"I grew up in South Park...Dead End," proclaimed Lil Troy as we sat down in his Toyota Center suite after his performance during Thursday's Houston Rockets halftime show. It was "Throwback Thursday" night, when the players as well as the fans wore their red and mustard attire reminiscent of those early-1990s championship years.
For many others, the life of a hustler like Troy usually does end up as a dead end. It takes heart, talent and perseverance to overcome those life challenges and become successful. And for Lil Troy, although he may be short in stature, he definitely is large with determination.
In his 2013 book Houston Rap, author Lance Scott Walker describes the Dead End neighborhood as the southern edge of South Park, where Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard used to dead-end just past Airport Boulevard. It is here where Lil Troy was raised, along with other notable Houston rappers such as K-Rino, Fat Pat, Hawk and DJ Screw.
"I started my music in '88...1988, to be exact," he says. "I put out Scarface in 1988 (as DJ Akshen) through Short Stop Records. I personally didn't make it until 1998 when Sittin' Fat Down South was released."
Troy's legacy is cemented with the track "Wanna Be a Baller," which is always mentioned as one of the top Houston rap classics of all time.
"It's a beautiful thing to be mentioned like that," Troy admits with a smile. "It make all the hard work and sacrifices worth it. And, of course, we do it for the love of the music, but we also do it to be successful, which thank God I was and still am."
If a DJ plays that track in the club today, it is still well-received and most people know at least some of the lyrics. That was certainly true last night when Troy took the floor during halftime. The song began as a turnt-up, almost EDM remix, but when that unforgettable string intro hit, it was a slow, loud and bangin' trip down memory lane.
He was pleasantly surprised when I mentioned "Little Red Corvette" by Prince. "How do YOU know about that Prince sample?!" he asked. "You know...people didn't know that was Prince, even after we signed with Universal, put it out and had already sold about a hundred thousand units! They were then required to call Prince, and he actually liked what we did to it, and gave us his blessing to use the track."
Troy's performances nowadays are reserved for special events. Just in the last few days after his Rockets performance was announced, he received more than ten phone calls to perform at local clubs. Which is part of why we haven't seen him as much at rap shows in recent years. I mentioned the "Welcome to Houston" showcase of rappers that has been popular at Free Press Summer Fest over the past two years, and asked if Troy would be interested in participating in something like that.
"If they call me...Let's make it happen!" he said. "I was the first person in HTown to have a platinum album! I've opened doors for many others, and continue to rep for the city."
Troy's musical influences stem from his parents. He says his family played instruments and practiced music in the house nonstop. He remembers going to the clubs of South Park as a teenager to watch and hear them play music. So then when hip-hop became popular, he saw his opportunity and ran with it. The Houston environment has also played a part in his upbringing. At times, South Houston was a dangerous place to live and work, although Troy says things have calmed down a lot. Now, with the Internet, music has changed.
"I used to sell $400-$500 worth of CDs out the trunk of my car every day!" he recalls. "Nowadays, you can't sell a CD. Everyone wants music for free or really cheap. Now, people don't read the liner notes to see who is on the song, who produced it or whatever. They just want it to bang! Kids don't care about album covers no more. So yeah, things have certainly changed."
I asked him if he has any advice for the young rappers and musicians who are trying to make it in today's industry.
"Pursue what your dreams are!" Troy offers. "The next person can't tell you if you can make it or not...it's up to you! If you put 100% of yourself into it and you make the attempt...even if it doesn't work in the end, at least you tried. It's not their dream or beliefs, so don't stop because of what somebody else says or thinks. Take my example...I didn't quit even when people told me I couldn't make it. You just have to keep hustlin'."
So, does Lil Troy still wanna be a baller?
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"I've never stopped!" he laughs. "I was a baller before I put this music out, and I'm a baller now. I'm a baller in mind, heart, body and soul. And in my pockets!"
When he's not roaming around the city in search of tacos and graffiti, Marco points his camera lens toward the vibrant Houston music scene and beyond. You can follow his adventures on Instagram: @MarcoFromHouston.