“Real artists push boundaries. If you’re a real artist, you don’t paint the same picture every day. It’s not about money, it’s about legacy. When you die, what will you have left behind as your legacy?”-Big Herk
(‘Trap Goin Ham’ produced by K.I.D.D.)
It’s a brilliantly sunny day in Detroit and Big Herk and I are walking around the DIA.
The Detroit Institute of Arts is a stately 3-floor gallery of global art treasures.
Displaying over 6,000 works of art (not including the hundreds of thousands of artworks in offsite storage warehouses) it’s hard to believe the DIA’s entire holdings were considered for the chop block during Detroit’s bankruptcy. The City actually considered auctioning off this entire establishment to pay the city’s debts. Glad they didn’t.
Herk and I are looking at the D-Cyphered photographic portraits exhibit featuring photos of Detroit rappers, including Herk, taken by photographer Jenny Risher.
“Those photos of me and Rock Bottom were taken on Linwood at an old ice cream shop. Alma’s Dairy Whip at Linwood and Richton. Jenny’s got a lot of photos here. I’ve collaborated with most of these artists at one point or another.”
Big Herk is a gifted & underrated lyricist known internationally for his law lyrical talent.
Herk is also respected for being humble, modest, thoughtful and articulate. He’s a creative storyteller who writes from the heart and personal experiences.
Big Herk has worked with Eminem, Obie Trice, Rick Ross, MC Breed, Elzhi, Slum Village, Royce Da 5’9”, Trick Trick, 8 Ball, Jazze Phae, Stretch Money, Tuff Tone, Merciless Ameer, etc, the list goes on.
As for producers/beatmakers, Herk has worked with Helluva (who also does T. Grizzley’s albums), Kidd, AK, Super Mario, Big Lou, Knoxville, Dirty Mac and others.
“I’ve done stuff with lotta performers man, but to me everybody counts. I don’t just do things with cats whose names stand out. There’s too many people that I’ve performed with and got love for to list. Detroit has a hidden goldmine of talent.”
While leaving, an older black woman sees my camera around my neck, walks up to me and says “I’m ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille. You ever seen Sunset Boulevard?” Yep, sure have, great movie. “Oh, yeah!”
Big Herk and I leave the DIA and roll through the hood bumping funk music while Herk puffs blunts of Sunshine OG from OMS Dab House.
Driving is a dangerous game of avoiding car-eating potholes while writing furiously in my notebook as Herk takes me on a guided tour of his neighborhood, Woodrow Wilson.
The neighborhood is near Dexter-Linwood in the dead center bullseye of the city of Detroit at Woodrow Wilson St & Tyler Street.
Big Herk: Woodrow for Life
“My Mom grew up in Woodrow Wilson. Didn’t meet my Dad until I was 16 when he came back to the city. Not sure where my dad grew up at. My younger sister and I grew up at my Grandma’s house.”
“Growing up in the hood was rough, man, just what you’d expect. Any inner-city ghetto has crime. At the time I grew up, Detroit was one of the world’s most dangerous cities. I’ve seen all types of crime.”
“Killings, drugs, guys beefing over turf, anything can happen here. You can get robbed at any time or have a good day, chillin, enjoying the world.”
“I’ve seen countless murders of close friends and acquaintances, man.”
“At least 100 people over the years, that’s real talk. Stems from a lot, not just one issue. Everything from money to ‘why you look at me like that!?!’”
“Streets are worse now. We used to do shoot-out’s and everything back in the days, cars rolling up, everybody pulling guns and shooting. But even back then, we had rules.”
“We wouldn’t just randomly, indiscriminately hit teachers or kids. These guys now are spraying into crowds like it ain’t no thang. They’re wilder and all the restraints are gone. Some stuff was off limits, everybody knew and respected that.”
“People are on a million drugs at once now, they got arsenals of guns in their trunks, they don’t know what Respect, true respect, or self-control or restraint is.”
“Detroit has its good points though, too, rich history, just a lotta angry mentalities. There is so much creative talent here. There was no market for it in years past, until recently.”
“Best part of the D is we got our own type of mystique. It’s up and down, it’s a roller coaster daily.”
Big Herk is an award-winning artist, writer, actor and entrepreneur from Detroit.
Known for his gruff voice and witty, street-themed lyrics, Herk has been rapping for over 30 years.
Amery Dennard (aka: Big Herk) attended Central High School off Linwood.
After getting kicked out for truancy, he went to night school at Northern High School off Woodward. In school, he played football as a running back and linebacker and played baseball as shortstop and third base.
Big Herk and his lovely wife Mecko married in 1994. They attended Central HS together but met afterwards.
Herk is also a father, he has two sons and three daughters.
In 1999, Herk got caught with his third felony, possession with intent to deliver and possession of an illegal firearm.
But with the help of a good attorney, Herk was only given lifetime probation, which was dismissed in 2009.
In 2006, Herk was given the Spirit of Detroit award from City Council for supporting the community.
“Public service is what it’s about, no money involved. Music is just one way of giving back. There’s lots of ways, I do other charity work, Coats for Kids, Hats for the Holidays, etc.”
