Houston rapper Hyro the Hero isn’t much of a rapper. His music is inspired by hard rock as well as hip-hop. He has collaborated with Disturbed, Hellyeah and Atreyu and has Slipknot at the top of his list of dream collaborators.
Photo: José Cantu / José Cantu
Hyro The Hero grew up in Southeast Houston listening to Tupac and DJ Screw. His parents, originally from Trinidad, played soca in the house and he regularly raided his sister’s hip-hop collection.
A break up during his years at Milby High School put him on a different musical journey.
“I was like, ‘Dude, I wanna yell at him. I’m mad.’ I took a rock song, “She Hates Me” from Puddle of Mudd, and turned it into a hip-hop song, ”Hyro says. “I thought (Tupac) was screaming all the time. But he spoke more emotionally. I tried to be like Tupac, I ended up screaming so it worked out perfectly.
Over the years, Hyro – born Hyron Louis Fenton Jr. – has built on this mashup and has become a rock star in his own right. His music draws as much from this sound as from hip-hop. He has collaborated with Disturbed, Hellyeah and Atreyu, has been praised by rock magazines and performed in rock festivals. The new single “Kids Against the Monsters,” A Rail Against Those Who Reject Young People, is the title track of a project planned for this year in a mixtape format inspired by Houston hip-hop.
“Coming to Houston, man, this whole mixtape scene made me want to be a rapper,” he says.
“Kids Against the Monsters” was produced by Matt Good, known for his work with From First to Last and Asking Alexandria. The song is featured in the Apple TV + series “Swagger”.
Hyro’s first mixtape, “Gangsta Rock” of 2007, followed a more traditional hip-hop pattern. It featured the song “Punk Rocker” which sampled Soulja Boy’s “Crank That (Soulja Boy)” and disparaged the young rapper at the same time. Hyro is now giving Soulja Boy props to ‘start a wave’ as the first rapper to translate online popularity into real-world success. (“Crank That” was the first song to sell 3 million digital copies in the United States)
The Houston rapper made more mixtapes, infusing them with samples of old school rock. He developed a clientele and moved to Los Angeles in 2007. He now divides his time between the two locations and France, where his wife lives due to a persistent immigration problem.
Her first album proper, “Birth, School, Work, Death” from 2011, was a more determined mix of rap and rock. It was produced by Ross Robinson (Korn, Slipknot) and featured members of post-hardcore bands At the Drive-In, Blood Brothers and Idiot Pilot. Jonathan Davis of Korn named it one of his favorite albums of the year.
“It just became like a real thing. Somewhere along the line, I became a rock artist. Instead of sampling, I now have real rock artists on my mixtape,” Hyro says. Current collaboration wishes include Tech N9ne, Slipknot and Jay-Z, who previously collaborated with Linkin Park on the ‘Collision Course’ EP.
The 2018 single “Bullet”, a violent protest against racism, pushed Hyro’s profile even higher, totaling millions of streams. It’s a theme that continued through his music. The 2020 song “We Believe” with Disturbed’s David Draiman repeats the phrase “I can’t breathe”. He denounces politics and simulates outrage against “FU2”.
It’s no secret that black performers often find it difficult to be taken seriously as rock artists, despite the genre originally stemming from black music. Sister Rosetta Tharpe, a black woman, is considered the godmother of rock’n’roll for pioneering a sound that combines electric guitar with gospel, blues and folk music.
And although Hyro says people are often surprised by his heavy rock sound, it only makes him lean more into what he was born to do.
“I love hip-hop, and it makes you feel like that stuff,” he said, rocking his head back and forth. “But there’s something about this organic drums and guitar that takes me to a different level. I rap and I rock. It’s always difficult to explain what I do. So I say, just check it out.