For Roosh Williams, It’s Superstardom Or Bust (Or Law School)

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Last year, rapper Roosh Williams, BS ’11, was fired from his teaching job after some of his middle-school students discovered his music online. Word got around to the administration, and Williams was given the boot due to his explicit lyrics. As disappointing as this was, it pushed the UT grad into pursuing his music full-time.

A Houston native, Williams graduated from UT with honors and has since garnered quite a buzz in the rap world. His latest album, 2015’s Unorthodox, charted on the iTunes top 40 and featured collaborations with rappers Scarface and Action Bronson. Williams has been featured in publications like Complex and The Houston Chronicle, and has appeared on Sway in the Morning, an acclaimed hip-hop show on Sirius XM. The Alcalde spoke with Williams about his senior year at UT, studying for law school, and how he linked up with some of the hottest rappers in the game.

The Alcalde: You’ve been off the grid a bit. What’ve you been up to for the past six months?

Roosh Williams: I’ve been studying for the LSAT. Am I actually going to go to law school? I don’t know.

When I was in school it was something that I was studying for, and it was my plan, but then things started taking off with music and I just kind of ditched it. My senior year was May 2011, so I sat for the December 2010 LSAT. That was right around the time I was getting booked. It was a crazy time. I took the LSAT, and I just canceled my score, and I never went back. But now I’m 26, and I just want to do it before I’m too old to do it.

Let’s talk about your music. How’d you get that going? 

Basically, I just started sending my s–t out. In 2011, on my last Christmas break of college actually, I did a song with Killah Caleone. He was really popping at the time. So when we shot a song with him, it was big for our area. It got on Pigeons and Planes, and OnSmash, and these different little blogs. From that point I was focused on seeking those people out. I would send them emails, and they would ignore me. But I just kept building on my own, and I didn’t forget about hitting them up, and eventually it came around.

Your sound isn’t as boxed in as the typical Texas thing. Your sound still has those snares and that Texas drawl, but Unorthodox has that mid-2000s sound, almost like Twista.

That’s tight. Everyone gets enamored with Texas. I do like the older sound. I like the newer sound, but I just feel like there was a point in time where hip-hop music was just [snaps] in the pocket. It was dope.

Do you mean golden era, like the ’90s? Or are you talking about the early 2000s—the shiny suits era?

I’m just talking about the art of MCing. It happens in multiple eras and it happens now. I feel like it’s not lost right now, but it used to be front and center. Now you don’t even have to rap, you could do a whole bunch of different things. It doesn’t mean I don’t like it, it just means that when it comes to me, and making my music, that’s where my roots are. I’m not going to try and rap like Future, it’s just not really who I am.

What are some of your influences, in terms of production and delivery?

I’m a Houston kid who grew up, downloaded music, listened to s–t from all over the place. My favorite rappers were Eminem, Mos Def, Busta [Rhymes], anything that Dre touched, vintage 50 Cent, Jadakiss. It’s just a blend. I don’t view myself as being regional. I’m versatile, I can kind of do anything. I try to be a little humorous. Now and then, I try to hit the punch lines.

Who are some producers you’ve worked with?

My song with Action Bronson, Track Sounds made the beat for that. I got a homie out in Oklahoma named Blev, who’s dope as s–t. He’s done a lot of stuff for Alex Wiley. There’s my homie Simp out of San Antonio, and there’s my guy Lace mode, who used to do stuff for Kirko [Bangz]. Those are the main people I work with, in person.

How has your experience as a Persian-American influenced your music?

In the rap game, being Persian has been interesting. A lot of people lump me in with white people. I used to have a clean shave and short hair. In life, it gives you a double understanding of life. I’ve been to Iran six times throughout my life—I used to go there every summer with my family. I just think it makes you more cultured. [Also,] foreign parents are definitely way different: the quirks, the accent.

The food.

The food. Their attitude on life and who you should be in life, and who you should marry. Just in general. But I’m glad. I wouldn’t have it any other way, really.

Do you think your propensity to sample from other regions has anything to do with your background?

In “Art Double’”and “Persian Rug” I definitely hit that Middle Eastern influence. I just like different music. But I don’t know if it has to do with being an immigrant, because I like a lot of funk and soul. And my parents didn’t listen to that.

How much does the “struggle rapper” story apply to you?

I’ve been recording raps since 2001. I was like 11 or 12. I’m not like a lot of these kids. Half of them don’t even want to be a rapper, it didn’t come from a place of authenticity. I was battling people in junior high. 

Everything I’ve done I’ve done on my own. A lot of people that start popping, there’s someone pulling strings behind the curtain. Anything I do, I did it by myself. So it’s hard. It is a struggle. I’m not a “struggle rapper,” but I’ve had many struggles as a rapper.

How did you first get into rap?

My sister is seven years older than me, and we used to live in this area of Houston named Alief, which was more urban. My sister grew up in urban Houston, and she influenced me, she put me on to Mase’s Harlem World.

What do you think is the next step of your career, realistically?

Realistically. I like how you throw in the caveat. We’re trying to figure out the next step. I consider myself to have had a good amount of success. I’m not big-time famous or anything, but I’ve definitely done a lot more than a lot of people. But making the next jump is difficult. Because it’s easier to come out of obscurity and then become someone than to take it to the next level. 

The next level for me is to try to get on tour. I need to find a way to travel and get into other markets. I really want to get into Europe. I think it’s semi-realistic.

What’s your day-to-day life like? Are you paying your bills with music? 

I am not rich, by any means. I spent the last handful of months straight-up studying to take the LSAT. What we did with Unorthodox set a perfect stage so I can go away and come back. I’m not in any rush, because this is not a sprint, it’s a marathon.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. Listen to Roosh Williams’ music on SoundCloud.

Photo by Dan Joyce.

 

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