- Lil Mike - Recording Artist
- FUNNYBONE - Producer / Recording Artist
By Ken Raymond
Lil Mike and Funny Bone are, almost certainly, Oklahoma City 's only on-call, full-time, American Indian, little people, hip-hop artists.
But they're anything but a novelty act.
The brothers, respectively - have spent years making the rounds of churches, children's birthday parties and retirement homes while developing their skills as beat-makers and rappers in a series of independently produced recordings.
Their songs have found radio play on Radio stations, including KOKF 91 FM & Power 103.5FM & other Stations in Tampa, FL. & in Michagian. Others have appeared solely on albums with titles such as "Str-8 Outta OKC" and "From Da Flesh 2 Da Bone." Their most popular, a crunk CD titled "Dirty South Native Style," features a song about a popular northeast Oklahoma City chicken stand.
Lil Mike and Funny Bone have won talent contests, opened for big-name Christian acts such as Nu Wine, played gigs in penitentiaries and been mobbed by screaming teens in Arkansas.
Getting to that point hasn't been easy. From homelessness to gang violence to "size-ist" discrimination, the brothers have hustled and flowed their way from nothing to something - even if they still have a long way to go.
Heavenly father figure
Lil Mike struggled for a moment, eyes unfocused, then pointed at his brother.
"I don't know, man," he said, standing outside their booth at the Old Paris Flea Market. "Ask that dude."
The question shouldn't have been a difficult one, but asked to say and spell his last name, Lil Mike found himself confounded. He doesn't go by the name on his birth certificate. Neither does Funny Bone. And the spelling momentarily slipped his mind.
In a way, it makes sense that the brothers, members of the Pawnee tribe, have turned their backs on their given names. It'd be a little confusing if they hadn't.
There is another brother, now living in a Texas halfway house after a robbery conviction - but they're not sure if there's an original Jesus.
What they do want to talk about is their faith in God, whom Funny Bone calls "the only man that actually was a father figure."
Belief in that heavenly Father helped Lil Mike escape gang life and gave them both the courage to stand tall in the spotlight - despite being only about 4 feet 9 inches tall.
"Call us short," Funny Bone said. "We don't like being called midgets or dwarves. We're short."
From gangs to gospel
When he was about 10, Lil Mike said, he joined the North Side Piru Bloods, an Oklahoma City branch of a Los Angeles gang.
By that point, the boy had already suffered more than most kids his age. Lil Mike said he was abused, endured bouts of depression and threatened suicide. Being small and poor didn't help.
He didn't care about school, where he eventually ended up in special education classes. But he did care about the gangsters, who encouraged his violent temper by calling him Young Fighter.
One day in 1989 or 1990 - he can't remember which - Lil Mike witnessed a gang shooting. The image stuck with him.
When he tried to break free of the gang, he said, the others attacked him, kicking him in the back and pummeling him repeatedly. Scars on his forehead, he said, date back to that attack.
The incident drove him from the streets and into a Baptist church. Over the next few years, he heard the testimony of the Gospel Gangsters, a Christian rap group, and was awed by the Power Team, bodybuilders who praise God and break bricks.
"I was already a Christian," Lil Mike said. "But seeing them just made me rededicate myself."
Lil Mike realized he had a message to share, too. He could help other kids avoid gangs. He could show them that no matter how many obstacles you face, God can help you through them.
Inspired, Lil Mike joined a group called Intensity, which performed at elementary and middle schools. He recited his own poems and danced across the stage dressed as pop star Michael Jackson, whose dance moves he'd learned from watching videos over and over again in slow motion. He took part in skits designed to show gangs aren't cool.
At one show, Lil Mike recited verse as music played in the background. Afterward, someone complimented him on his ability to rap - and a would-be hip-hop star was born.
Making beats in a bunk bed
"This is the beatmaker right here," Lil Mike said, slapping his brother on the shoulder during an interview at The Oklahoman.
Funny Bone said his life has been relatively normal - no thugs or drama.
"I'm like exactly the amount of years younger than him (Lil Mike) to just miss all of that stuff," he said.
He was the right age to idolize Lil Mike, though, and he wanted to perform, too. While still a child and with his older brother's help, Funny Bone adopted his new name and stage persona.
"I tried to be funny," he said. "I dressed all weird and was saying weird stuff on stage like, 'I like gummi bears. Put them in my underwear.' Stuff like that."
