Houston rapper Hyro the Hero isn’t really a rapper. His music is inspired by both hard rock and hip-hop. He has collaborated with Disturbed, Hellyeah and Atreyu and has Slipknot at the top of his list of dream collaborators.
Photo: Jose Cantu / Jose Cantu
Hyro The Hero grew up in Southeast Houston listening to Tupac and DJ Screw. His parents, originally from Trinidad, played soca music around the house and he regularly raided his sister’s hip-hop collection.
A breakup during his years at Milby High School put him on a different musical path.
“I was like, ‘Man, I want to yell at him. I’m mad.’ I took a rock song, ‘She Hates Me’ by Puddle of Mudd, and turned it into a hip-hop song,” Hyro explains. “I thought (Tupac) was screaming all the time. But he was talking more about emotion. Me trying to be like Tupac ended up screaming, so it worked out perfectly.
Over the years, Hyro — born Hyron Louis Fenton Jr. — built on this mashup and became a rock star in his own right. His music is inspired as much by this sound as by hip-hop. He has collaborated with Disturbed, Hellyeah and Atreyu, received acclaim from rock magazines and performed at rock festivals. New single “Kids Against the Monsters,” a rail against those who reject youth, is the title track of an expected project 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 debut mixtape, 2007’s “Gangsta Rock”, followed a more traditional hip-hop pattern. It featured the song “Punk Rocker” which sampled Soulja Boy’s “Crank That (Soulja Boy)” and dissed 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 old school rock samples. He developed a clientele and moved to Los Angeles in 2007. He now splits his time between the two locations and France, where his wife lives due to an ongoing immigration issue.
His first proper album, 2011’s “Birth, School, Work, Death” was a more focused 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 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. His wishlist Current collaboration includes Tech N9ne, Slipknot, and Jay-Z, who previously collaborated with Linkin Park on the “Collision Course” EP.
2018’s single “Bullet,” a vocal protest against racism, pushed Hyro’s profile even higher, clocking up millions of streams. It’s a theme that has continued in his music. The 2020 song “We Believe” featuring David Draiman of Disturbed repeats the line “I can’t breathe”. He denounces politics and fake outrage on “FU2”.
It’s no secret that black artists often struggle 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 while Hyro says people are often taken aback by his heavy rock sound, that only pushes him to lean more into what he was born to do.
“I love hip-hop, and it makes you feel that kind of stuff,” he says, bobbing 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 hard to explain what I’m doing. So I say, just to verify.