Z-Ro’s ‘Drankin’ & Drivin” Album Just Dropped But There’s Much More to Follow
Z-Ro is one of the most consistent rappers in hip-hop. That statement may seem like a shocker to some but if you look at his bodies of work, for nearly two decades, Ro has been dropping some of the best music in hip-hop.
The hip-hop vet can lay claim to being one of the early adopters of using a sing-song flow on records. The style he helped make popular has become widely popular today with tweeners like Drake, Ty Dolla $ign, Future and just about 80 percent of the rap industry today. But Z-Ro is different. His voice is a cross between Morgan Freeman and Luther Vandross, bleeding soul onto his records as he raps about his personal experiences. He's like the Barry White of hip-hop.
Ro, born Joseph Wayne McVey, is one of the most important members in Houston's underground rap scene. As a member of The Screwed Up Click, by the time the H-town MC dropped his critically acclaimed Rap-A-Lot debut, The Life of Joseph W. McVey, in 2004, he was on his eighth solo album.
Last week, Z-Ro dropped his 19th studio album, Drankin’ & Drivin’. The 13-track LP, with only one feature -- Bone Thugs-N-Harmony member Krayzie Bone on “Since We Lost Y’all” -- still proves that Ro hasn't lost a step in his prolific career.
"It feels good; it feels great actually to still be considered, to still be participating," he told XXL while in New York. "It’s a blessing to still be here and doing my thing and do it on a larger scale. It feels great to still have the opportunity."
While in the XXL office, Z-Ro discusses his new album, Drankin' & Drivin', being out of the spotlight and the insane amount of projects he has in the stash including Ghetto Gospel, Rotha Vandross Sings the Blues, Legendary, 2 The Hard Way with Mike Dean and his joint project with B.G., HouOrleans.
XXL: Your voice is so unique, man. Have you ever been apprehensive about your sound or did you know it was going to be such a great asset? What is the creation process like for you?
Z-Ro: It’s horrible with me because I criticize everything that I do and I only listen to me. It’s a continuous, “I don’t think they are going to feel this.” I know I’m going to do it anyway but it's like, Damn are they going to feel this? If they don’t feel it fuck 'em. I’m not going to change it. I don’t know, it’s like walking on eggshells with yourself before you release anything 'cause I know it’s different. I got to be different. I don’t want to be or do what everyone else is doing. If it’s not [received] awesome enough, it never does flatline.
I think that’s what everybody striving to be. Every perfectionist goes through it. You’re going through your shit, a thousand times just to make sure one word is correct. I could sound like I’m saying one thing, but I don’t want them to think I’m saying this and think I’m some tripped out ass nigga. It’s a continuous eggshell.
Was it like that for making this album Drankin’ & Drivin’? Was it nerve-racking?
It was like that for the song I just did at Mike Dean house. It’s for everything. Especially when you’re doing shit like this. All this is new to me. I’ve been in XXL before, I’ve been in different publications but this is some new shit. When you get up [in people’s offices] it’s like they really finna listen to some shit. I got my core fans that’s going to always listen, whether it’s here or there or in Jupiter. But to be in this game right now with everything that’s going on, because it’s a different type of music right now.
When you think about the spotlight, I won’t hesitate to say this. The last real spotlight I had was 2008; it’s eight years later. My core fans know what’s going on but the people who [only] know what’s going on when they look on a major blog or read a major publication, they are not really checking on the social media to see what you got. When you don’t have a major [label] behind you to say, "Hey, this is coming out. It’s on t-shirts, it’s on draws, it’s on panties, it’s tatted on a nigga," you’re just going to get your core people. But like now, doing shit like, all these publications, all this publicity type of thing, people are like, “Oh shit, Ro’s coming?” People think this my first album since the last album they knew about it. I wonder like, Damn, I wonder how this will succeed?
Do you think Houston’s exclusivity hurts or helps you?