Soon, he was rapping as well as telling jokes. Initially, the brothers vocalized over professionally produced instrumental tracks. They didn't begin making their own music until about six years ago, when their mother won a home computer from a bank.
At first, they didn't quite know what to do with the computer.
Now, the brothers write, produce and record their own albums in a minimalist recording studio in the home they share with their mother and two other siblings. The studio is set up on the lower level of a set of bunk beds and consists of the computer, the music program and a $5 microphone from the dollar store.
'Trying to get our name out'
For Lil Mike and Funny Bone, the music business is pretty much their only job - and it doesn't pay well.
They spend weekends at the flea market, selling their own recordings and those of other local hip-hop artists at a booth called "405 Music." They have a booking manager, Connon "" Neal, who helps them book gigs, and they're willing to do just about anything for a chance to perform.
"They don't even have to really pay us that much as long as the drive ain't that far," Lil Mike said. "We're just trying to get our name out there, let everybody know we're good at what we do so we can make money and help Mom pay the bills."
Their highest paying gig was writing a commercail song for a company, which paid $1000 in cash. They said they've received the star treatment a few times, twice when they opened for nationally known Christian artists in Atlanta and Houston and once in 2001 when they played at a large church in Fort Smith, Ark.
Before that gig, they were given a driver, were put up in a corporate apartment and were provided with any food they wanted. At the show, they were each assigned bodyguards.
"Funny Bone got bum rushed," Lil Mike said. "He took all my bodyguards. I didn't even need no bodyguards."
Mostly, though, it's private parties and church shows.
While they wait for their big break to come along, the brothers are writing and recording as many songs as they can - including their first ever rock song.
"Our mom liked it," Funny Bone said. "The last time she was crying, it was because we did a love song for her. When she heard this rock 'n' roll song, she started crying, too. I asked her why she was crying. I was trying to figure it out.
"She just said we'd come a long way."
That's The Way Lil' Ron Rolls
Our Thursday night event was really fun this week. We had tons of kids and several new faces. The evening was almost beyond controlled chaos. Definitely one of those nights that lives up to my "If you don't have a headache, we haven't had fun yet" motto. Some of the new faces are due to our going to a couple of local schools during the week. The funny thing is that we are attracting as many new youth ministers as kids. 6 Youth For Christ guys came, which is really encouraging that youth people would come hang out with us on their day off. I think some are just using us for our internet and gourmet food. Probably the most curious of the new guests were Lil' Mike and Funny Bone, who are a pair of Native American, MC, rapping, DJ, midgets. I know you're wondering if I'm making that up. I would have been making it up if I would have said Native American, MC, rapping, DJ, midget, ninjas....that would have been too much. Even thought they are not ninjas they definitely are soldiers for Jesus. Chandy met them last week at NW Classen High School. Mike and Bone hang out with the kids on Mondays with Youth For Christ. Everywhere they go, they're greeted by the kids as if they were minor christian celebrities, and apparantly they are! The duo have major street credit which means they spend a lot of time with the kids. Mike and Bone came to RI complete with an entourage which I might get later on if I attain "Minor Christian Celebrity" status. They arrived in style as they pulled up in their tricked-out Honda. On the side of the car, as big as the door panels was the word "MIKEBONE" in bright silver lettering. I looked out the window and asked Luke, "Can you guess whose pulling up?" He looked and started laughing. He said, "It must be someone named MikeBone." So I'm thinking I might trick out my 93' Camry. Throw some neon, iced out rims, and put "Lil' Ron" on the side. That's the way Lil' Ron rolls. It might get me closer to that minor Christian celebrity status. Let me know what you think.
Anyway, on Thursday night, in keeping with political correctness (I actually probably already blew that with "midgets"), I didn't use my normal line of "You can only come in if you are over the age of 25 or you are more than 5 feet tall." That would have ruled Lil' Mike and Funny Bone out. They are neither 5 feet tall or over 25. (This line is normally reserved as a means to keep out several elementary boys who sneak in to steal supper and run out the back door. By the way, they think they sneak in. We see them and don't mind them getting food and drink. We can't guarantee they will eat anything else that night). We all had a great time hanging out with those guys and ended the night in our Rock Groups. My group has about 6 kids and also included Funny Bone that night. He was a great contributor to the group and shared part of his story. He whipped out lots of scripture and lead an awesome prayer. One of my kids was crying at the end...always a good sign.