Rosalinda Ruiz is the Spark Behind Dallas' Hip-Hop Renaissance

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.