Houston rap legend Mike Walls, better known as Mr. Mike, has been taking the streets to school for 25 years.
He and another Houston rapper, Thorough, broke through with their 1995 album, “Anotha Day Anotha Balla” with Suave House Records, which was responsible for a large percentage of the music that came out of the South. It was the hosting stage for 8Ball & MJG, Tela, and a duo by the name of South Circle, which featured Mr. Mike and Thorough. Their debut album became an instant regional classic, owing in large part to Mr. Mike’s lyricism and delivery. That set the stage for his highly anticipated solo album, “Wicked Wayz,” which dropped in 1996.
Mr. Mike didn’t disappoint his fans. With a surprise appearance from Ice Cube on the album’s title track, Mr. Mike proved that he could verbally spar with the best of them. His “Wicked Wayz” album is mentioned one of the top releases from that Suave House era and one of the best debut albums out of the South. Staying true to form, his recent release, “Lessons,” serves as a street anthem that highlights the consequences of the actions that rap music often glorifies.
Respected by his peers all over the world, Mr. Mike continues to make music with a message, which has been his calling card since entering the game.
Zenger News tracked down the Houston OG to discuss the aftermath of the big freeze in Houston, his new “Lessons” album and how he went about reinventing himself.
Percy Crawford interviewed Mike Walls for Zenger News.
Zenger News: Houston got hit with some oddly cold weather and it got pretty bad there. How did you make out?
Mike Walls: I’m blessed, man. Anytime ya boy can wake up and realize God done gave me another chance at life, then ain’t really much to complain about. As far as the freeze, it’s been a challenge. Different people, different homes, just little stuff we wasn’t used to that kind of blindsided us. So, the community had to toughen up. But you know, the strong survive, man. We had busted pipes, power outages and all that kind of stuff. It’s just a matter of holding people accountable, man, that’s responsible for a lot of things. Motherf—-r might not even be really doing his job, but you think he is, but he really not because he hasn’t been put in a position to be exposed. Hey, he is doing a great job. S–t, I’m glad he was on his game because if he wasn’t, it would expose itself. Governments, people in the government, got exposed for dumb s–t, but at the end of the day, hey man, it’s a higher power. We got a source that we can tap into when the world looks like it’s gone crazy. We still can tap into a higher power. That’s what I do, bro.
Zenger: One thing about Mother Nature or situations such as these, they don’t discriminate. I know some pro athletes who are dealing with their homes flooding, so this is not a rich people/poor people dilemma. This affected a broad base.
Mr. Mike: Mother Nature don’t discriminate. And nowadays, we don’t know if it’s Mother Nature or weather manipulation. They do that weather manipulation thing too. I hope it’s not no type of weather manipulation, I’m hoping that it is just Mother Nature and that’s just the way winter came down or the weather came, but yeah, when she come, you better be as prepared as you can.
Zenger: Last thing on the Houston freeze: You were out there pounding the pavement and doing your part to do all that you can. How important is it for you to just be visible during a tough time for your city?
Mr. Mike: It’s very important because at this point in my life, it’s not so much about me no more. The wealth comes from you making someone else successful or you making someone else happy. That’s when wealth begins to come in — when you’re able to put yourself in a position where you can do things for other people. I’m big on wealth. Not just being able to say, “Hey I’m rich! I’m getting rich!” I may throw it in my songs here and there on the rap shit, but in real life s–t, it’s about wealth and your health. And if I can help someone out there on the pavement out there, somebody loss, or I may see that I was in their same position, instead of me passing them up, looking the other way or whatnot, I don’t think that would be the humane and godly thing to do.
So, I share with ’em. Ministry is when we share experiences and share things and knowledge that we’ve gained with each other. It’s not like preaching where we’re trying to pull people into our way of believing. It’s ministry. Let me share something with you, you share something with me and maybe we take what we shared. “I would’ve never thought to deal with it the way you dealt with it; you’re the man. That helped me” and vice versa. Sharing with each other, ideals and testimonies or experiences we’ve been through. I love to help people — whether it’s mentally, spiritually, financially. If I have it to give, whatever it is that I have to give at that time, I give it because I get it back from the higher power. As long as he continues to put the voltage in me, then it’s my obligation to shine with it.
Zenger: You are still putting out some heat in terms of your music. Does it feel like 25 years since you released your first solo album, “Wicked Wayz”?
