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Somethin' Serious

Big Mike looks for a fresh start after three and a half years in the joint

"I'm glad to be home -- all the love in Houston, the love in New Orleans, the love in the free world, is definitely a blessing, for real."

A few months ago, former Geto Boy and solo star Big Mike probably would never have imagined he would be talking to a reporter in a Rice Village-area restaurant, but on April 29 he was paroled after serving three and a half years of a six-year sentence for an offense he doesn't want to talk about. ("Let's just say it was some straight-up gangsta shit," he says.) But he is willing to talk about what he's learned over the past few years.

"I always had a head on my shoulders, but when I was caught up in the mix, movin' a hundred miles an hour, you kinda lose track," he says, pausing to take a drag on a cheap cigar. "Judgment is impaired and things like that, but by the good Lord takin' me away, calmin' me down, givin' me time where I could focus on Him, focus on myself, focus on things that's important, definitely helped me mature a lot."

Originally one half of the duo the Convicts, Big Mike was drafted into the Geto Boys by Rap-A-Lot president James Smith as Willie D.'s replacement in 1992. After performing as a GB on the greatest-hits package Uncut Dope and 'Til Death Do Us Part, Big Mike went solo in 1994 and released Somethin' Serious in 1994, Still Serious in 1997 and Hard to Hitin 1999.

Somethin' Serious contributed at least two classics of early Gulf Coast rap: "Playa Playa," with its luscious Al Green-like hook that you still hear as bounce music on the Box and the Party, and the Scarface duet of "Daddy's Gone." The latter tune was one of the finest conscious raps of the era -- a sad-eyed, sympathetic look back at his teenage parents and their doomed attempts to stay together and raise him, and a call for fathers to be more than sperm donors. (As Scarface put it on the tune, "If you're gonna have babies you need to father them muthafuckas.") "Daddy's Gone" was fairly unique in that it didn't simply slam absent fathers. "Little do they know daddy also sheds tears," he rapped on the tune. "'Cause he don't know what to do / Be a father to his child, or run with a crew / You might say: easy choice, be a father / But why should he do it when his father didn't bother?"

"I wrote that after I had gotten an understanding of how relationships work," he says. "A parent gonna love his kid, love his family, but certain things just don't work out. So that song was like a message to my father, my mother, that I understood certain things. I was just letting fathers know that it's a blessing to be able to have kids. I just shot my story out there and I was hoping that other fathers would hear it and think, 'Hey, man, I'm missin' somethin'. I'm gonna go over there and check on my kid and be part of my child's life.' "

It was material like those two songs that set Big Mike apart from the pack, that and the greasy gumbo funk of his backing tracks. Big Mike is a native of New Orleans, and it always showed in his music. "Southern Thang" off Somethin' Serious was backed by a sample from the Meters. "You know I had to touch the Meters, New Orleans' own legends," he says. "I try to keep that home feelin' in my music. It's important to me."

And home for Big Mike is also Houston. "It's my second-favorite home to New Orleans," he says. "There's just as many people here that say that they raised me here as there is in New Orleans."

And he'll be based here as he works on his next, as-yet-untitled album. "I'm in the process right now of workin' on it," he says. "Some of my good friends down here been showin' me a lotta love. They put me right back in the studio, so we been smashing the gas. We got about six tracks done now and we might record about 50, just so I can get down to the 17 I'm gonna put on the album." (Death Row and Cash Money are said to be interested. "Those are just possibilities," he says.)

Two and a half weeks into a new life as a free man, the rapper is older and, he says, wiser. (Not to mention fitter -- he seems to have lost about 40 of the 280 pounds he once packed on his five-foot-nine frame.) To him, everything's a blessing these days. It was a blessing that he went to prison, and it's a blessing that he survived the experience, and it was surely a blessing that he got out.

"You definitely got bad influences in there -- evil is everywhere," he says of the penitentiary. "But you prove to be a strong person if you can stay away from certain things, you know? And I found strength in prayer -- prayers my family was sending up for me, prayers in prison I was sending up for myself. Fortunately, God kept me from getting all caught up in the bad things that was going on down there. I ain't never had no really bad run-ins with anybody. It was basically cool the majority of the time. Like I said, it was prayers that kept me safe and allowed me to be out here right now."

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