In the July 2013 issue of Houstonia, John Nova Lomax noted that Houston has no signature song, no local version of Tony Bennett’s “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” or Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York.” Lomax nominated the 1969 song “Houston, The Action Town” by local bluesman Juke Boy Bonner, but Bonner may now have competition from a more recent entrant: local rapper Jim Narvios, a.k.a. Rocko Stedy. Rocko, 26, who describes himself as an “inspirational hip-hop artist,” recently approached a Houstonia editor with the claim that the mayor’s office had hired him to write an official theme song for the city.
As proof, he provided video of himself performing a rap at a “Sponsor Appreciation Luncheon” for last year’s Freedom Over Texas Fourth of July celebration. Wearing a driving cap and sports jacket, Rocko bobs and weaves between the banquet tables at a hotel ballroom while the well-dressed audience members look on in seeming befuddlement. In the song, “Do Better City,” Rocko raps about Houston’s ranking as the country’s most diverse city (by Rice’s Kinder Institute for Urban Research), as well as the coolest (by Forbes Magazine), along with a whole host of other Greater Houston Visitors and Convention Bureau talking points:
The place where you start a career—we did better
Your money stretch real long—we did better
Forbes said it best—we cool—we did it better.
The song also includes multiple shout-outs to the event’s sponsors—Southwest Airlines, Bud Light, and NRG Energy.
Having written the city’s official song, Rocko is now on a campaign to give us an official new nickname, a goal he expects to achieve by 2017. “I’ve been speaking with the mayor, I’ve been speaking with over 70 consulates, and they all think it’s a great idea to rebrand Houston as the ‘Do Better City,’” Rocko told me. “I think that would create a really good culture and environment for us to live in.”
There’s only one problem: according to Susan Christian, the director of the Mayor’s Office of Special Events and the woman who hired Rocko to write “Do Better City,” the song was never intended to be the city’s official theme song. “It wasn’t for the city, it was for a particular event—there’s a huge difference,” Christian told me. “Not in any way is it an official theme song for the city, nor was it ever positioned to be as such. It was a song that we asked [Rocko] to write for last year’s Freedom Over Texas. It has no life after that.”
Rocko was born in Dallas, but his family moved to the Philippines when he was one, then moved to the Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn when he was eight. At 11, Rocko started rapping and hanging out with New York breakdance crews. Although he couldn’t breakdance himself—he was overweight, and his wrists weren’t strong enough—he took his stage name from the legendary breakdance group the Rock Steady Crew, and began engaging in battle raps all over the city. “I used to use my words to destroy people,” Rocko says. “I used to make people feel bad with my words. I would go from neighborhood to neighborhood winning thousands of dollars on battle raps.” His favorite rappers were Eric B. & Rakim, Big L, and Nas.
Then, at 16 Rocko moved with his family to Houston, where he decided to starting using his rapping to convey positive rather than negative messages. “You can either destroy or you can build with words,” Rocko said. “I choose to build.” A close brush with death helped bring about this sudden conversion—Rocko suffers from severe Celiac Disease, and says that his heart has flatlined on seven different occasions over the course of his life.
Today, Rocko makes his living by performing motivational raps at schools, corporate events, and official functions like the Freedom Over Texas luncheon. He claims to have performed at almost every cultural festival in town, including the Palestinian Festival, Via Colori, and the Japan Festival, and has plans to start what he called “Houston’s first multi-cultural event celebrating diversity,” although he might want to check with the organizers of iFest first.
Sometimes people hire Rocko to write a custom rap for a friend’s birthday, or just to cheer them up. He’s also written 47 obituary raps in memory of the deceased, beginning at the age of 16 with a rap about his friend Kenneth, who died in the middle of a basketball game. Rocko says he can write a rap song as easily as he can talk on the phone, and estimates that he writes two new songs a day. But his facility at writing doesn’t mean he doesn’t work hard, he said. “People shouldn’t judge my quality based on the amount of time I spend on a song. I’ve been spending years on my skills, you know?” Rocko recently released a CD of his work, Pride of Place, which is available on his website, rockostedy.com.
Rocko says that he bases his career on the concept of “the law of attraction” (as discussed in books like Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret and every Sunday by Joel Osteen), according to which believing in something strongly enough will make it a reality. Rocko seems to believe that if he keeps telling people he wrote Houston’s official theme song that it will eventually become true. Unfortunately, Susan Christian in the mayor’s office poured cold water on that idea. But when asked if Houston had a different theme song in mind, she left the door open for other competitors.
“We do not,” she told me. “But we need one!”