You'll hear about Rosalinda Ruiz before you see her. Though she's one of the hip-hop scene's most influential players, she tends to lay pretty low. You won't find her often at Beauty Bar's Big Bang Thursdays or Prophet Bar's Wednesday night Jam Sessions, but the walls of both venues will echo stories about her. Ask around and people will tell you she's a no-nonsense, business-to-the-bone kind of lady. They'll tell you she's a peerless leader and unapologetically assertive when it comes to going after what she wants.
And so when you finally do meet the gorgeous Ruiz, you'll probably be a little intimidated. It's important not to let it show, because everything you've heard is true.
Over the last six years, Ruiz's tireless effort and relentless conviction as a brand manager and businesswoman behind the scenes have elevated Dallas rap to its current platform. Between her work at The 808 Studio and as an artist manager to some of the city's most influential performers (A.Dd+, Booty Fade, DJ Sober), she has proven herself to be one of the most effective industry power players in North Texas. It's no wonder she is often referred to as "Mama Rosa" in certain local circles; she is truly the godmother of progressive Dallas hip-hop.
Ruiz was born and raised in Oak Cliff, the youngest of three children. Her mother, who still lives in the Beckley Avenue house Ruiz grew up in, was a dedicated DISD administrator. Her father was an architectural engineer. She's quick to credit them for the intense work ethic she's known for.
Ruiz's family filled her home with '80s rock and Tejano music, but it wasn't long before she fell in love with hip-hop She recalls reciting Tupac lyrics and interpreting them line-for-line with her childhood best friend as early as elementary school.
She was a happy kid and an active student, who often performed in school plays and programs. At Skyline High School, she was senior class president, varsity soccer team captain and advice columnist for the school paper.
At University of Texas at Austin, her Latina pride and natural leadership skills drove her to pursue politics — she hoped to one day run for office. She graduated in 2005 with two bachelor's degrees, in political science and ethnic studies. But she soon found the power struggle of politics frustrating.
"I interned at the state capitol and even spent a summer in D.C. interning for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute," she says. "[I was a] super idealist in the way that only a young, inexperienced and passionate college student can be. But the more I worked in or around politics, the more I hated the game."
By 2007 she was done with the world of politics. She moved back to Dallas, hungry to pursue her true passion: music. Her first move was to call her high school friend, rapper and producer J. Rhodes.
"It was really just one of those things where we hung out all summer and talked about our dreams and aspirations and bonded through the music," he says. "She called me one day and said, 'What would you say if I told you I was thinking about starting a studio?'
"I said, 'I'm in,' and the rest is history."
Along with producer Brandon Williams, Ruiz and J.Rhodes opened up The 808 Studio in downtown Dallas during the summer of 2007. While Rhodes and Williams handled producing and engineering sessions, Ruiz was the managerial backbone. She negotiated recording contracts for artists like Headkrack and Bodega Brovas, handled the books and organized beat battles for producers in Dallas to showcase their work.
Eager to find a way to give back to her community on her own terms, Ruiz used the resources cultivated at The 808 to establish Bangin' Summer Music Academy — a summer camp for Oak Cliff youths.
"She's very passionate. When she's into something, she will hone in and put her all into it. Finances, time, money ... her last," J. Rhodes says. "She believes in herself and her vision and puts the belief to action. 'Linda's initial idea created a nurturing ground for all of these talents to grow."
It was around that time that Ruiz received a MySpace message from two young Dallas emcees that would change her life forever.
"I was on the Internet one day, boppin', and we came across this fine, big-breasted Hispanic lady," says Slim Gravy, one half of Dallas rap duo A.Dd+. "And I hit her up like, 'What's up?' And she actually hit us back, saying she liked our music."
Ruiz, however, saw talent, not a potential date. "They didn't really holler at me, in [a sleazy way]," she says. "It was more like, 'Hey, check out our music.' ... They had three tracks. One was a Tribe song, one was an original called 'Sham.' This was almost seven years ago, and this scene was nonexistent.
"So you're talking about two young dudes, under 20, rapping to some Tribe instrumental, and it wasn't wack! And they're from Dallas! I was really confused. ..I came to find out later that Dd [Slim Gravy] actually was trying to holler at me, but I didn't care. I didn't think anything of it — they were young. It was never an issue. I was intrigued by their sound, so I invited them to the studio."
It was that fateful meeting at The 808 when Ruiz asked the young men point blank what they were setting out to accomplish, what their goals were. Slim and his fellow MC Paris Pershun responded without hesitation by jumping to their feet for an on-the-spot a cappella performance to show her what they were capable of. It was then that Ruiz became the first person to realize: These guys are something special. A.Dd+ soon realized they'd stumbled on something special, too, someone with much more to offer than a MySpace photo.
Ruiz has never let her gender be much of a factor in her professional life.
"I've never really struggled in this industry, at least not knowingly, because I'm a woman," she says. "I'm sure it's benefitted me, and I'm sure there's been a negative side to it that maybe I just don't know about, but I've never felt like it was a barrier."
Before long, Ruiz shifted her focus from The 808 onto managing A.Dd+ full-force. She taught herself Pro Tools to record them when no one else would. Over the course of the next five years, she was their primary funder, coach, production seeker, tour van driver and anything else they needed.
"She put in some work. She worked harder than all of us, really. Even to this day, she still just works, man. For no reason at all other than she wants to," Picnictyme says. Ruiz brought him in to produce A.Dd+'s mixtape When Pigs Fly, which is now a Dallas classic.
"When she succeeds, Dallas succeeds," says Michelle McDevitt of New York PR firm Audible Treats. "No one can deny that Rosalinda's involvement with A.Dd+ is the reason why they're one of the hottest rap groups to come out of Texas right now. She set them up with a very solid foundation. And because of A.Dd+'s success, the country as a whole is starting to take more notice of the Texas rap scene."
By 2012, however, tensions began to arise between the duo and Ruiz over creative and managerial control. In particular, Slim and Ruiz had begun to butt heads over the future of A.Dd+. It came to a breaking point one day last October.
Paris, Slim, Ruiz and her longtime boyfriend and business partner, Detroit rapper/producer Black Milk, had gotten together to record the duo (on a beat coincidentally titled "Over"). We may never know what happened in that studio session — both parties are tight-lipped about the details — but one thing we know for sure is that the A.Dd+ camp would never be the same by the time it was done. After years of steering the ship for Slim and Paris, Ruiz decided it was time to go her own way.
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"I thought we were going to be together until the end," she says. "It had nothing to do with the music. It had everything to do with how I perceived them as men. That was important to me. They were never just a money-maker to me. They were people that I cared about, very much. I loved them, to the extent that I would sacrifice my family — my future family — to be with them. At some point it got to be too much, and I had to get used to the idea of my everyday thing coming to an end. It was the most difficult thing that has ever happened to me."
Though it affected her deeply, parting ways with A.Dd+ didn't slow her down much. Since then, she has put her skills to work behind Dallas DJ and production supergroup Booty Fade. She is also currently in the early stages of forming a record label, Computer Ugly, with Black Milk.
"You may have talent or good ideas or whatever, but it doesn't matter if you don't work," says Zac Crain, senior editor at D Magazine. "I think some folks think they're entitled to things, or they rest when they hit a certain level. But I've never seen that out of her. I think what you see now [in the Dallas rap scene] is everyone hustling — and I mean that in more of a Joakim Noah kind of way — and she's definitely a part of that."
Hustling is still what Mama Rosa does best. So if you do work up the courage to introduce yourself, you better start your search far away from the VIP section. She's more likely to be behind the merch table, selling Booty Fade T-shirts. There's no time to rest.