It’s a whole lot that factors into that. Yes, you can support yourself financially on the road and selling music in Texas alone. Like one can do the same in New York. That’s part of it but another part of it is that I didn’t really have that outlet like that for a certain amount of time because of where I was and certain people I was doing business with. You got a lot of people who want to throw up roadblocks and make two plus two not equal four, sort of speak.
But the major thing is as far distribution goes, [your music] isn’t getting outside of where we at down there. If you’re not doing shit like flying out here and popping up at different shit there, it’s not really going to go. The social is cool but if you don’t really have a machine behind your shit… It’s simple, if you don’t really have a motor in your car, where is it going? So you can sit right there and look good in from of a Porsche but you’re not going anywhere. I was sitting down looking good, shining right there. But it wasn’t any push until I got with certain people. So right now I’m being pushed.
Talk to me about Drankin' & Drivin’? What’s the goal for this one?
It’s like a recommunication. I never stopped making music. It just certain people I drop music with it’s wasn’t necessary for them to make it go gold or do wonderful, awesome numbers. A lot of muthafuckas just want a return of their money and your shit will sit on the shelf. I want this shit to be No. 1 and let people know I’m still doing my thing. And of course, I want some bread.
I always wanted to do work with other people but due to certain stigmatas, a lot of other people thought I didn’t want to fuck around with people ‘cause I never was seen anywhere. People thought I was just comfortable with not fuckin’ with other people. But that’s not the case. I want to let people know that I’m still in the game and I’m not on the bench riding the pine. I’m on the court. I would like to fuck around with people who I respect in the game and get some bread.
Who are those people that you want to work with?
Love Jadakiss. It would be awesome to do some shit with Jada. It would be awesome do some shit from Snoop Dogg. Do some shit with Nas. It would be awesome to do shit with people who were doing some shit, like the people back then that were poppin’. A lot of this new shit I can’t get jiggy to. But I’m not hatin’, I just can’t relate. When I started my [career], niggas was like, “Yo, you don’t do that shit.”
Was there a hard song to write on the album?
None of them. It’s never a hard song to make ‘cause it’s all from personal experiences. It was some shit that I had second thoughts about after I listened to it. I hesitated to make a couple songs. The Krayzie Bone song ["Since We Lost Y'all"] was kind of fucked up being that one of my close homies got murdered. That’s really what the song is driven from. That one within itself, it wasn’t hard to make it was hard to listen to.
What made you flip 50 Cent’s “Many Men” beat for “Women Men”?
“Many Men” is a dope ass song, Niggas been listening to that shit for forever. This is everybody story. A muthafucka may not have tried to kill you, but maybe tried to stab you, shit on your porch, took your bitch; this is a reoccurrence not just in hip-hop, but also in life. I’m siting there listening to the song one day at Prospect Park at a dinner Future was having and I said, “Fuck that. I finna write something to this.” So I started writing and using personal experiences for it. I was like, I hope 50 cent don’t get mad at a nigga but I’m about to use this [laughs]."
Are you surprised to see how hip-hop is accepting rappers trying to sing? You were such a pioneer for that.
People were like, “Man why you [singing]?” I wasn’t doing it for them; I’m doing it for me. It sounds good to me. At the end of the day I do it because I like it and I know my people fuck with me and what I like. But at the end of the day it’s because I liked it. All I ever got was flack for it until somebody outside of Texas did it, and it was, "Hold up this shit is dope.”
Now everybody wants to change [his or her] song up [laughs]. But I’m not sour about it or nothing because I still ain’t got to use no Auto-Tune or nothing when I do it. They doing something like what I’m doing, some of them. Even the niggas that don’t sound good doing it and they don’t give a fuck. It's just syllables sometime.
You have so many projects that haven’t come out yet. What are you holding onto in the stash?
I got a lot of projects. But after you’ve been where I’ve been. I’ve turned in great bodies of work [but] when muthafuckas take it and leave it [on the shelf], I don’t like that shit. So pretty soon I’m finna to stop giving you shit that you’re going to leave right there and nobody going to know about. I’ve done, in my opinion and plenty of others, some masterpieces and them shits don’t get out of Houston.
