Houstonian Tales: Ruben Jimenez (DJ Baby Roo)
No matter what someone who might have just moved here will tell you, Houston has a rich music culture more diverse than most cities of its size. The genre that has given our city more nicknames than any other, is hip hop music. Since the early days of Southern hip hop, one guy has lived, breathed, and ingested as much hip hop as anyone in Houston: DJ Baby Roo. Interviewing names like Eminem before he was a household name, dropping DJ sets at clubs that have been long gone, and buying enough hip hop albums and singles to make you think that he was an originator in the scene, Roo has definitely seen more in the Houston rap scene than anyone you probably know. Now, after watching artists come and go, the DJ of hip hop group DEF. before their disbandment, and the DJ to more rappers than you can count, Baby Roo, also known as Ruben Jimenez has taken on the role as founder and leader of new record label Roologic Records. Free Press Houston was lucky enough to catch a moment with one of the busiest fathers and artists in all of Houston to find out where he’s been and where he plans on taking this city, as well as the storied hip hop scene in the future.
FPH: You were born in Houston, what side of town are you from?
Ruben Jimenez: I was actually born in Pasadena, TX aka Chem Town. My folks moved in with my Grandma when I was in the 3rd grade. My stomping grounds were in North Side Central, right at the start of the Crawford Street Bridge. Right on the other side of the Tracks from 5th Ward. When I got to speak at a James Prince’s keynote at SXSW this year, I actually told him where I was from and Bun got crunk at the specificity, it was hilarious. You can watch it in this clip, just jump to 56:10 mark and watch the hilarity ensue.
FPH: You’ve spent a life in the Houston hip hop scene through being on the radio, doing artist interviews, and promoting shows. What’s the craziest interview you got back in the day and what’s the best 12” hip hop single you got to play before it broke into the mainstream?
Jimenez: The one of the wildest interviews was at this show that went down at the Astro Arena, it was a Coca Cola promotional tour call IYDKYDG, the worst promo’d show ever. No one knew it was going down and all the tickets were free. The line up was Jim Crow, Youngbloodz, Coolbreeze, Witchdoctor, GooDie MoB (yes, for my real ones, that is how you’re actually supposed to spell Goodie Mob) and OutKast. I got to walk around and do impromptu interviews with Jim Crow, Youngbloodz and GooDie MoB. which ended up turning into a long discussion with Cee-lo Green about Hip-Hop, the Kosovo genocide and a slew of other topics. It was so spur of the moment yet it was like we were just talking on some regular shit, I still can’t believe it happened after all these years. It’s all right here.
FPH: Growing up in Houston, you got to see plenty of acts come and go, was there ever a hip hop artist that you wished had popped off that never did?
Jimenez: Well, there were sooo many that were just amazing to see, Fliponya was female MC that would just beast. The Psyko Ward Crew (hope I didn’t butcher it, y’all) was amazing, Seeds of Soul were so so great, Example (Kay & DJ Cipher) had a great run too. Everyone wanted to see K-Otix get even more of the reach they attained. I could go on for days for every solo act or group, all had potential, all had skillz, all were dope in their own way.
During that time the local scene as a whole was burgeoning. There were local acts that were moving beyond Texas that had so much potential. Dead Horse, Painteens, Slackface, Sprawl (that band spawned Houston staples Nick Cooper and Dave Dove, that entire band was just so damn fun, they even got a mention on MTV from SXSW of all things!?), DeSchmog (please go look up “Fairytale” recorded live at Rudyard’s, its genius), Fleshmop, Joint Chiefs, Fortress, Refuse to Fall, Crazy Killed Mingus, even some non-houston Texas bands got signed back in the day. Brutal Juice from Denton was signed to Interscope and Billy Goat was on Third Rail, I think. I wished they all the aforementioned popped off, truthfully. Because had they truly met their full potential they deserved, Houston could’ve had a real ‘Seattle’ moment where we influenced the music spectrum nationally.
FPH: Under the name DJ Baby Roo, you’ve seen more in the hip hop and DJ circles than most people could possibly remember. What was your favorite spot to DJ at, and where did the name Baby Roo come from?
Jimenez: One of my favorite spots to spin back then can’t be limited to just one spot. Each had its own uniqueness and vibe, but The Waxx Museum was DIY magic. When it was packed it was magic. There was also Deep Phat, that spot on a Sunday night was amazing, that’s where DJ Sest & DJ Bristle began a night called Reprogram, they along with Cee Plus curated a great night that gave lots of DJs an opportunity to shine. One of the first nights I ever had with DJ Sun was a Thursday at Magic Bus, we would play Acid Jazz and Hip-Hop and it was just all around fun. To capture those sincere moments when the scene was young just had an air about them that really made it really real. I couldn’t list all those spots without mentioning Matt Sonzala’s ‘Hip-Hop Coffee Shop’ where my brother spun weekly. That was such a great hot bed for all of Houston’s young *really young MCs to cut their teeth performing. Everyone who would go to those spots weren’t just going out, we were challenging each other to be better while having fun. Ok, old man, “back in my day” talk over.
The name Baby Roo comes from my nick name given to me by my family. My father’s middle name is Ruben and they would call him “Big Ruben” and they would call me either “Little Ruben” or “Baby Ruben” Since I couldn’t think of a cool DJ name, I went with that and it morphed into DJ Baby Roo. Yes, I hear your internal dialogue and you’re right, it is the least gangsta DJ name for a grown ass man with two adult sons to have. I completely agree.
