The Last Mr Bigg Dead
( 4UMF NEWS )The Last Mr Bigg Dead:
The Mobile rapper known as The Last Mr. Bigg or The Real Last Mr. Bigg, widely seen as the most influential rapper to come out of the Port City, has died, a close friend confirmed Wednesday morning.
Shocked social media reports began circulating early Wednesday that Donald Maurice Pears, who was in his early 40s, had died. Rodney Toomer, better known in the area as DJ Rodski, confirmed the death. Toomer said Pears had apparently died in his sleep at his sister's home sometime Tuesday evening or Wednesday morning. Toomer said that Pears had been performing actively, but that he had been losing weight and experiencing kidney problems in recent months.
While he wasn't widely known to a mainstream audience, Bigg had a thriving independent career from the '90s onward, earning respect far outside southwest Alabama. He released two albums on Warlock Records, and was featured on the hit single "Poppin' My Collar" released in 2006 by Grammy-winning Memphis group Three 6 Mafia
Jeff Childress, longtime publisher of Real Talk Urban, a magazine focusing on Southeastern rap, said Bigg's legacy was huge. "I knew he had made it big when I went to Cincinnati and they were playing his music on the radio and in the clubs," he said, speaking of a trip in 2002 or 2003.
Especially when it came to his home area, he'd been helpful to younger artists. "He was a big supporter of the local scene, he made it big, but he always gave back to the local community," Childress said. Last summer he headlined a "Summer Jam" at a local club, an event specifically designed to give new artists some stage time, and to show them how to use it. "He tore the stage down," Childress said of Bigg's set at the event.
"He was known all over the Southern region," said Mobile rapper Rod Maine. "They treated him in Atlanta like he was a celebrity."
"He was a big influence," said Maine. "He was one of the originators of the local scene."
The rapper also was prominently featured in a 2010 documentary titled "Number One with a Bullet," focusing on the relationship between rap and gun violence. In the film, Pears describes a 2004 incident in which he was shot twice in the head. He survived, but lost an eye; he later took to wearing a glittering prosthetic, which gave him a second stage name: DiamondEye.
Admirers described his stage persona as a mix of ominous imagery and feel-good energy.
"He was more of a performer, like a narrator of the 'hood," said Childress. "He's one of the best performers you'd ever see."
"His signature was performance," said rapper Afori "C-Nile" Pugh, adding that Bigg often performed wearing a mask like that of the murderous character "Jason" from a series of popular horror movies. "His signature was party music, fun music. He always had a sense of humor."
"He was an entertainer," said Toomer. "He had really good, catchy hooks on the recordings, but when you saw him live he'd do Michael Jackson skits, he'd moonwalk, he'd sing 'My Girl,' he would incorporate all these old-school influences into his shows."
About the time "Number One with a Bullet" was released, Bigg went into semi-retirement. But although he didn't release much new music, he continued to perform actively. Toomer said he had recently performed in Tuskegee, and had upcoming shows in several cities including Detroit. The fact that people still wanted to book him showed the staying power of his music, Toomer said. "Even now, when certain songs come on in the club, people go crazy."
Toomer said discussions had been under way for Bigg to appear at Funk Fest in Mobile on June 6. Now, Toomer said, the event likely will include at all-star tribute to The Last Mr. Bigg.
Toomer also said that the long recording hiatus was about to end: Pears was within weeks of releasing a new album when he died. His death left release plans uncertain, but it's likely the new music will come out at some point, Toomer said.
But Pears also was building another legacy, Toomer said, as he moved on from the violence of his youth.
In a 2010 Press-Register interview, Pears described his younger, wilder days by saying "I was a gangster. I was in the street." At 19 he had been charged with robbery and assault with a deadly weapon; another arrest in 1994, after a shootout and car chase, sent him to prison for almost five years. He used the time to hone his rapping skills, making music as best he could: "I'd tap out a rhythm on the wall with a toothbrush, while some of the other guys would hum a melody," he recounted.
A later drug arrest, which he disputed, inspired "Trial Time," one of his signature songs. The charges were eventually dropped.
In recent years, particularly after the apparently unprovoked shooting that cost him an eye in 2004, Pears had gained a more mature perspective that he tried to pass along, Toomer said: "He came through it ... he was working with kids, telling them to learn from his experience," he said.
"He was a legend here," said Toomer. "No matter what, he was a legend here."
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