Featured Music: Wednesday, March 08, 2006
A text-book New Orleans-style rapper, BigShott may be an anomaly in these syrupy parts.
Six Feet High and Rising

Displaced by Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans rapper BigShott tries his luck in Fort Worth.


New Orleans rapper BigShott was having a hard enough time trying to finish the debut c.d. he’d been working on for seven long years. Then Hurricane Katrina hit.

Two days before the storm, BigShott (né Tyler Lewis) had taken to the road with his mother and sister, whom he’d been sharing a house with in the notorious Ninth Ward. Their destination: North Texas. While he knew he might have to face the permanent loss of his home, he wasn’t sure about music. His prospects didn’t look good — the only person he knew in Texas was the aunt who was taking him and his family in. But as a longtime rap lover and unabashed fan of several of the many famous rappers who hail from Texas, Lewis looked at the forced relocation as a blessing.

His good vibes paid off. Since arriving, he’s started his own company, Guttabox Grillz, a jewelry wholesaler, and he’s come a little closer to finishing The Foundation, his years-in-the-making debut album. “It’s my final attempt,” he said. “I started it. I’m gonna finish.”

Lewis is an almost textbook New Orleans-style rap artist. He emphasizes rhyming about real-life stories in a tricky tongue rather than making up fantastical tales of vast riches in a cliché-ridden patois. His music has a tinny, bouncy timbre — something of an anomaly in a state like Texas where slow and syrupy are the norm.

The grist for his lyric writing can be condensed into a single year: In 1996, Lewis lost his father to a stroke, a baby cousin to leukemia, and several friends to violence, and his brother was sent to jail. “I look back on my childhood, and I had no male figure,” Lewis said. “I had women figures, but I didn’t have nobody to sit me down and give me the game. I had to interpret things and catch on on my own.

“I’m glad that the cats I hung out with didn’t turn out to be knuckleheads,” he continued. “I never really felt it until this year.”

Lewis traces his love of rap — as both an artist and a fan — to his youth, when he was turned on to some of the day’s radio-friendly national acts by friends. As he contemplated what he could say that hadn’t already been said by a million other rappers, he heard the music of 8-Ball (from the Dirty South rap duo 8-Ball and MJG) and big-selling club-rapper Big Pun. Both artists, like Lewis, are XXL men. “They essentially said, ‘You’re a big dude. Just be you.’” Inspired, Lewis worked on developing his now-distinctive and highly personal voice and points of view.

As an underclassman at Frederick Douglass High School, Lewis (now 23) decided to begin writing and performing in earnest. He and some of his classmates joined a massive existing rap collective called The Legion. They then proceeded to “trim off a lot of the fat” and christened the group The Legion of Doom.

Until the hurricane, the L.O.D. was working steadily, primarily by writing, recording, and producing mix-tapes and selling them to a decent-sized and devoted following. Even though the L.O.D.’s future is questionable post-Katrina, Lewis talks about the group as if it’s going to be back together any day now. He just thinks they’re too good to quit.

He credits his group with revamping the concept of the mix-tape. A cost-effective medium that’s typically full of seemingly never-ending and repetitive free-style raps over generic beats, the mix-tape, according to Lewis, became something else in his group’s hands: Instead of free-styling, the L.O.D. — Lewis, Massive, Venom, Golden Child, and C-zar (pronounced “Caesar”) — crafted entire songs, with verses, choruses, and hooks. The only problem: The L.O.D. had pilfered the beats. “We were hungry,” Lewis recalled. “We couldn’t get no beats, so we took ones from other mix-tapes and made songs over them.”

In an odd coincidence, a group called The Squad also began producing full songs on its mix-tapes — but with original beats. The group was also prolific: Seemingly every other week, Lewis said, a new Squad mix-tape would hit the streets. The collective would eventually become semi-famous for giving the world of hip-hop Lil’ Wayne, one of today’s biggest-selling gangsta rappers.

“I’m not saying [The Squad] heard our tapes,” said Lewis with a laugh. “I’m just saying they started doing something similar.”

With help from an executive producer, Tony Kash, the L.O.D. eventually began rhyming over their own beats. Now that Kash is out of the picture and no one knows if L.O.D. is going to continue, Lewis has been focusing on family, his business, and his solo work. He’s looking for a manager in town to help him book shows after the release of the c.d., “hopefully” some time this summer. But there’s a catch: The producer whom Lewis met here in the Metroplex and who had been helping out with The Foundation has moved, and Lewis has no idea where he is.

The rapper’s backup plan is actually an old one. An L.O.D. member and his brother who’ve both been living in Atlanta since the hurricane are still willing to pitch in. If you take into account the number of tracks Lewis has already recorded with several producers over the years, the rapper claims to have enough material “to release three different albums.”

On his one and only return visit to New Orleans, the storm’s destructive aftermath kept Lewis from seeing his reportedly ruined home; three bridges on the path to his house were impassable. While some of his friends have returned to life as normal back in the Big Easy (and tease him that he’s “fake”), Lewis remains here and is facing some more tough decisions. He wants to buy a house by the end of the year but isn’t sure where. “Business,” he said, “is good out here.”

Scratch tracks are available at www.myspace.com/bigshott.

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