FPH: As someone who’s gotten to see the birth of hip hop, the screw era and the “crunk cups” era, what do you think about the place hip hop is in today?
Jimenez: I think it’s in a stratified place. There is the “turn up’ rap which is dang near the same BPM and predictable. That said, when you’re in the club and its 1 AM, it’s what I’m playing, so I’m not too mad at it. Then there are those artists who are challenging the art form and themselves. It takes a vulnerability about yourself to do any of it, so if you find yourself on the boundary pushing side of things then I tend to favor that more, personally. If you look at our local scene you have those who are continuing to hold onto a more traditional form of Houston Rap but it’s turned into something that just doesn’t push boundaries. It’s like Ranchero music, it’s all the same but just different enough to have to have a discerning ear for it. Then you have pockets of other acts who are finding their lane, that is always interesting to see what they evolve into. Long story bearable, I can’t wait to see what Houston cooks up in the next few years.
FPH: You’ve seen plenty of labels come and go, what made you decide to roll the dice and start your own imprint with ROOLOGIC?
Jimenez: Well, I had been working with a good size group of acts, I decided to attempt a social experiment and see if I could get these artists to work together versus having quiet competition. I also missed the days when Houston had labels. I think back to Rastaman Work Ethic Records (Nick Cooper) and Dyslexington Records etc. With digital outlets aplenty there seemed to be a decline of the presence of a banner that artist could affiliate with. That seems to have changed in the last few months which is a good thing. I will take the time now to shout out The Convoy Group, Splice Records, Wonky Power, Cloudopolis, Rappers I Know, Peace Uv Mind, Analogue Escape / Dreams in Stereo and apologies to anyone whom I may have missed.
FPH: The label has digital distribution all over the world. Can you describe what digital distribution is for those who don’t know about it and why it’s an important asset for any artist to have?
Jimenez: Actual Distribution is important for various reasons. Reach for one is the most important factor to actual distro. Its also important to have a partner whom you can call and get great feedback and assistance from. It also helps when they work to enable your goals when a short term solution isn’t available. The most important part is having access to more than just digital. Having Distribution beyond Bandcamp, Tunecore and cdbaby is critical for the long term or wider vision for any of the acts on Roologic. We have a deeper well of markets we can push to and if an act has a large enough buzz, we have the option for CIMS, Target, Best Buy etc. What does that mean for a market that is shrinking in purchases and growing in streams? I think it means giving the opportunity for anyone to attain your music in any form is a plus.
FPH: Roologic has a pretty diverse roster of acts. How do you decide who you’ll work with and what’s in the pipeline for the label?
Jimenez: I approached a lot of acts in town whom I thought would make a great diverse roster. A lot of the response I got was “why? I already have cdbaby, etc.” I completely understood their point, that said, everyone wants the scene to support the other acts, I figured if we had a collective of acts whom could leverage their own promotional draw and combine it with others it helps everyone, and if you get everyone together under the same banner, it gives people a central location to find artists from Houston. The initial acts I approached had their own buzz, a dynamic stage show and were self starters. Then there is Gabe Bravo.
We have some stuff on the horizon that is exciting and I don’t want to be premature in my divulging, we may have an international act join the roster (that’s been in the works for a bit, fingers crossed), a local documentary release, we are consistently hosting non-Roologic acts monthly at The Nightingale Room for our Roologic Presents industry mixers, Genesis Blu is writing and working on her EP and a single, RYMNA is a few songs away from a completed project, we will also be having a co-sponsored series of Producer focused events that should be announced in August. Then there is Gabe Bravo… All of the artists on the label are chipping away at their projects too, those were just the few things I thought of off top.
FPH: You have a pretty high end day job, you’re the father to two teenagers, you’re a working solo DJ and a DJ for multiple acts, and you’re running a record label…not to mention that you were in the documentary “This Thing We Do,” when do you sleep?
Jimenez: Naps at lunch, naps in the car (sad but true), naps on the couch, lots of veggies, more topo than alcohol, more naps, carrying your own equipment helps to keep the cardio up (especially with turntables), not taking any of this seriously allows for easier nap times, having a support system of people I can rely on from venues (shouts to the entire staff & management at House of Blues, The Commoner, Warehouse Live, Walter’s, and The Nightingale Room, your professionalism makes a tired Dad’s job easier), having great friends whom understand my alleged workaholism (I’m actually very very lazy) and breakfast tacos, cause I’m gonna nap after some Chiloso’s.
FPH: With all of this happening, when does the public get a solo release from DJ Baby Roo?
Jimenez: Funny you should ask, I am going to be working on some mixes soon since we’ve now been able to put out actual dj mixes on spotify, it’s long overdue. Look for at least one in the next 4 to 6 weeks, only because I like to really get sample heavy in my mixes, it’s sort of my thing to do. Here is an example of what I mean.
It’s hard to believe that little cat naps can exist in a world of a guy who grinds harder than anyone I see in the Houston music scene. When people ask me what gets my attention, I always point to the hard work, the hustle, and the determination that Ruben puts into all of the multiple projects that he’s involved with. While Roo works on releasing his solo album you can catch him catch him for his monthly sets at MKT Bar, as well as his regular sets at The Commoner and at House of Blues. You can also next Wednesday, July 27th for the Roologic Presents night at Nightingale Room. The 21 & up show is 100% FREE and has doors at 7 pm featuring sets from Shonnie Murrell, Chase Hamblin, and DJ Miss Berrie, and will be hosted by Genesis Blu.