delivery also sloshed against the slo-mo tendencies of his Houston peers.
Yet while he was exceptional as a traditional rapper, it was his uncanny ability to hit notes while he sang that led him to become the most distinguished spitter in Houston's history. He’s often compared to the late, great Nate Dogg, as he can hit the high notes while still keeping it street, and his reputation soon shaped him as a soulful, crooning mastermind. He even adapted the name Rother Vandross as his singing became more popular.
Initially his style was darker than most H-Town rappers, and much of his early material had a harsh edge. But as he grew, his sound became warmer and the colors in his music became brighter. Soon the hallowed DJ Screw took notice of Ro’s unique skill set and welcomed him into the Screwed Up Click (S.U.C.), leading to the esteemed record label Rap-A-Lot Records signing him. All the while he continued dropping incisive, searing bars that tore his own heart open and made him one of the most beloved rappers to ever come out from under the Mason-Dixon line.
His first album on Rap-A-Lot was 2004’s The Life of Joseph W. McVey, and it was immediately hailed as a modern rap classic. At the time it spawned his biggest hit, “I Hate You Bitch” produced by Mike Dean, and it showcased Ro’s ability to both vent his pain and come out stronger for it. That balance became his signature, and while his next album Let the Truth Be Told could be considered his best, it also showcased how he was continuing to improve as an overall artist.
As he got into the second decade of his career, he continued to develop his musical range, introducing a series of projects called Crack, Cocaine, Heroin, Meth and Angel Dust to demonstrate how addictive his product was. Fans confirmed that theory, swarming for hits like “Happy Alone” and “Can’t Leave Drank Alone” that only increased his already-legendary status.
Now he’s back with another outstanding LP – Drankin and Drivin, his 19th solo album in an illustrious career. Lead by “Women Men,” a jolting twist on 50 Cent’s “Many Men,” the album has a defiant, triumphant edge that finds him sounding as comfortable and on top of his game as ever before. His words still carry tremendous gravity on somber records like “Baby Momma Blues” and “Since We Lost Y’all” with Krayzie Bone, but he sounds more trusting in the everyday struggle – and more humorous about it too. It’s clear from the album’s opening statement “Devil Ass City” that Ro is here to re-assert his dominance in hip-hop and prove why fans still hang onto every word he says.
With Drankin and Drivin, Z-Ro continues his lauded legacy as an artist who’s never sacrificed quality for the mainstream. His pen is as sharp as ever while his concepts continue to blossom beyond the limits of most rappers today. Over 20 years later, there’s still no one who can compare to the Mo City Don.