by Anna Ervin | Herbage Magazine
Imagine spending your whole life moving from state to state, exploring new cities, and picking up experiences from all over the country. Most people would dream of that kind of upbringing, and for Oklahoma City rapper Zach Rowland, AKA Hugh Glass, it was a reality. However, constantly searching for that sense of home or foundation of friends and family can get tiresome. It wasn’t until Hugh entered Oklahoma City’s hip-hop scene that he found that solidarity.
I first met Hugh at the Magnolia Room in Oklahoma City, OK. He performed some of his latest releases like “Big Checks” & “Socrates.” I had just written an article about his producer and mentor, owner of the 88 Record label, Josh Sallee, who had spoken highly of Hugh’s talent. His name was fresh on my mind, but he suddenly seemed to be popping up everywhere I turned. From cannabis industry events, to open mic nights at Hubbly Bubbly, this OKC artist has been creating waves in the community.
Hugh’s team is currently working on releasing a new album, so I invited him out for lunch to fill me in on his journey.
We sat down at one of my favorite local spots, the Picasso Cafe, Hugh immediately began asking me questions about my work. At first, I couldn’t tell if he was nervous about telling his own story, or just genuinely interested in the day-to-day of a cannabis lifestyle journalist. It was not long before I got the feeling that the person sitting across from me was as much of an empath, if not more, as I consider myself to be. Realizing this, I felt like Hugh probably had a story of his own that was worth hearing, so I asked him what inspired his interest in music.
Hugh’s father passed away when he was just five months old, and his mother, a hairdresser, had the ability to find work no matter where they landed. “It was a lot of fourteen-hour car rides,” Hugh explained. “We went from Oklahoma City to Woodward, to Dallas Texas, to Mississippi, to North Dakota, then back to Oklahoma.”
He may not have realized it at the time, but those long drives set the tone for Hugh’s career in music. His mother would play Led Zeppelin, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Ray Charles, along with many other influences from the ’70s. One day, on a long trip to North Dakota to visit family, Hugh discovered his love for rap music.
“When I was around twelve,” Hugh began telling me, “My mom had bought the Marshall Mathers LP. It was a 15-hour trip, and we just played it on repeat. We picked up my cousins, and this song comes on. By that time, I have it all memorized. So, I am sitting there in the backseat with my little cousin, and I start rapping to her. She starts laughing, and I can tell she is having a good time. It was that moment when I realized this is what I want to do.”
“I never really understood at the time,” he continued, “I was too young to grasp it, but that is where my interest in music came from – being stuck in a car, not having any fucking friends, listening to Eminem, Kayne West, and Ray Charles. That is where it all started.”
“I also played basketball my whole life, so I was this hip-hop basketball fan. They are similar in the way that individually you can express yourself. Every basketball player wants to be a rapper, and every rapper wants to be a basketball player.”
As Hugh got older, he began citing lyrics from some of his favorite influences, like Tupac. “My mom had married, and had a daughter with Edwin,” Hugh began, “I call him Emo. I was writing Tupac lyrics at the time. I didn’t know what I was doing, or why I was writing his lyrics, and I put the n-word in it because I didn’t know better. My mom found them in my laundry, and showed them to Emo, who was like, ‘hey, I’m glad you are passionate about it, but you need to be socially aware of this.’”
“Being that young,” he continued, “and being able to hear that from him was a good lesson to learn.” Hugh decided that if he couldn’t write other people’s raps that he liked, he should probably write his own. So, he quietly began learning about instrumentals: how to use beats, free-styling, and writing his own songs. As he got older, word spread amongst friends that he could rap.
“About the time I started going out and partying and stuff, sixteen, seventeen years old, when you get drunk and high in the backseat with your friends,” Hugh laughed as he reminisced on the nights he spent entertaining his friends, “and we would all freestyle.”
“At first it was like a joke, and I did not know what the fuck I was doing. I was literally getting high and rapping to my friends in the backseat.”
But as Hugh unknowingly built the foundation for his career, life hurdled a new set of responsibilities his way, fatherhood. “I had to figure out what this rap thing was,” he told me, “So I took a huge risk, and I did not do it the right way the first time. I fucked up the whole family thing. I have a great relationship with my son and his mom now, but it has been three hard years.”
When Hugh’s son was born, he was going to the studio and writing songs while attempting to keep his career under wraps to prevent rocking the boat at home. “That is where Hugh Glass came from. I could not be Zach Rowland rapping, because my son’s mom would find out.” The truth eventually came to light, and the fallout resulted in Hugh spending the following two years sleeping on couches or in his car, trying to get his life back on track.
Though he stopped making music, he never stopped writing. “Ironically,” he explained, “Most of the stuff I was writing at that time is what is on this album. It worked out perfectly, in the weirdest way. I took that risk, and now we are here.”
“I feel like I am taking the same kind of risk today – taking the leap and doing this music thing, but now I have the support of my son and his mother. I have this team around me. People like Josh, and Nagy. It’s not just some leap of faith, now there is this goal, and I feel like everybody sees it.”
The title of Hugh’s upcoming album is after his late father, John Wayne Rowland, nicknamed the Duke. “When we were going through all of that and I was writing,” Hugh elaborated, “I was also trying to figure out how to be a father, because I lost my dad.”
“So, there is Zach, then there’s Hugh Glass – that’s where I was running from Zach. The Duke is me figuring out what I needed to do to be a father. From sleeping on couches and not seeing my son once a week, to being the example for him that I want to be. When shit gets hard, how much sweeter is it going to be in five years when it works. I want that to be the story I tell him.”
“In a way, I am looking for my dad in the album,” he pointed out. “Here I am risking it all when my own son needs that. That is the duke. The guy that goes and risks it all. That John Wayne type. It might not look pretty, or look the way that you want it, but it is going to get done and I am going to make sure that it is handled. At least to the best of my ability.”
I recently had the opportunity to visit the set of Hugh’s latest music video, and while I can’t say that Zach Rowland fits “The Duke” persona in the traditional sense of the title, Hugh’s creative style and willingness to venture into the weird, or wild, or unknown, 100% fits the bill. Regardless of the character, he’s stepping into at any given moment, Hugh is the type of person you just want to see succeed. Now that someone who I consider to be both a friend and inspiration in my own life, I can see that Hugh’s story is only just beginning, and I cannot wait to watch the next chapter unfold.
Check out Mister Hugh Glass on Instagram and Spotify.