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Big Herk Interview

September 2, 2009

HERKresizeShady Detroit politics have been making the news for quite a while, as new corruptions are exposed. But Westside Detroiter Big Herk has been highlighting the griminess of the city lying outside his door for two decades. His real life accounts from the streets have become infamous within his music and he’s holding nothing back. Since taking the solo route after working with Rock Bottom for years, Big Herk has dropped one solo album and several mixtapes. While enjoying the buzz from his Got’Cha Back Entertainment label’s (click here) Playtime’s Over Vol. 1 mixtape, he’s preparing to keep rap fans addicted with his second solo album, Overdose. It’s only right that MichiganHipHop.com talks with one of the pioneers of Detroit underground music about the importance of versatility, what it takes for new artists to impress him, and the bizarre chain of events that has prevented Overdose from being completed already.

Herk, you have been in active in Hip Hop for two decades. How has that time helped you to evolve?
You evolve with life. You take life experiences and put them in music while making entertainment at the same time. But as you keep going you have to understand you have to grow with it. I evolve by just learning the ropes and adapting to different times and different types of eras. Rap changes every 5 years.

What has kept you motivated to continue making music for so long?
I love it. I’m an older cat so when I started out it was about the music. There wasn’t a lot of groups out like now. You didn’t have to have a gimmick. I’m from an original era where it was about creativity.

How have you seen Detroit music change over time?
We’ve gotten better, especially in production. The artists are being more crafty. We have our own slang and lingo. But I think now we put out more quality music that I think is better than a lot of people who are in the industry with mainstream labels. I think one thing we’re lacking is support of each other like in other regions. Down south, you see a lot of them collaborating. You’ve got a lot of egos here, so sometimes that hurts us from doing more than we can do.

What is the signature Herk style? What can fans always expect from you?
Expect a lot of diversity. A lot of people affiliate me with the street and songs from the hood. But at the same time, if you listen to my album and my whole repertoire period, I always do songs that are about the hardships of life and stories and songs that paint pictures about what’s going on in the hood. I have a lot of varieties. I don’t think any album should be the same song repeated the same way. There should be something for whatever mood you’re feeling. Make a little something that compliments that mood you’re feeling.

How much of what you put in your songs is based from your real life situations?
All of it is true. Sometimes they’re my stories and sometimes they’re other people’s stories. That’s what makes rap creative. You can talk from the second or third parties’ [point-of-view]. With me it’s reality. I’m telling stories about people I actually know and their life in the city.

What do you think about the state that Detroit—and Michigan as a whole—is currently in?
It’s tough. Lots of people are losing their jobs and homes are being foreclosed. Everyone knows the situation with GM, but this happened before in the 60s. We’ll come back and it’ll work itself out, but right now it’s pretty tough. We’ll rebound from it.

…There’s not too much to boast on right now. I think we’ve got a bad rep. But I’ve been to different places around the world and everyone’s got problems. It’s a worldwide event, and not just Detroit is going through it. But in just a couple of years we’ll have a few things to talk about.

How has being inside of Detroit underground music shaped your life and your future?
It’s definitely kept me from getting locked up or being dead. I was running around like most kids doing things you probably shouldn’t be doing. I latched onto music so I was in the studio instead of the street. I’ve made money and a living through this. I’m not a billionaire, but I’ve done things with eLZhi, Obie Trice, Eminem, and Slum Village… I can’t complain.

Of all the songs you’ve ever made, what have been some of your favorites?
“Confessions” is almost like an outpouring, letting out a lot of skeletons in the closet. Kind of like a cleansing. Putting it out there and letting people see what I’ve been through. “Usual Suspects,” which I did with Rock Bottom, is about police brutality and harassment. It’s a story about something people don’t like to talk about. Stuff like that where I talk about the political [issues] and address what is going on in society, the problems we have. It’s personal.

Your newest mixtape, Playtime is Over, features the artists from your label Got’Cha Back Entertainment. How did you decide that the timing was right to put everyone on?
Got’Cha Back Entertainment has been in business for four years. It was my management team at first that I had with my cousins. [The artists include] Young Devious, Young Herk, Super Mario, and Coke, to name a few. I don’t think it’s a timing thing; I take it as it comes. If I see somebody hot, then I go. We’ve been trying to build a company; I’ve been doing this shit since Rock Bottom…to now, so that’s a ten-year span of music. So it’s time to build onto the chain; I’m not going to be around forever. I’m an older cat, so I probably won’t be doing this for too much longer. I just saw my son go from being a baby running around to him being in college now. … It’s no different from anybody else. You go from being the custodian to being the boss. It’s all about growth, really. You can’t just keep doing the same thing and keep on evolving with the music.