Mr. Mike: Actually, man, I went through a whole transition that people don’t even know about, that I literally in my mind started all the way over. Like I was a no name. This was after the Suave [House] departure and all of that. This was actually when I started my social medias. And I don’t have the blue check marks or none of that shit. My lil kinfolk that set it up … I had no idea about none of that shit. Now, everything is changing, and it’s all back to getting verified and back to get all my followers back and being in there with my peers, and all of that is coming. But when I first started it, I wasn’t really into it. And I had to really force myself to be more of a social media type. But I wasn’t going to come with no gimmick or no fraud shit. I’m gon come with me and this is me. And just by me being me, my life is a god—n movie, so I can just be myself and turn you n—g-az up, man (laughing).
Zenger: Everything has changed so much since your South Circle days and your solo career, you gotta be a part of this social media wave. Is it difficult to stay true to yourself and not cater to the trends?
Mr. Mike: You make it work for you, man. It’s like grandmama done baked a cake; it’s in there on the table. You can either go cut you a small slice or you can be a pig and eat up the whole damn cake. It’s in there on the table; do what you wanna do with it. The social media life is right there; whatever you wanna do with it, you can do that with it. If you wanna take it and use it as a gossiping tool, you can do that. If you wanna take it and use it as an educational tool, you can do that. If you want to take it and use it as a drama tool, you can do that. So, it’s just a matter of knowing what you’re doing, you see what I’m saying. When you know what you’re doing, then you know what to do with the s–t that you got going on.
Zenger: I’m not sure if you’re aware of this, but the West Coast legend formerly known as Crooked I — who now goes by Kxng Crooked — has been holding you down for a very long time. He’s tweeted several times that Mr. Mike’s “Wicked Wayz” is a classic. How does it feel to have someone in California respect your work like that?
Mr. Mike: Bro, I had no idea of that. This my first time hearing that. Ah man, I had no idea of that. That’s love. I send the love right back. The West Coast was like my second home at one point. People where I’m from thought I was from the West Coast. I don’t know, I guess I just, always listened to the music. That’s coming all the way from The Funkadelics, George Clinton and all them, all the way into the rap, NWA and everything else that they brought out there. I’ve always been a universal cat. We’re in a certain geographic, but our ears are universal. I’ve always listened to West Coast music, East Coast music, South music… all of it. I’ve always had respect for their artists and always loved that sound. So, yeah man, that’s love right there.
Zenger: You didn’t disappoint your core audience with your new album, “Lessons” because it’s that street science that we have come to love from you. Tell us about “Lessons.”
Mr. Mike: To sum it up, “Lessons” is basically like, OK, it’s time to go to class. It’s educational street music. That’s basically what it is. “Lessons” is giving you the other side of things that we glorify. “Lessons” is giving you the prison sentences, or the homelessness, and the I was up here, but you can fall off, too, the cemeteries. It gives you all the stuff we glorify, it gives you the entire picture of that and not just the glorified part. It also allows the listener or the student to be able to upload these lessons, so now my next project, this is how you apply those lessons. It’s like, you were in class, got the lessons, took the test or whatever, the bell done rung.
Now, you back out there in the wilderness, you back out there, so you take this and apply it now because you’re going to go back to your street life. You going to go back to your thuggin’ and selling dope. You going to work and going to church and living every day; you going to go back to that after class. So, we give you something to take with you and apply it. Hopefully, that will help the younger generation. I hope it helps the younger generation who are seeing how crazy the world is. They don’t have no idea which direction to take. If you in the streets, then you need to listen and you need to get your lesson. It’s not intended to really be in the club, unless the club just want it in there, but it wasn’t intended for that. It wasn’t intended for lil mama to be twerking and poppin’ to it. It was intended strictly for, man … it’s a lot going on right now. I need to take notes, get my mind right and get these lessons real quick. Boy, I’ve been going crazy out here, let me get these lessons.
Zenger: Your sound from “Wicked Wayz” to “Lessons” stayed intact. We see some major artists who have been around for a long time — OGs in the game — eventually conform to the now of music. How were you able to remain genuine within your sound?
Mr. Mike: Well, a lot of it have to do with, a lot of artists go with whatever wave them or the label feel like it going to sell for them. I never was caught up in doing this to sell to you; I was always doing this to touch you. If I was selling it to you, I would package it like candy. You sell someone some candy, they take it and then they are gone. But as far as that soul food, that s–t that’s going to stick to your ribs, stick to your heart and your mind, give a n—ga chills when they hear that s–t and listen to it, I wanted to touch people and grab a hold of ’em.
Zenger: I have been trying to interview you for the longest time, true OG, true Southern legend, and I appreciate your time and the dope album you provided. Is there anything else you want to add before I let you go?
Mr. Mike: I appreciate you reaching out and keeping Mr. Mike’s voice alive. Shout out to everyone that’s always been A-1 since day one and always supported. To all my street ministers out there, continue to allow the higher power to use you. Stay positive and stay focused. Better days are ahead.
(Edited by Stan Chrapowicki and Judith Isacoff)