Z-Ro was born Joseph Wayne McVey in Houston’s notorious South Park neighborhood on January 19, 1977. At age six his mother died, and he was shuttled from household to household in search of stability, eventually settling in the Ridgemont area of Missouri City in Southwest Houston. When Z-Ro reached his late teens he was unemployed and resorted to drug dealing and hustling on the streets. According to Z-Ro, listening to the music of 2Pac, Geto Boys, Street Military, K-Rino and Klondike Kat inspired him to work harder for his goal of leaving the streets. Z-Ro discovered his talent of freestyle rapping and after going through a couple of recording studios to make a demo, the CEO of a local label discovered and signed him.
In 1998, Z-Ro released his debut album, Look What You Did to Me. Z-Ro is also a member of the original Screwed Up Click, an assortment of rappers from Houston. He celebrated his 22nd birthday at DJ Screw's house, recording the "Blue 22" tape. All of these things helped to escalate Z-Ro’s popularity throughout the South and by 2002 his talent and hard work caught the attention of Rap-a-Lot’s founder and CEO James Prince, who offered him a deal.