In 2010, after nearly 30 years as an MC, lyricist Ricky Rosa was ready to put down his microphone for the last time.
"At the time I was feeling torn," Rosa said. "I was getting older and I feeling done with this. I felt, this part of my life, I had to say goodbye."
But in early 2012, after receiving an award from his peers on the local hip-hop scene at a concert called Unity Jam, the music veteran, whose career has included performances at Madison Square Garden and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, decided to re-enter the scene.
"That meant a lot to me," he said of the award. "I got an award and I was like, wow. I fell back in love with hip-hop. That was the beginning of this."
These days Rosa, a.k.a. Paradox, is taking on a different role. Instead of using Tampa as a home base and traveling to cities with stronger hip-hop roots, Rosa is working to bring what he sees as disparate parts of the Tampa hip-hop culture under one banner, the Zulu Nation.
Created in New York City by hip-hop pioneer Afrika Bambaataa in the 1970s as a way to prevent gang violence, the Zulu Nation is a worldwide cultural awareness organization with membership groups, or charters, in cities across the world. The group's purpose is to bring together the four elements of hip-hop — MCing, DJing, break dancing and graffiti — and combine them with a fifth, knowledge.
Rosa's affiliation with the Zulu Nation began when he was break dancing and rhyming as a youth in the Bronx. He saw Afrika Bambaataa's growing presence as a way to find a family and get off the streets.
"Back then I was known as Spike La Rock," Rosa said. "I became a Zulu at 16. Back then, you put down your name, your address, and whatever you called yourself. There was a lot going on the Bronx back then. There was a little bit of violence, but Bambaataa was using these things for people to dance and to give them an outlet."
Following years in the military and a move to Tampa, Rosa didn't realize the extent of the Zulu Nation until the 1990s when he performed at an annual Zulu anniversary show in New York. The concert helped Rosa see the Zulu Nation had grown into something larger than he imagined.
"I recognized how powerful the Zulu Nation was," Rosa said. "It was beautiful. There was no violence. There was a B-boy competition. A DJ competition. There were expos and little kids and merchandising. ... There was no fanfare. It was just hip-hop."
According to Zulu Nation Southeast regional director Felix "Skeem" Rivera, appointing Rosa as the representative for the Tampa charter was an easy decision.
"He has been part of Zulu since the inception," Rivera said. "Knowing his history, it was a no-brainer to bring him aboard. His reputation preceded him. He has a passion to make changes, a passion for Zulu, and a passion for the hip-hop culture."
While working with the Zulu Nation, Rosa has also returned to the studio in an attempt to bridge the gap between the past and the present. He has recently released songs with local MCs Crush Capital, Slick Worthington and The Hybreed eM-16 as well as with hip-hop pioneers Donald D and Sha-Rock.
"My goal is to keep my pioneers relevant," Rosa said. "I am real big on that. The up-and-coming, they have time. My pioneers, they don't have much time left."