The Rocks Off 200: Big Gerb, Houston's Hongree-est MC
Welcome to The Rocks Off 200, our portrait gallery of the most compelling profiles and personalities in the far-flung Houston music community -- a lot more than just musicians, but of course they're in there too. See previous entries in the Rocks Off 100 at this link.
Photo courtesy of Big Gerb
Who? Good luck finding a bigger Latino rapper in Houston than Big Gerb. Hell, good luck finding a bigger anything. The man is massive. He's round. And he also spits some of the realest H-Town G-raps still existing in the wild.
Gerb's frank and fearless flow can be heard on his mixtape, Trust No One, and on Optimo Radio, where Big Gerb (as in gerbil) has been a fixture on the show El Ram y Los Beaners along with producer and stable-mate Spiktakula.
Though his enormous weight and Hispanic ethnicity marked Gerb as a hip-hop outsider from pretty much day one, the heavyweight MC's passion for the rap game was ignited by the more famous fat macks on the mike, including 8Ball, Biggie and, most of all, late Puerto Rican rap legend Big Pun. In order to join their ranks, Big Gerb has worked to hone the elements that made them great, including a relaxed delivery, true-to-life lyricism and disarming humor.
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Big Gerb is well aware that he's a fat Latino rapper, so if you want to call him Houston's answer to Big Pun, he'll take it as a compliment. But his ambitions don't end there. With the backing of his Hongree Records crew, a talented assemblage of young Latino artists including Yung Surreal, U-Neek, Spiktakula and Astrid, Big Gerb has assembled a DIY operation that he hopes will help give an outlet to the city's frustrated Hispanic youth with dreams beyond the ghetto.
"There hasn't really been anybody since S.P.M. to do it as big as he did," says Gerb of the beloved-but-disgraced Dope House Records founder. "I don't want to be the next S.P.M., but I would like to be a voice for the Latino community in Houston."
Home Base: A native of the Northside, the rapper now makes his home in Houston's East End. Home base for Big Gerb is his bedroom studio, where he has constructed a surprisingly effective vocal booth from a very large cardboard box. Inside the soundproofed booth is a nice microphone hooked up to Gerb's computer, where he records his tracks.
It's a setup that allows Big Gerb to work on his own schedule, which is ideal when the work never ends.
"I run my own independent label, so I gotta do graphics, I gotta do promoting online, I got to print fliers, I got to go do the printing of the CDs," Gerb says. "I got to get the photographer in line; I got to make calls to the models. I provide the weed to everybody.
"When you're doing all those little tedious things, it takes away from the main thing, which is the heart, the music," he continues. "But when you're on a little small label, it's got to be done like that -- nobody else is going to do it for you. You gotta get out there and hustle."
Good War Story: When you ask Big Gerb for war stories, don't expect to hear much about the music industry. The man has seen some shit and done some shit, growing up in the ghetto. Gerb says that as his rap career began to gain some traction, he went to a local drug dealer for some investment capital to get his music out there. Before long, however, that relationship turned sour.
"I got myself into a situation I had to shoot my way out of," the rapper says.
Big Gerb says that he spent three years on the run, ducking an attempted murder charge, before scraping together the cash for a lawyer and beating the case. He's still sleeps next to an AK-47, though, and he's still looking over his shoulder.
"I live paranoia, dude," he says. "The dude I got into conflict with lives on the next street. You try to kill somebody and you let them live, you have that paranoia, like when's this dude gonna hit you back? You'll hear all that shit in my music. I only tell what I've been through; I don't talk about that other shit -- jewelry and all that bullshit."
Why Do You Stay in Houston? "It's home, man," Gerb says simply. "You gotta win home base before you can move out, I think. A lot people say, 'Oh, you gotta get that out-of-town money, and once your city sees everybody else showing you love, then they'll show you love.' But I beg to differ. I want to do it the hard way. I want to make my city love me, and if I've got my city behind me, who can stop me?
Story continues on the next page.
Music Scene Pet Peeves: Being a Mexican-American rapper in Houston, Texas, brings with it a set of frustrations that Big Gerb says he lives with daily. Most of all, he says he dislikes the friction and competition between Latino rappers in the city, all of whom are constantly trying to be the one brown guy everybody listens to.
"There's some Latinos out there who are getting all the shine, and I feel like they're in competition with me," Big Gerb says. "I feel like they don't wanna give me no recognition. They don't wanna work with me because they think I might take their shine away or outshine them. I might be a little more talented than them, and they think, 'Oh, he might take away everything I've worked for.'
Although clearly pissed by what he sees as his peers' refusal to recognize his talents, the lack of respect certainly hasn't damaged Big Gerb's own self-opinion. He stressed repeatedly during our interview that he considers himself Houston's best Latino rapper, and he's eager to prove that title.
Four Desert Island Discs:
- Big Pun, Capital Punishment
- 8Ball and MJG, Comin' Out Hard
- Pink Floyd, Dark Side of the Moon
- Black Sabbath, We Sold Our Soul for Rock and Roll
Best Show Ever: Big Gerb counts a performance at Warehouse Live a year or two back as his favorite show, and it sounds like a fun one.
"That night, I gave away 100 hamburgers to the audience," Gerb says, grinning at the memory. "I bought 100 hamburgers from a mom-and-pop burger joint in my old neighborhood in Northside and fed 'em to the people. We had Ronnie Spencer come through. He did that 'One Day;' that was a historic moment for me: Somebody that you grew up listening to is now opening for you."
Current Projects: "I got a new album coming out," Big Gerb says. "I'm thinking about calling it Trust Issues, or Anti-Social. It's got a little of everything. I've got a couple of strip-joint-sounding songs, some gangster shit, some feel-good shit -- something for everybody. I'm going to try to put this one on iTunes and have it out by February. I'm doing the mastering on the album right now to get it done."
See the rest of the Rocks Off 200, and the Rocks Off 100's 2013 alumni, on the next page.
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