R.I.P. MC Overlord

Groundbreaking local rapper seeded ATX hip-hop like no other

MC Overlord in 1999
MC Overlord in 1999 (by John Anderson)

MC Overlord, the groundbreaking rapper and an Austin music fixture for three decades, has died at the age 49, friends confirm. The cause of his death hasn’t been made public.

The longtime local MC, real name Don Robinson, had been hospitalized with an undisclosed ailment over the summer, but seemed to be on the mend, posting on Instagram Monday that he “survived a close call in 2018.”

Overlord, who also made children’s music as Big Don, ranks as the all-time leader in the Best Hip-Hop category of the Austin Music Awards, with nine wins in the community-voted honors.

Born and raised in St. Louis, he moved to Austin to attend college in 1987. The following year, he dropped out to pursue a career in hip-hop. That decision led to a dynamic, 30-year career and an immeasurable impact on rap music in Austin.

One of Overlord’s noted achievements was finding success in spaces where hip-hop previously hadn’t existed in Austin, which Andy Langer documented in a lengthy, 1999 Chronicle profile:

“Not only has MC Overlord consistently challenged himself and fans with ambitious live instrumentation, he’s also gracefully turned the other cheek when the local hip-hop community spent years snickering at his ‘Westside’ appeal and predominately white fan base.

“As a matter of fact, Mercedes Robinson's son has all but single-handedly taken local hip-hop places it’s rarely been in Austin – not just west of I-35, but also onto Sixth Street (Steamboat), lily-white local rock radio (KLBJ), and even the Austin Music Hall’s large stage (1997-98 Austin Music Awards). It may have taken him 10 long, hard-fought years to earn citywide respect, but MC Overlord has ultimately become Austin’s most recognizable and undeniably promising rapper.”

“He was the big brother of Austin hip-hop,” states Juana Esperanza, a member of Nineties rap crew Cooley Girls.

Esperanza recalls that when she came up as a young vocalist in Austin, there weren’t many stages available to rap groups, but Overlord made a point to feature them at a downtown club called Hip-Hop City.

One of Overlord’s noted achievements was finding success in spaces where hip-hop previously hadn’t existed in Austin.

“He opened doors for us to do a lot of traveling and play shows,” says Esperanza. “We got to open up for Geto Boyz and tour with 2 Live Crew all as a result of him. A lot of people have built their careers off opportunities that Overlord gave them. And he never stopped like a lot of people did, so I take my hat off to him.”

Indeed Overlord’s epic trail of largely self-released albums proved ever-flowing. Just last year, he released You Ain’t Know?, on which his positive and powerful wordplay and clear delivery still resonated loud and proud.

The physically imposing MC preferred live bands to backing tracks and often fronted large, funk-oriented groups that featured A-list musicians such as Brannen Temple, James Speer, and the recently departed Stephen Greer.

Promoter, blogger, and one-time South by Southwest hip-hop booker Matt Sonzala reflected on MC Overlord’s impact this morning.

“Overlord was the first rapper I saw perform in Austin and that was in 1992,” he recalled. “Since then, you’d be hard pressed to find an Austin Chronicle that didn’t have his name in the music listings. He was a true Austin artist who really did what a lot of Austin rappers want to do: He became a leader in his community and in hip-hop culture in Austin simply by being himself – keeping it real and working hard.

“And when he reinvented himself as Big Don, he took things to a whole ’nother level.”

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS POST

MC Overlord, Don Robinson, Matt Sonzala, South by Southwest, Austin Music Awards, Brannen Temple, James Speer, Stephen Greer, Juana Esperanza, Cooley Girls

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