Big Mike: Still Serious
HipHopDX caught up with Mike to reminisce on those classic records, to discuss The Convicts near signing to Death Row and announce his future recording plans.
HipHopDX: How did you get your start? What made you want to peruse rapping?
Big Mike: I come from a musical background. My father and a few other members of my family were really into music. So that's where the love for the music developed, [and] I knew I wasn't gonna sing. When I first heard rap - I think the first Hip Hop record I heard was [Afrika Bambaataa & The Soul Sonic Force's] "Planet Rock" [click to read] - I was like, "Okay, that's how I want to express myself." It was a way to express myself musically without having to sing or sit down and play an instrument. I feel like I was born to do it, that's why I took to it so fast and so easily.
DX: What type of music does your father make?
Big Mike: He does Jazz and Blues. He played with Buddy Guy, he performed for years in the French Quarter in New Orleans. He's a local favorite. He never really did anything on a wide scale, but he's a real accomplished musician.
DX: You were probably around a lot of great music growing up in New Orleans.
Big Mike: Yeah, no doubt. New Orleans is, in my mind, the music capitol of the United States, as far as the traditions and the history in the music.
DX: Was there much of a rap scene when you were growing up?
Big Mike: No, not really. It was just about deejays coming to the different neighborhoods [and] projects, pulling out the turntables and the speakers, and just throwing little block parties. You're talking about the mid to late '70s. I didn't see the Hip Hop scene really develop in New Orleans until like the '90s. And even then it was their own form, in the form of what they call bounce music. [Before that] we had a few guys who were following in the tradition of rap, like Gregory D. Mannie Fresh was his deejay at the time.
DX: When did you move to Houston?
Big Mike: I actually moved out to Houston around the age of like 15, but I was always back and forth between the two.
DX: What inspired the move?
Big Mike: My grandparents were living out here, so my Mom wanting me to have a better shot, to be somewhere that had more to offer to me than New Orleans, because we were staying in the projects. She just wanted me to have a better opportunity.
DX: It probably worked out well as far as your career goes, with the whole Rap-A-Lot thing going on.
Big Mike: Yeah, that kinda worked out. I thought I was gonna be playing football or something. But they had the Geto Boys at the time, Rap-A-Lot was coming out and it was like an outlet - [before them] maybe the only outlet down south was Luke records and they was into the booty music. We was into the street music, so...
DX: I heard Tony Draper had tried to sign you as well.
Big Mike: Well, me and Drape, we actually used to work together when we was teenagers at this restaurant. That's how we got together. I was letting him hear a demo that I did when I was about 15, He knew a person that was producing over there at Rap-A-Lot and he wanted to take the music over to him and let him check it out. But before then, me and Tony, we was like, let's go half and half on some studio time. His whole thing was having the record company, my whole thing was being a rap star. And it kinda worked out for both of us. It didn't happen [together], but we went in separate directions. He accomplished his dream over there with Suave House.
DX: How'd you make that transition to Rap-A-Lot then?
Big Mike: They had a little thing they were putting together, a group called The Convicts. They heard the demo that Tony had brought to them and they thought it'd be a good idea for me to be in the group. I just saw it as an opportunity to get heard and open up the door as a solo artist.
DX: So they put the Convicts together themselves? You hadn't worked with 3-2 prior?
Big Mike: I hadn't worked with 3-2 prior to that. It was just a situation I had stepped into.
DX: That's surprising because you guys had some real chemistry on that record.
Big Mike: Yeah, you know in doing the album we hung out. He would come to the hood and hang out with me. We clicked real well.
DX: The Convicts is one of the more hardcore, over the top rap albums ever recorded. Was that something you guys were shooting for?
Big Mike: You know what, a lot of the stuff was meant to be taken as being over the top, it wasn't necessarily our personal views. You gotta look at it like we're 18 year old kids. We're trying to get on, and a lot of the song concepts were basically topics that the label wanted [us] to make a song about. That's why when you started hearing me perform as a member of the Geto Boys, the songs concepts and the lyrics was different from what I had did on The Convicts. And you could tell throughout the years, when I started doing my solos, it was Mike, but it wasn't the same ideas as what you heard on The Convicts. So it was really just a project that they had in motion. I just came in and did what I did without straying too far from what they was doing.
DX: Did you ever piss anybody off with that record? I imagine a song like "Illegal Aliens" might not have gone over real well in certain parts of Houston.
Big Mike: You know what? You'd be surprised. I don't think too many people would've bought that record to be offended. It may have happened, but I didn't ever have anybody approach me personally and say that I had offended them.