Herk was the first and only independent artist in Michigan to sign an endorsement deal with Rap Snacks and his face is on the Rap Snacks Hot Sauce chips bag.
Story of the Nickname Big Herk
“When I found out one of my close friends was brutally murdered, I was so enraged and upset that I literally uprooted one of them concrete sunk flagpoles over at Longfellow Middle School.”
“My friend “G” saw it and started calling me Hercules. The name stuck and got shorted to Big Herk over the years.”
1980’s Big Herk was Rapping & Breakdancing
“I got into rapping from listening to the artists I admired. Run DMC, LL Cool J, Big Daddy Kane, Rakim, Kool G Rap, etc. Growing up I liked East Coast lyricists and West Coast beats.”
“Started rapping in school, in the lunchroom. I used to breakdance back in those days.”
“NYC wore shell toe Adidas shoes and Detroit guys wore Adidas Top Ten hi-tops and low tops.”
“Everyone wore the track suits. Rap wasn’t big at the time. Rappers didn’t have shoe deals, clothing lines, movies, or anything yet. Rap created a huge following and by the end of the 1980’s, everything changed. Rap was mainstream.”
Crab Legs & Real Talk
Big Herk and I head over to The Crab House (19721 W. 7 Mile Road) for some delicious crab legs, Cajun gumbo, turkey necks, Suicide Kool-Aid and BBQ hot wings.
“My man Big E went to Central High School with me. He owns the Crab House here and another one on Van Dyke and 696. Everything here is legit.”
Big Herk: The Early Years
“I started rapping and breakdancing around 1987.”
“One of my first groups was RDO, Real Def Organization. It was me and Maggie Mag. Maggie Mag is the father of female Detroit rapper Rocky B.”
“We did a track called ‘We’re Hard’. We used to record off a reel-to-reel in the studio. It was very primitive compared to the technology they have now.”
“After that I went solo under MC Herk, back in the days when everyone was an emcee.”
“Then some of my Woodrow brotha’s (J-Nutty, Charlie Picasso, Thrust) and me got together, the Woodrow Rebels and started Rebels Against the System. Our first CD was called ‘Motor Livin’.”
“Then in 1996, we started Rock Bottom Entertainment, put out a CD in 1997 called From the Bottom Up.”
“Getting played on the radio was a good feeling. It’s one of the main things in music, you have to get your music out there. I felt it was an accomplishment, getting admired. Took a few years to make a buzz. Just like every industry, it all breaks down to who you know. Who you know is everything.”
“To get your song played on the radio with respect, you had to get a buzz on the street first. Get it played on the street, in the club, radio DJ’s go by what’s hot in the street, so when they hear everyone bumping it, they start bumping it for the world.”
The Music Continues
Big Herk formed his own record label, Got’Cha Back Entertainment. Their first release was his solo LP, Guilty As Charged, in 2003, featuring the single ‘I’m a Boss’.
That album was followed by the album Still Guilty: Da Underground LP and DVD.
Herk is also an actor and has acted in the movies Project 313, Five K One and 2eleven.
In 2013, Herk dropped his third album, Overdose. Then recently, Herk and his song Young Herk put out their collaboration album Bloodline.
Big Herk Putting in Work
“I used to write daily. Would keep my folder with me like an I.D., all my lyrics were in it. Would stop and write stuff as soon as I thought of it because it was fresh in my mind.”
“I still have all the folders, 20+ notebooks, bunch of unrecorded fire.”
“I wrote the song ‘Confessions’ seven years before recording it. It was a personal song that I didn’t want to put out but my man O.C. died of cancer, so I put it out as a tribute because it was his favorite song of mine. AK was the producer on Confessions.”
“I was writing all the time, all day, every day. I’m a grown man now, I got grandkids. I’m at the gym almost every day. I’m helping my son work on his career more than anything.”
“Once I got some money, I bought a hand-held recorder, recorded my stuff on there. We barely had money to go to the studio, had to make it happen however we could make it happen. I still write now, just not daily.”
“In determining what song to release and when, it depends on the feel of the song, issues in society, etc. Timing is everything with music, man. And I was never writing to be local. We’ve always been competing internationally.”
True Rapping is an Artform, a Craft, a Gift
The global rap music industry is loaded with overzealous cowboys, oversized egos and disingenuine claims from rich kids with affluent backgrounds masquerading as tough guys. They are eager to sign elaborate deceptively worded contracts and have their personae mangled and recreated by record executives. Some major labels do little more than pimp out artists and control their profits. That is why Big Herk has chosen to stay independent, authentic and underground. He has never succumbed to the unfair and ridiculous tradeoffs of mainstream commercialism.
Herk’s cousin and manager Moe Abner says “Herk is an orator with a superior lexicon.”
“I rap because I love it. It’s a passionate outlet, my way of venting and not going out and shooting people every day. My music is traditional rap with a focus on lyricism.”
“Nowadays, many artists rely on social media “followers” and “views” not sales. People used to care about spins n’ sales. I’m into real music, not the watered-down circus.”
