Big Mike Attack

The sinister turns serious with a new take on rap

It took Mike a year to write Somethin' Serious. "I was going through a lot of changes, contractual problems and stuff. It took me from here back to Louisiana to Atlanta back to Louisiana. I was just running around trying to find some help. Trying to work things out. It took me a year of doing all that rippin' and runnin'. Things were on my mind, and that's what's on my album."

It's an odd album, one that forgoes rap's endemic fantasy and caricature role-playing in favor of more immediate personal material, and one that promises to force nationwide recognition of an emerging Southern sound in hip-hop, a sound that, until recently, has been overshadowed by the more established West Coast and East Coast styles.

"I was kinda scared to put some of that stuff out," Mike says, "but every time I sit down and try to write something, it always comes out like that. Every time I put the pen to the page it just comes out, whatever's inside of me. I don't know if that's good or bad. It sounds good though. As a solo artist, you want to express yourself. You want people to get into Big Mike. I try to distinguish myself, set myself aside from the rest because there's so many rappers coming out, it's easy to get lost in the shuffle."

But if the deck is stacked with rappers rhyming on guns and bitches and cars and cash, it's Mike's take on life -- something that all rappers claim as their lyrical territory, but few have the balls to address without the distance of fiction -- that sets him apart from the crowd. Take a track like "Havin Thangs," on which Mike addresses the ultimate emptiness of possession culture. It's not a terribly new thought, but in rap -- home to no small number of artists who entered the game to escape poverty as much as they did to find a means of artistic expression -- it's a bracing slap.

Somethin' Serious, released June 28, debuted on Billboard's R&B album chart at number four and has remained there ever since, trailing only Keith Sweat, Warren G. and The Brat, all radio heavy-hitters. Over on the pop charts, where rap albums often debut high and then start a quick slide into obscurity, Somethin' Serious came in at 54, moved to 49 in its second week of release and is currently sitting pretty at number 40 with a bullet. As a result of the buzz, Mike and Rap-a-Lot labelmate Seagram have been invited to perform at Rap Sheet magazine's prestigious Second Anniversary Party in Los Angeles on August 3, alongside rap kingpin KRS-1 and others.

It's an auspicious solo debut, made all the more so by the fact that the 430,000 copies of Somethin' Serious sold so far have moved without the benefit of a promotional single, radio single, or promotional video.

Reggie Dennis, music editor at rap media organ The Source, says the faddish hip-hop community is taking notice. "These days there aren't too many rappers that stand apart. Mike's been around for a while, but this is the first time he's really been able to shine, and he really surpasses expectation," Dennis says. "It caught a lot of people by surprise. His stuff is honest. So many people are trying to be something they're not, but he doesn't sound like a comic book or a cartoon or a caricature of a rapper. [The album] strikes a chord in a lot of people."

That might well come as a validation of the type of personal expressiveness Mike is introducing to rap, but sitting down and talking with the man, you get the distinct impression that multiple brushes with both acclaim and desperation have left him with a tightly fastened head about such matters.

"Sometimes," Mike says during our interview, perhaps foreseeing the way the album might hit, "you get that feeling like "I've made it." Then the business turns around and slaps you in the face, lets you know that you ain't made it yet. Bill collector's still at your door, mouths still need to be fed. But it's what I wanna do. It's the thing that keeps me going. I gotta make it. I want it for myself, because the money and the fame and all that is kind of elusive. It comes and goes.

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