Heavy Is the Head That Wears Z-Ro's The Crown

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When your eye catches Joseph McVey, they immediately pan towards his stature. It's cold, most of the times draped in blue and hidden behind a pair of Loc black sunglasses. You could jokingly say he hasn't shown anybody his eyes since his "I'm Alive" video, or whenever he was officially crowned a legend in the city of Houston. But the man known as Z-Ro's demeanor as Houston's hook assassin and unflinching destroyer of worlds hasn't changed in the almost two decades since he first began appearing on Screw tapes.

This past Monday, he found himself at 97.9 The Boxx, a sort of home base for him. The station was the first to show him any considerable love in terms of radio play and remains the most consistent avenue for breaking new Z-Ro records to the masses. He was at the station to discuss an incident that had happened at his home between Z-Ro, an overzealous fan and the police.

"A woman that looked like Yaphet Kotto," he told the Madd Hatta Morning Show to uproarious laughter. "Talkin' bout she broke in."

Z-Ro confronted the woman like an intruder, naked, and wound up in police custody.

"I couldn't really WWE her," he told the DJs.

The police, however, saw Z-Ro with blood on his hands, and before deeming him the victim of a home invasion believed it had been a domestic incident. Eventually the woman was charged with trespassing, and Z-Ro was later released on bail to his management. The story may seem wild, but to Z-Ro it's just another star-crossed moment in his career.

His latest album, The Crown, comes with little to no warning -- no massive promo run, no tour, nothing. It arrives under a cloud of darkness apart from the tag line noting that it was produced in its entirety by Houston's venerable Mr. Lee. Another project, the long-awaited collaboration between he and Slim Thug titled A King & A Boss, was slated to arrive last year but no solid release date materialized.

It hasn't deterred Ro from making appearances left and right, first at Free Press Summer Fest's "Welcome to Houston" set, then as the final guest at Drake's star-studded Houston Appreciation Weekend concert at Warehouse Live, and last week at 93.7 The Beat's H-Town Beat Down. Whenever there has been a minute for him to solely focus upon music, he's been in a zone.

The Crown is representative of that. The album is not available through Z-Ro's usual label home of Rap-A-Lot, but can be purchased on boutique Web site SoSouth.com. It's also been up for streaming for the better part of a week on streaming audio site Audiomack.com. More than 29,000 plays later, it sits as the 11th-most played album on the site this week.

No matter what, Ro is like 2Pac in this sense: if something new has his name on it, fans will gobble it up and sing its praises. A synth-laden drum creation called "Keep Shining" officially opens the album, with Mr. Lee flipping Tela's "Sho Nuff" into something futuristic and Z-Ro channeling the Gap Band's "Yearning For Your Love" with the same passion he's been utilizing on hooks since 2009's Relvis Presley mixtape.

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Content-wise, The Crown isn't a giant shift from what we've come to expect from Ro. His mentality has always been about soulful odes to his Missouri City stomping grounds ("Mo City"), sneering at women while admitting his asshole tendencies ("Love My Dick," the UNLV-sampling "Love These Bitches") and holding onto his solitude like the Monroe Doctrine.

Z-Ro, to a fault of his greatness pieces together songs to fill the emotions of his fan base. Every release since his absolute classic 2005 Rap-A-Lot sophomore disc Let the Truth Be Told has followed this formula; the only detour has been his "drug" series, the best of which is his Crack album.

From a gangsta-rap standpoint, The Crown is typical Ro: snide comparisons between sex and soul food; women as his biggest obstacle ("I'm Gone"); and using common street drugs to illustrate his potency as a human being. Courtesy of Mr. Lee's kaleidoscope of keys and synths, it all sounds like a Houston rap Blaxploitation flick

The producer has been creating these circus-like acrobatics on beats for a while now, keying in on punched-up drums and spacing for Ro to knock things out. Lee hasn't completely had the opportunity to sit back and steer an entire project with someone and The Crown marks his first outing of note. There may not be anything like the up-and-down ride that is "Sittin Sidewayz" on The Crown but as a complete body of work, it's a fine example of what Mr. Lee -- and, to an extent, Z-Ro -- have put together throughout their careers.

Brando writes about Houston music to death, right here and as editor-in-chief ofdayandadream.com. Follow him on Twitter: @_brandoc.

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