DX: Well I think part of it too, is that it's so over the top, it'd be hard to hear that and take it to heart.
Big Mike: Yeah to take it seriously, to take it literally.
DX: What did you think when Jay-Z sort of remade "1-900-Dial-A-Crook" on "1-900-Hustler"?
Big Mike: You know what, when I heard it I was like, "Damn... this sounds mad familiar." But I took it as a compliment, myself. That just was proof that there were folks out there on the east coast that was up on what we was doing.
DX: What was the atmosphere at Rap-A-Lot back then? Were you around in the days of J. Prince's car shop?
Big Mike: That was a little before I came into the picture. When I came, it was straight up. They had offices for the label at that time. I didn't really hang out a lot with the cats around there besides when we had to be somewhere, go to a video shoot. I'd go to the office or the studio, something like that. But, back that then it was pretty cool, it wasn't no hostile atmosphere or nothing like that.
DX: I know you guys were either going to sign with Death Row or you did. Can you talk a little about that?
Big Mike: At the time they was putting Death Row together and they was choosing artists to bring up. I guess they liked the whole idea of The Convicts, Convicts being on Death Row, you know what I mean? So that's how that happened. We get a call and they tell us we going to Los Angeles. It just happened like that. That situation came about pretty quick. It was unexpected. We were down there working on a project being produced by Dr. Dre and the production team that was producing at the time for Compton's Most Wanted - DJ Slip and DJ Unknown. We was probably halfway into it and things kinda slowed down at Death Row. They started getting real heavy into The Chronic project, so everything [else] got pushed back to get The Chronic out - which is understandable. I had got the call around that time that Willie D had made an exit from [The Geto Boys] and they wanted to have somebody come in and fill that void. I thought about it, things wasn't really moving at [Death Row] and I thought it'd be a good idea for me to go and do the Geto Boys album and get my name out there further, to be all good for when I dropped my solo project.
DX: I heard that "Crooked Officer" was supposed to be a Dre record originally.
Big Mike: Well what happened was, when we was down there recording, I had some songs that I was working on. I was writing for my solo project and I let Dre hear the song. This was the time they was putting together tracks for The Chronic album. He heard it, he liked the song, he wanted to use the song. But I didn't know that he wanted to use the song on The Chronic, because after that I had headed back to Houston and I used the idea on the Geto Boys album.
DX: Was it at all intimidating having to fill Willie D's shoes?
Big Mike: Naw, it wasn't really to fill Willie D's shoes. I'm Mike; he's Will. I don't do what he do, he don't do what I do. It was just mainly coming in there and just assisting the team.
DX: It worked out well. I think that's one of the stronger Geto Boys records to this day.
Big Mike: Yeah, if you take a survey, nine times out of 10, that album right there is the album. When it comes to singles, the most identifiable single would be "Mind Playing Tricks On Me" [click to read], okay, that was a hit before I came. But when they speak of the albums, it's always Till Death Do Us Part.
DX: I feel like that's also one of the first Rap-A-Lot joints that really has a distinctly southern sound to it. You guys were going for more of a Meters type of funk than James Brown or whatever was big in New York and on the previous Geto Boys records.
Big Mike: Oh yeah, that's because one of the producers that was responsible for most of those tracks on that album was from New Orleans, a guy named N.O. Joe. The Meters are out of New Orleans, so he used a lot of their percussion on that project.
DX: So between the two of you, there's a huge New Orleans influence on that record.
Big Mike: Yeah we really added that flavor, that seasoning to the entree.
DX: Did Bushwick and Scarface embrace you when you joined the group?
Big Mike: You know what, man, it was mostly business. I didn't take offense to that because I didn't come up with them. It was respect there, but it was mainly about business.
DX: Was it always the plan to just do that one record with the group and then move onto your solo career?
Big Mike: Yeah, my thing was basically that I didn't feel like I was a part of that. I didn't come up with them. Of course, you know the Geto Boys faces have changed. You had Sir Rap-A-Lot and Jukebox and Prince Johnny C and DJ Ready Red and then came 'Face [click to read] and Bill and Will. But I didn't actually feel like a part of that. I didn't have that same passion as if it was something that I had my hands on from the beginning. My whole thought frame was [to] go out and get some shine on the Geto Boys record, get that fanfare, get that acknowledgment and let it carry on and transfer into my solo career. If I had opened up my mouth, I probably could've been able to be on the next Geto Boys album after that, but hey my solo career was doing so well, so I was good where I was at.
DX: I see Something Serious as being your definitive record. What was the thought process going into that album?