What does it take to impress you?
I look for cats that got they own thing, I don’t like people that try to emulate. So people you see with a good formula for success, when you try the same thing, it might not work for you. I like cats who bring something to the table that’s different. As far as subject matter, I like versatility. I don’t like cats who are just saying the same stuff. Basically, they’ve got money, they’re gangsters. We’re street and on the flamboyant side to a degree, but it’s not overkill. We have more issues to talk about than that. I talk about the neighborhoods and poverty, crime, club songs. I’m looking for versatility, really.

If not versatility, I at least look for lyrical talent, because most people aren’t rapping like they used to. A lot of people are doing these little simple hook raps, and rap is real simplistic right now. We don’t have the Rakims, Big Daddy Kanes, Kool G Rap cats we had when I was growing up. Now, we just have people sampling and putting big beats behind it. I like cats that stand out from there.

What are you working on right now?
Overdose, my second solo album. I’ve dropped a couple of mixtapes and a soundtrack in between this one and Guilty As Charged, which was my first solo album. Plus, I’ve got my own artists and producers and trying to build my label, Got’Cha Back Entertainment.

What’s the word on Overdose?
Overdose is a work in progress. It’s a lot of stuff going on in my personal life to why it isn’t completed, which I won’t get into. But I wish I could do a documentary and show people the life outside the booth, so they could see what’s taking so long to finish this album. But I’m older, I’ve got kids. The average rapper still stays with his mom, a young cat coming out at 19 or 20. My mom stays with me, so it’s the reverse as far as the stuff that I’m obligated to take care of throughout my day besides rapping. My mother was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic, and I’m her caregiver and guardian. So I’ve got to make sure she takes medicine, I’ve got to keep her on watch. I’ve got to take care of my wife. … My son just went off to college. So that’s what I’m doing, and my money has to go to that; I can’t put all my money into recording an album. It’s a lot of personal things; some I can’t go into, because it’s that serious right now, but that’s the tip of the iceberg. So Overdose is still in progress, I’m not retired; but it’s taking a minute because of other obligations I have to take care of. …Plus, I’m one of the CEOs of the label. So it’s not like I’m just sitting around, spending their money; I’m putting my own money behind my stuff.

… Then, a year ago I had the album almost complete, and three or four of the songs, somebody else had the same tracks. So that had to be changed. Studio caught on fire when I was recording about four months ago, and I lost some more material. So there’s been a chain of events, constantly, throughout the past three years that have slowed up the progress. But I’m still working. I know people hear me say that, because I haven’t gone into detail like I just told you, so I don’t have to sit up and explain all of that. … But it’s a lot of stuff that my family has been strained with that’s more important than a rap album at this point in my life. … It’s almost like there’s a curse on me. But I’ma get rid of the curse, and I’ma get it done eventually. It’s about 65 or 70 percent done. I need to re-record songs, and some people who were on those don’t even stay in Detroit. So now I have to decide whether I want to go after them and keep the song as I had it, or go do a different song. It’s just a lot of stuff, but I’m a fighter and I don’t let it stop me.

When you say all of that—whether it’s your family, the studio catching on fire, or any of that—it sounds like great material to cover in your music. Will we hear about that on the album?
Yeah, I think I’m going to do a song like that. That might be an issue to talk about. Honestly, I wasn’t going to touch on that, because I don’t put out my personal business out like that to everybody. But sometimes, you’ve got to give people that so they can see. So that may work for a bonus track or something; you gave me an idea.

3 Comments »

  1. Beware4 says:

    Herk has always been my favorite rapper from The D, and I’ll wait as long as it takes for Overdose.

    Take your time man. You’ve earned every second.

    September 4th, 2009 at 8:04 pm

  2. HOLY DIRT says:

    big herk is one of my best MC’s
    other than too short and MY self
    HOLY DIRT:

    January 17th, 2011 at 9:10 pm

  3. gerald finley says:

    What up Big Herk i was a fan of yours way before you start rapping we grew up on Woodrow 2 gether back in the day keep them tight tracks coming. I will always miss Mrs Thomas rest in peace.

    August 26th, 2012 at 5:28 pm

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