“My music is versatile. I do all kinds of songs: club bangers, story songs, personal stuff, I got an arsenal. Real artists push boundaries. If you’re a real artist, you don’t paint the same picture every day. It’s not about money, it’s about legacy. When you die, what will you have left behind as your legacy?”
Bars & Fire
“I could’ve left Detroit a million times, but I never wanted to abandon the city. Artists think the market’s bigger in LA and NYC but Detroit’s great. There is an underappreciated greatness here.”
“And if you can’t get your own hometown to respect you, your success means nothing. Build a following in your hometown first, then leave if you want to. Don’t just run away and pray everything will work out.”
“Work hard and achieve. Not everything is measured in money and Facebook likes.”
Big Herk’s sons Young Herk & Baby Herk Are Rappers
“My son, Young Herk, he’s dope and he’s next. Everybody keeps saying he’s one of the dopest young cats in terms of bars and lyricism. Listen to him, you’ll feel the same way.”
“My favorite songs of his are ‘It’s Only Right’ and ‘Trippin Hard’. He got a late start rapping but he’s talented.”
“My other son Baby Herk (aka: Juan Weezy) is also working on his rapping and doing a great job. I’m very proud of them both.”
Detroit is Fraggle Rock Cave of Hidden Talent
“Detroit is a goldmine of hidden talent. Sometimes it gets recognized, but most of the time it doesn’t.”
“Eminem is one of the best lyricists of all time. Like him or hate him, it’s true. Anybody who says different is just hatin.”
“Even without the helping hand of Dr. Dre, my man Marshall would’ve still been tearing it up lyrically. Most of his flows are funny, cerebral, witty, unusual.”
“Esham is a Detroit legend. Gotta give the dude credit where credit is due.”
“I never performed with Proof but we used to see each around a lot. Sad about what happened to him, lotta these types of stories, man. Good dude gets gunned down. And for what?”
Butch Jones & Young Boys Incorporated (Y.B.I.)
“Yeah, I know Butch Jones personally and his son Moe Moe (Jumeke Jones). Back in the day, YBI was getting money. When Butch got out of prison, he came home, him and Raymond Canty wrote a book called The Autobiography of Butch Jones.”
“Years ago, Butch Jones, with support from Blockbuster Video, was gonna do a documentary and soundtrack based on the book.”
“They had a bunch of people down there at Dexter and Monterey, including me, J-Nutty, some other rappers. They filmed us flowing at a block party. However, unfortunately, not long after, guys started getting killed on Dexter, so Blockbuster Video back out the deal when the Feds stepped in and blocked the release.”
“There’s still footage out there somewhere in private hands. I don’t know who has it now. We watched it once at The Dog Pound. It has all the original Young Boys in it, big block party, I’m on there rapping. It’s never been released anywhere.”
“Butch always showed me much love. Everybody’s got other sides to them. I’ve heard about Butch’s other sides but I’ve never personally seen them, just him being cool with me.”
“I know some of the cats that was in the Pony Down crew, too. Pony Down went the way of most drug gangs: jail and the morgue. People started getting indicted, body bags started piling up. Then before you knew it, one day, that was it. R.I.P. Teddy Grayson.”
“I love rapping. Two of my personal favorite songs of mine are ‘Thugology’ and ‘I’m a Boss’.”
“Besides that, I’m into sports and my family. I’m not into casual partying. I’m basically all business. I be chillin. I’m more of a homebody, go to my kids football games.”
“Young Herk was a linebacker. Baby Herk (aka: Juan Weezy) was a linebacker, he won two state titles. Both graduated.”
“Young Herk went to Crockett, it’s now East English Village HS. He went to school with Brandon Graham of the Philadelphia Eagles. My son replaced him as linebacker. Brandon knocked the ball out of Tom Brady’s hands in the Super Bowl.”
“Young Herk and I recently won an award for Best Hip-Hop Group at Uncle P’s annual Hip Hop Awards.
Uncle P & Brandon Scarber collectively give the UHHA (Underground Hip Hop Awards) every year.”
“I’m a private type of person and humorous.”
“Most people look at me and I think I’m some kind of street bouncer who’s a mean dude but that’s not true at all. Don’t judge a book by its cover.”
“I love the fans, feed off the crowd, the adrenaline. Give myself B+ for live performances, always striving for that A, always room for improvement, always feel I can do better, constantly improving. But wherever you perform at, the crowd is what counts, not the venue. I focus on fans and creating hot music.”
“I see all obstacles and challenges as opportunities to improve. And as a society, white, black, whatever ethnicity, whoever you are, wherever you’re at, we need to embrace each other more. Unity will be the Salvation and hopefully it involves music.”
“My own greatest personal accomplishment is being there for my five kids. Lotta cats aren’t there for their kids the way they should be. They either be dead and gone, locked up or just selfish and not involved. You gotta be strong, learn from your experiences and tough times and make things better. Build strong will and endurance.”
“My flows so cold, I hit the booth with a coat and a hat.”-Big Herk lyric from song I Told Y’all
Big Herk LIVE
Saturday, June 16th, 2018
5516 Michigan Ave.
Detroit, MI 48210
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