Bayou City

Brush With Death Made Big Yogi a Houston Rap Contender

Big Yogi isn't your usual Houston-area rapper.
Big Yogi isn't your usual Houston-area rapper. Photo by An Le/Courtesy of Big Yogi
A long time ago Chris Tenney, who raps under the name Big Yogi, got into a terrible drunk-driving accident that led to his being Life-Flighted to a hospital. Injuries from the crash resulted in his developing a rare hernia, and doctors told him he had a tear in his stomach lining that was just increasingly getting bigger.

He didn’t have any insurance, so he put off taking care of this injury, which resulted in his getting bigger. “I was really overweight; I was almost 400 pounds and trying to perform onstage under the hot lights. I used to lose my breath,” he says.

Now Tenney has done a wide array of shows in just around a year, after a gastric sleeve procedure helped him shed around 170 pounds. He got it done at a doctor’s repeated urgings and paid for it through help from family, friends and extra tattoo work on the side.

Reinvigorated and weighing less than half of what he used to have helped Yogi in his rap career as well. “You can imagine the boost in confidence it’s given me,” Tenney explains. “Man, I just gotta keep coming and keep coming hard.”

But what’s even more interesting than the fact that Big Yogi went from being an extra-chubby rapper to a guy whose BMI is probably within the "perfect" range is the fact that he started rapping at an age when most people are considering career changes or upping their contribution to their 401(k).

Tenney went from drunk freestyling at bars to opening for acts around Houston at age 38. Fellow Pasadena rap crew S.E.J. did a show at Scout Bar some time ago that Tenney says really sparked his interest in rapping.

“I just started writing; they boosted my confidence and said, ‘You got something, bro, don’t stop.’”

While his inspirations have come from rappers who were part of the Insane Clown Posse-repping Juggalo culture, Tenney says he considers his affiliations more universal.

Other rap crews from Pasa-get-down-dena also inspired him as well. “I’m trying to put Pasadena on the map, and get the name back on there again. We’ve had a couple of veterans come through here,” he says, referring to rappers like Lord Loco and the group The Most Hated.

For Big Yogi the unity in Houston’s rap scene means everything. He’s gone from playing with the South East Juggalos (SEJ) to this Saturday's show with Lil Keke. He’s gotten support from fellow artists like Tow Down, to leaders in the car culture for a recent song called "Ride 4s."

As a promoter working for his Gonna Eat Productions banner, he’s been setting up shows down in San Leon at the 18th St. Pier Bar & Grill, and has been able to perform alongside guys like Kirko Bangz.

His mission is to bring back the passion of hip-hop while representing Houston and Pasadena. “I just picked a pen up and put my emotions and parts of my history down and what I’ve been through in life,” he says.

“I’m truly blessed to have the respect and support I’ve been getting, man, it’s just been coming out of nowhere. I’ve only been in the game a year.”

Big Yogi performs as a special guest with Lil Keke Saturday, August 12 at 18th St. Pier, Bar & Grill, San Leon, 832-690-9519. See Facebook event page for more information; tickets start at $20.
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Camilo Hannibal Smith started writing for the Houston Press in 2014. A former copy editor, he was inspired to focus on writing about pop culture and entertainment after a colleague wrote a story about Paul Wall's grills. His work has been published in the Los Angeles Times and the Source magazine.