On the back half of Z-Ro’s latest album, Rohammad Ali, listeners are met with a familiar, if a bit peculiar voice. Following features from rapper Juicy J and singer Brendalynn, Z-Ro enlists the talents of Shaquille O’Neal on “Stop the Rain.”
You might think that Shaq, whose most recent rap exploits have included beef with Portland Trailblazers all-star Damian “Dame Dolla” Lillard, is an odd choice for a Z-Ro song. I might be inclined to agree. Shaq and Z-Ro are polar opposites. The former is the crown prince of the spotlight. He has twice as many nicknames as teams he played for in the NBA. No one batted an eye when he became a police officer, nor when he earned his Ph.D. He’s been 7-foot-2 for most of his life, making it entirely impossible for him to escape the limelight even if he wanted to.
Z-Ro, on the other hand, shirks the spotlight at every given chance. His sunglasses are a near permanent fixture on his face, shielding him from public view in concert with his usually all-black attire. Ro’s label, 1 Deep Entertainment, is a manifestation of everything he’s espoused over the course of his 20-plus year career. He said it best on A.B.N.’s “No Help”: “I don’t need no help my N — -a, I can do bad on my own.”
So, I would concede that thinking Z-Ro and Shaq not mixing is a fair estimation. “Stop the Rain,” however, isn’t beholden to the laws of popularity. Over the course of the track’s four-minute thirty-second run time, the duo delivers a pair of contrasting verses, drawing out each other’s strengths in a collaboration that no one could have seen coming.
“Stop the Rain” is such a success because Z-Ro doesn’t change for anyone. Since splitting off from his two-man group with A.B.N. partner and cousin Trae tha Truth, Z-Ro has been rolling solo. His discography is a series of musings about trustworthiness and personal morals interspersed with a handful of non-committal features. Z-Ro albums don’t include a band of his fellow Houstonians like Pop Smoke would do with his Brooklynites. Ro’s projects are tailor made for him and him alone.
And still, Z-Ro is quick to show his support for his Texas roots. DJ Screw gets a shout out on nearly every track. The Mo City Don, clearly recognizes he’s part of something bigger — the Houston rap scene has fought for the characterization of the “third coast” in hip-hop — but he hypes Houston cautiously, knowing that any relationship, rap or otherwise, is fleeting.
Shaquille O’Neal is the complete opposite. The “Big Fella” is welcomed everywhere he goes, as is the case on “Stop the Rain.” Where Z-Ro is hesitant to relinquish his solitary style, Shaq litters Houston rap references throughout his verse. “I feel like Bun B, damn I miss Pimp C/ Fat Pat I miss you too cuz, RIP,” he raps, taking ownership of the culture of which Z-Ro is weary.
All of this comes together atop a historic sample of Loose Ends’ “You Can’t Stop the Rain.” In 1996, Shaq deployed the UK funk band’s song as the title tarck for his third studio album, swapping the word “rain” for his regal hominem. The video for the song included larger than life fare, consisting of a Mission Impossible-like story line and utilizing CGI effects and character title cards, all of which indulged Shaq’s grandeur. He had recently signed a seven-year, $20 million contract with the Los Angeles Lakers, and the track was an expression of his new found wealth.
Z-Ro, however, takes the song to wax poetic about building success from the ground up. “Why you hate to see me walk on marble floors, homie/ I ain’t greedy, I could show you how to marble yours, homie,” Z-Ro raps near the song’s intro. Just as Shaq spreads the wealth by shining a light on an oft-overlooked segment of hip-hop, Z-Ro proliferates the mindset that success isn’t resigned to a chosen few. “Stop the Rain” melds Z-Ro and Shaq’s belief systems seamlessly, remixing a classic 80s tune to find a bigger purpose.