"The reason I want to be alone, is I'm tired of all the things that went wrong that would've went right if I had did 'em on my own." - Nas That quote is perfect for this story because Victor Gurrola, Jr., aka V-Zilla, was once the best rapper the world had ever seen who wasn't known by his own city. Ironically, when his city finally knew him, the world took notice because he was spitting the worst rap of his career. He'll tell you himself the reason he wants to be alone is because what went wrong in his career would've gone right, if he did it on his own. This is the story of a man, who represents his city, but musically, is so unlike his city, but don't confuse that with not liking his city, because he loves his city, though he's trying to redefine his city. Man, hold up. Can we get a beat for that last line? We could hear that on a mixtape given the right melody. What can we say? Talking to Houstonian V-Zilla is like talking to our boys Jason Llorenz and Charlie Ramos from Brooklyn and the Bronx, respectively. There's something about New Yorkers' way with words... a regular conversation sometimes sounds like a freestyle. V-Zilla's like that. He raps when he talks, and we think he rubbed off on us. We think his time in New York rubbed off on him. We also think the East Coast rap of the '80s had more of an influence on him than the emergence of Southern rap of the '90s. And that's very much OK in our book.
Zilla wants us to downplay this fact because he doesn't want to make it seem like he doesn't respect UGK or DJ Screw, because, in fact, he does tremendously, but let's keep it real. This man's flow is as Statue of Liberty as it is Williams Tower.
What we learned from Preemo, what we learned from Coast, is that you don't have to sound stereotypically Houston to be Houston, but maybe being from Houston and not musically sounding like Houston gives us a new Houston. Damn, there we go again with the rapping while writing.
If you've read between the lines, V-Zilla is a proud product of the Bayou City but musicians not of our ZIP code live in the DNA of his lyrics and his style. So you're waiting for us to tell you how his career started in New York. You're 4,000 miles off - try Stockholm, Sweden.
Let us school you how musicians built a national - heck, in this case, a global following -before the MySpace era of fake friends who many artists claim as fans. It was dudes with a dedication to their craft like V-Zilla uploading music to Undergroundhiphop.com. It was constantly working the forums and going to the Web masses and not waiting for "friend requests." It was letting other true hip-hop heads judge for themselves if you were worth the microphone. And that's a hell of a lot more credible than a million MySpace page visits or a bunch of half-naked hoes "showing your page love."
"I got so much support from other cities, I wasn't concerned with my own city," admits V-Zilla.
That's how a Swedish producer called Moonshine discovered V-Zilla and told him his lyrics were sick but the production was shit, so they linked up and drove each other's beats and lyrics on the information superhighway because an ocean separated them. The result was Zilla's first album in 2001, E.X.H.A.L.E. (Everyone XPects Hate and Love Emerges).
Damn, while we're here, let's run down his resume.
- 75 guest features
- 742 songs and 20 mixtapes
- In 2001, E.X.H.A.L.E. sells 11,621 copies throughout the world and in almost all 50 states
- 2002-2004, two overseas albums with Swedish hip-hop crew The Narcissists
- 2004, Lockdown Sessions, 17,021 units sold
- 2008, Empty Bottles and Full Ashtrays, S.W.A.T.
We stop in 2008 because that's the end of a four-year time period that puts Nas' quote in context. (Nas, by the way, is one of Zilla's inspirations.)
It's evident through our conversation that he's got mad love for the group he's affiliated with, S.W.A.T. Music Product, made up of some real cold dudes like GT Garza, Dolemic, 245, Suave Slims and, of course, founding member, Rob G, who invited Zilla to be affiliated with the Southwest, Houston crew. It was an opportunity to become more aligned with his city, Zilla thought. It was an opportunity to gain its admiration, but at what cost?
"I thought maybe I can go commercial, dumb it down and pull it back; run straight ahead to the door and once I'm in the door, I could do what I wanted," he tells Rocks Off.
Our translation: let's compromise the level of our music to possibly break mainstream, win the hearts of Houston and the rest of the country who like to dance and snap their fingers, and after all that, get back to spitting some real shit once we make it big.
It didn't work out that way.
"I lost my underground fans," says Zilla. "'Yo Zilla, what happened to your music? That's not hip-hop. That's not the Zilla I know.' I was getting five to seven of those messages a week from Minnesota, Boston, Chicago and Germany. I didn't think I'd get a backlash like that."
"I didn't want this shit. Since 2008, I've been destroying myself and rebuilding myself back up, and in the process, I've lost everything."
Everything because all the mementos, the show posters and scrapbooks.... all the physical proof of his touring Scandinavia, where young kids in Stockholm talk like they're from Brooklyn and make Screw music because American hip-hop is that influential, was gone when his financials weren't supporting his storage payments. And in the process he lost himself because he replaced rapid-fire rhymes with fiction of sipping syrup and smoking weed.
"In that four years, I became disillusioned with the music," says Zilla. "I'm a back-up dancer in a boy band. The emphasis was not the crew. It was Rob G. I'm a leader, not a follower."
Not to say they didn't make good music or that that the potential wasn't there. "It seemed liked the effort wasn't there from everybody," he continues. If everybody was giving 120 percent for S.W.A.T. product, we would be one of the biggest groups hands down, because of the level of talent. We had a crew that was insurmountable if everybody could have put forth the same effort."
What might have been, what could've been probably isn't important, because regardless of the group's potential success, it still wouldn't have been true to Zilla's style of music. Oscar Wilde once said, "What seems to us as bitter trials are often blessings in disguise." That's got to be the case with Zilla.
His trial in disguise could very well be a blessing for his music and his future in the industry. Zilla grew up with three generations of rap - the 80's, 90's and the first decade of the 2000's. He's been an opening act for Dead Prez, Rakim, Sugarhill Gang, Big Daddy Kane and Slick Rick. He's got an appreciation for the old school and as time goes, that's being lost. But above all that, as you've seen from the video, Zilla can rap his off, has crazy stage presence and lyrically, well, we'll let him say it.
"Put anybody in my face right now and I would give them a run for their money," says Zilla. "My heart pumps hip-hop."
You know, Nas also said, "Everybody's a rapper, but few flow fatal."
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Last time we checked. Godzilla killed a shitload of people. He spit fire and stomped on them. And most importantly, he did it on his own.
This Houston MC does the same thing, but on a beat.