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From the Ashes: Former Geto Boy Big Mike

Former Geto Boy Big Mike attempts to set the record straight about his arson conviction.

In 2004, Michael Barnett was paroled and released from prison. The rapper known as Big Mike had served three and a half years for torching a studio affiliated with Rap-A-Lot Records.

That offense was the culmination of simmering tensions between Mike and the venerable Houston label, on which he'd released well-received solo projects and albums with Convicts and Geto Boys. By 1997 his star had risen so high that, according to Mike, Rap-A-Lot wanted to lock him down under a long-term contract.

The label attempted to make him an offer he couldn't refuse, and that's when the trouble started.

Serious business: Big Mike's 1997 LP was a critical and commercial success, but led to big problems between the rapper and his label.
Serious business: Big Mike's 1997 LP was a critical and commercial success, but led to big problems between the rapper and his label.

Now 37 and in a new phase of his career, Mike has decided to tell his side of the story publicly for the first time. Many of his fans know about the arson, but they assume it was the result of a mental condition or drug addiction. This is untrue, he says, and he wants to set the record straight.

"The only way to destroy those lies," he goes on, "is to tell the truth."

As girthy as his name implies, Mike wears an angular beard and his arms are tatted-up. He is extremely forthcoming and humble during a conversation at his apartment near Reliant Center, where he stays when he's in town. After getting into trouble as a kid in New Orleans, he moved to Houston to live with his grandparents and nowadays moves back and forth between the two cities.

This probably has something to do with why his music doesn't sound stereotypical of either region. The energy and up-tempo pacing on albums like his 1994 classic Somethin' Serious has a New Orleans flavor, while his lyrics are full of slang from Houston and other parts of the South. According to Mike, he taught Snoop Dogg phrases like "I don't love dem hoes" while they shared an apartment during their Death Row Records days.

Mike's short-lived deal with the Los Angeles label came about because Dr. Dre was a fan of Convicts, the duo consisting of Mike and Houston rapper Mr. 3-2. But as Death Row co-founder Suge Knight dragged his feet on their project, Mike began to consider his options.

A Rap-A-Lot representative told him that Willie D was leaving Geto Boys, and invited him to fill the spot. And so Mike returned to Houston and contributed to the group's 1993 LP Till Death Do Us Part. Though it was a strong album and eventually went gold, at the time it was seen as something of a failure, coming on the heels of the group's commercial and critical pinnacle, We Can't Be Stopped.

Mike was booted from the group shortly after he and Scarface had a physical altercation of some sort. Mike suggests 'Face was jealous over Mike's increasing fame. But Mike now had a platform to launch his solo career, and his first two Rap-A-Lot albums, Somethin' ­Serious and Still Serious, cracked Billboard's Top 40. The latter, released in 1997, peaked at No. 16 and demonstrated his commercial viability.

Around this time, Mike says, he attempted to collect some money he was owed by Rap-A-Lot. He called up founder J. Prince, who said sure, he could have his money, but he always wanted him to sign a new record contract.

This was news to Mike. His old contract hadn't expired, and besides, other labels were expressing interest in his services. Unsure what to do, he balked.

Apparently this didn't go over too well with Prince. Mike remembers their call being put on speakerphone, with someone lurking on Prince's end of the line barking threats. "Do you know who you're talking to?" Mike recalls the man saying. "Something could happen to you!"

Mike tried to put the conversation out of his mind. That night he fell asleep like normal in his house in a new Missouri City subdivision. But in the middle of the night, as he lay next to his pregnant girlfriend, something woke him.

"Did you just tell me to get up?" he asked his lady. She said she hadn't, so he lay back down, but sleep wouldn't return. Something felt eerie.

He walked into the living room and sat down. After pausing for a moment, he lit a cigarette and began a conversation with his maker. "Lord, I feel like somebody's plotting against me," he prayed. "Please watch over me. Don't let nothing happen to me."

Mike made the sign of the cross and leaned over to ash his cigarette. At that very moment, shots rang out and he heard the sound of glass smashing. A bullet penetrated the wall behind him, right where his head had been a moment earlier.

He hustled out of the room, avoiding the bullets and injury. His girlfriend was okay too, thankfully, as were his children — who, against their routine, happened to be with their mother that weekend.

It was divine intervention, Mike thought. Today, he doesn't come out and directly accuse Prince or anyone at Rap-A-Lot of orchestrating the shooting.

"Draw your own conclusions,"he says. (Calls requesting comment from the label for this story were not returned.)

Still, he felt what he felt, and in the coming days did a lot of thinking. He didn't go to the police, he says, because as a "street dude" that violated his code of ethics. Though initially he intended to turn the other cheek, an encounter at a local club with a Rap-A-Lot security guard made him change his mind.

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10 comments
Bee
Bee

I look at rap,a,lot side ways now dat was real messed up rapa lot I thout was a movement but if dats how j,prince is running his ship I feel a a tru fan he a messed up guy hes no different from sug..

Hoffmann_sean
Hoffmann_sean

Somethin serious one of my top 5 albums of all time one of them ones you just put in and every track is bomb! Bumpin havin thangs as we speak was my anthem when I was gettin $

  DJDigital UK12
DJDigital UK12

Big Mike Something Serious is a classic album. I wish you well Big Mike u right Allah is the greatest.

GMAN
GMAN

Glad to see Big Mike out of jail and doin his thing. He was a real O.G. Like Shawn said, he really kept it real, unlike some of the new douchebags today. Keep doin ur thing Mike. Your old fans will support you, and surely you will make new ones! Keep your head up Big Homie!

Teemon001
Teemon001

So where is the new material he promised?

Shawn
Shawn

I have been listening to Big Mike when the Convicts dropped back in the dayz, This dude right here is genius.., music , lyrics etc.. Tell's it real deal no bragging rights about 30in rims and a million dollar watch, just keeps it real with reality rap, something we need more of.

Wilsoncarlton
Wilsoncarlton

This dude is real and i heard his newest mix cd and it goes off !

 
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