Big Mike: Well with that record, that was a collection of songs that I had written over a time span from maybe like '91, '92, '93. I wrote most of the songs when I was in Los Angeles, fucking around with Death Row and a lot of the ideas were conceived way before then. I had wrote about a lot of stuff I was going through on a personal level, how it was for me out there in the streets. And it was so different from what Rap-A-Lot was used to doing. They was doing hardcore rap. If you listen to Grip It! On Another Level and things like that a lot of the lyrics was beyond gangsta, it was on some hardcore shit. So I'm coming from the standpoint of a young dude, out there on these streets, doing his little hustle, getting his little bread, his experience with the women, his thoughts about social issues and things like that. A lot of the young money hustlers in the streets was able to identify with me. I was able to speak about the same things that they was going through. And it was a lot of hunger, I was really really hungry when I was conceiving and writing those songs. You definitely hear that. It was definitely a good look for me, I was very satisfied with the project at the time.
DX: One of the songs from there that always stood was "Havin Thangs" [click to read]...
Big Mike: Pimp C actually submitted me that track when [UGK] had first come out. I think they had [just released] "Pocket Full of Stones" [click to read]. He slipped me that track, and I actually went out to Port Arthur and stayed there for two weeks with him at his home, just vibing and going through tracks, laying down ideas. I had actually sung the chorus myself [originally], but I liked Pimp C's voice, it had that crunchy sound. I thought it'd be a good idea, so I told him to go off and sing it. So he went and sung it and the song came out perfect. It was definitely a classic. And that's another song that touched on the social issues. It had a social undertone to it. But the track was so dangerous that it slid by people.
DX: That was probably one of the first times Pimp was signing on a hook.
Big Mike: Yeah. Matter of fact my album was the first album that they ever featured on. I had Bun [B] [click to read] on the album too, he performed on a song called "On Da 1" that I had produced. I was just showing love to the cats. That's when they was really underground. I liked their style so I thought they deserved more opportunities to be heard.
DX: Now what changed between that album and Still Serious?
Big Mike: At the time Still Serious was coming out, Rap-A-Lot had merged with Virgin Records, Virgin/Noo Trybe. So I went from being hungry, just trying to get on, to being a commodity. For Still Serious, I didn't have much time to come up with song concepts as on Somethin' Serious. I was touring a lot, making appearances and different things like that. It took away from the time I would utilize for being creative. So I had like a patchwork of songs that I had recorded, maybe like 40 songs. I took them up to Noo Trybe and they heard certain songs that they liked that they wanted to be on the album. So now it wasn't an album that I had put together personally, just took my time choosing all the songs. It was more like a business and everybody involved had a say in it as far as picking the songs. I wasn't really too satisfied with the way that the record came out, but it did have some jewelry on it like "Burban & Impalas" and "All A Dream." And it did well, but I wish I would've had as much time as I had with Somethin' Serious for that album.
DX: What went down after that, you had a falling out with Rap-A-Lot?
Big Mike: Yeah, after that we had some contractual disagreements. That led into some other shit
DX: Can you go into any details as far as the other shit?
Big Mike: Let's just say it got kinda ugly. It got ugly to the point where some things went down and I had to do some time. But things happen. I don't regret certain things, I do regret certain things. But the situation deteriorated between me and Rap-A-Lot after the Still Serious album. Even though we had another album that they released on me that was in production at the time, we was going through our problems. I was still under contract and they released that album, entitled Hard To Hit. That album really didn't get the proper attention that it deserved because me and the label was having problems at the time. So, of course, they wasn't putting no money into the project So, I went and did my time and now I'm back out with a brand new focus, a refined sound. Matter of fact, I think I'm writing the best music of my life right now at this point. I'm just looking forward to making some new music and getting it out there to the public.
DX: Are you still putting out the album with 6 Two?
Big Mike: You know what, me and 6 Two, the company that we was working with on that project, we had decided not to jump all the way into bed with them. But we did manage to get a pretty good chunk of the album recorded. He has some things he has to attend to, I have some things I have to attend to, but we speak on the phone regularly. And someday soon we gonna get back into the studio and finish that project.
DX: What do you have coming up until then?
Big Mike: I'm working on a new album right now. I'm maybe like 16 songs deep into it, I'll probably record 30 or 35 songs and go through and choose the tightest out of those. We're looking to release it sometime in the Spring, or maybe late February or early March. I got a title, but I don't want to put it out there right now, because it's so tight I don't want anybody else to get up on it. I want to keep it under wraps until it's released.