A lot of my shit that I know is going to do numbers, and if I’m fuckin’ with somebody new, I’m not finna give you my A1 shit. I’m finna give you my B2 shit. Drankin’ & Drivin’ is some dope shit but I got some dope shit lined up after this that’s already ready. I want to see what’s going to happen with Drankin’ & Drivin’ before I turn in Ghetto Gospel, before I turn in Rotha Vandross Sings the Blues, before I turn in Legendary.
It’s a lot of shit waiting to come out but you want to be sure before you give some platinum shit to a silver muthafucka. You got to be weary with what you’re doing. For a masterpiece, getting a little money isn’t an equal exchange. You want to get some legs behind your shit. I need my shirt in Berlin, Denmark, everywhere where the shit can make it to. It’s at least six projects sitting and waiting to see what’s going to happen with Drankin’ & Drivin’.
If everything goes perfect with Drankin’ & Drivin’, when can fans expect the platinum stuff? What’s next then?
Hit muthafuckas over the head with the rest of this shit 'cause I come from a time where I was dropping three records a year. Once I got to Rap-A-Lot, [the label head] did the mystique thing and have me drop a project once a year. Then if I go to jail or something,[the label head will] drop a record and DVD.
Fans have been waiting for that Rotha Vandross Sings the Blues for a minute now. Is that dropping next?
We’ll have to see. This going to be a little bigger than rap. This that Nate Dog sound and I don’t want that shit sitting on the self. With this, a nigga got to fly me somewhere to shoot videos. I want to be on a mountaintop, it’s some different shit. I don’t want to be around no styrofoam cups and candy-painted cars. Treat me like Trey Songz with this.
I remember you was working on an album with B.G. before he got locked up. What’s up with HouOrleans ?
To date, I have the files. It’s a lot of old shit. It was 2012, he was living in Houston for a little while. We hooked up because of my homeboy Blunt. He was doing a lot of road management at the time. He called me and was like, “Come fuck with us.” First thing we did was face [a blunt]. We got fucked up. Nigga looked like his face was heavier than a muthafucka but at the same time my shit was heavy.
I was like, "We fucked up. Well shit, let's do a song about how heavy our faces are.” And that’s what we did. From that moment, we just kept doing songs. We did a little more than an EP. We’ve probably had nine all together. We didn’t have a full 13 but we had ideas about songs, freestyles, hooks. I know he dropped “Niggas Know Me” on a mixtape that he did. I dropped “Thru the Roof” on my Solid EP on iTunes. We dropped “Put That Dick on You” on one of the Rap-A-Lot albums I did. So we probably got like six songs.
Would you ever drop that?
Yeah, but I want him to come back though. I don’t want to really release any more of the work until we can make it a real body of work. If I did that, I had to drop it as an EP and I feel like it be cheating him to do that shit. And get the full financial kick of it. So I’ll sit on it until he’s out.
Have you talked to B.G.?
I talked to him one time right as that shit went on. Ever since then I talked to him through Blunt -- the guy who originally introduced us. The Feds and shit, I don’t like to talk on their phones.
You started making music with Mike Dean again, right?
Me and Mike Dean haven’t done nothing ever since the album that The New York Times wrote about, I’m Still Livin’, in 2006. He was like, I’m going to New York and he has been here ever since. I hit him up and said I was in New York and asked does he know a studio I can go to. He said, “Come to the crib” and asked do I need a beat. I said, “Shit, make me a beat.” So he made a beat, I went over there and he laid the shit.
The almighty question is, how much you want for this beat. This Mike Dean, we have history but I’m still trying to respect the game. I asked how much you want, he said, “Fuck that. Let’s do an EP and go half on everything.” I said, “God damn, let's do it.” Probably a month when all this shit dies down I probably go over there. We’re back on it.
See 50 Fire Hip-Hop Albums You Need to Listen to This Summer