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 Hit in 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."
He looks around the crowded restaurant, at the laughing people sipping happy-hour cocktails, and takes another puff off his cigar. "It's like bein' born again, man," he says. "It's like my life just started."
Beaumont soul legend Barbara Lynn ("You'll Lose a Good Thing") will release her excellent new CD, Blues & Soul Situation, at a party at Cactus on May 23. The new record is on Austinite Eddie Stout's Dialtone label, which also released last year's incredible Little Joe Washington debut. This record employs a lot of the same top-notch session players, and Lynn's voice has never sounded better, nor has her funky left-handed guitar playing. As usual, Stout's use of vintage recording gear creates a time-warp effect. With Washington's record, you felt transported to a juke joint in 1961. Lynn's effort takes you back to about 1968, and to a much swankier establishment. "Movin' on a Groove" has the same good-timin', horn-heavy vibe that made "Tighten Up" such a classic, and her remake of her own "I'm a Good Woman" makes me wonder why this song wasn't a hit when it first came out four decades ago. (Moby agrees; he sampled the tune on his 2002 album 18. ) The comeback of drum 'n bass continues, this time downtown. Beginning Saturday, May 29, and every other Saturday after that, Industry Cafe will play host to Saturday Night DNB. DJs BMC, SDF-3, Classic, Audio3, Realtime & Arquer, Page and Worm will be behind the decks, and MCs Steve Swift and Full Effect will chip in with their vocal skills. Four years ago, Audio3 and Swift hosted the drum 'n' bass nights at Club Waxx and later Hyperia. For more info on the night, click on www.713dnb.com For the first time in the event's seven-year history, the Kool Mixx tour will come to Houston, though a date hasn't been announced yet. And what is the Kool Mixx tour, you ask? Well, it's a DJ and MC battle. Contestants are judged on audience response, creativity, accuracy and originality. For DJs, winners of a series of preliminaries in each of the 13 cities on the tour go on to the city finals, and then the national semifinals and finals. (And the grand prize winner gets a "Kool" $10,000.) For MCs, the battle starts at the prelims and wraps up at the city finals, where a winner will be chosen. To enter, you must be 21 or older. For more info, click over to www.atbpromo.com or www.houseofmenthol.com Want your ride to advertise your love of Texas music, but don't want to slap a bumper sticker on the back? Then pick up an Enjoy Texas Music license plate. The plate, which has a handsome color portrait of blues legend and native Texan Blind Lemon Jefferson, can be viewed at www.enjoytexasmusic.com. The plate costs $30 over and above your standard registration fee, and more than two-thirds of the money will go directly toward a fund that purchases instruments and music lessons for kids who otherwise would not be able to afford them. (Questions about the program should be directed to the Texas Music Office in Austin at 512-463-6666) It has come to my attention that there was a glaring omission in my list of the worst 30 songs in Texas history. And boy is it a doozy: native Houstonian and Waltrip High grad Patrick Swayze's "She's Like the Wind." Let's put it in at No. 5 and bump the rest back accordingly. The list's No. 30 tune, "Future's So Bright I Gotta Wear Shades," can consider itself off the list.