“Do you know what it’s like to feel the Gs fade?” is the question viewers are asked to consider at the opening of Robert Jackson’s one-man show, Baba & Me: A Young Man in Search of His Father, an exploration of Jackson’s relationship to his late father, the rapper Big Rue of the Screwed Up Click.
Jackson’s father, Robert Jackson Sr., was killed in 1999 along with the rapper Big Steve after leaving a studio recording session. His death was one of many among members of S.U.C., with DJ Screw, Fat Pat, Big Moe and Big Hawk all meeting early ends. Jackson uses the 20-year period since his father’s death to tell a heartfelt story about love, loss and rebirth in dedication to screw.
The sounds of screw permeate Baba & Me. Before the show, viewers are primed with some of screw’s most recognizable hits, like Ghetto Dreams by Fat Pat, Peeping Through My Window by Lil Keke and Already Know by Ballin Entertainment.
Jackson’s first act situates his viewers in the 90s— 1992 to be specific, the year Jackson was born. For most of the show, Jackson is alone, but he’s accompanied on-stage by a paired down band, a drummer and a keyboardist who picks up a muted trumpet at times to provide jazz-like tunes. Three singers harmonize to sultry melodies as the story moves through different themes like lust and violence.
Jackson delivers a powerful performance while monologuing in character as his father, who warns young Jackon of the dangers of gang affiliation, letting the desire to hustle lead him astray and the inescapable allure of drugs and women during his time as a football player at Baylor.
It’s during the expositional screw renditions that Jackson truly shines. His command of the screw style allows him to slip in and out of a booming, raspy rap tone that captures the grittiness of the underground screw scene. The use of slow-tempo, slurred raps evokes the imagery of the purple cup, which is shorthand for the codeine and promethazine mixture that Houston rappers coined as lean.
In the second act, Jackson’s point of view shifts to himself as a child dealing with the reality of his father’s death. He turns washer and dryer cycles in southside Houston’s washaterias into a captivating metaphor on the cycles of life that produce circumstances that trap children of the Third Ward.
As he grows into a young man on stage, Jackson tackles the physical desires of adolescence through spin the bottles sessions at “G parties,” the ambivalence of gun violence in his environment after a friend accidentally shoots himself and the realization of having come full circle by celebrating his 24th birthday, marking the reality that young Rue reached an age his father never would.
Baba & Me delivers a mix of comedy, history and the music of Houston’s soul to tell a story that’s ultimately uplifting. Jackson’s Tisch School of Arts training carries the show as this rap-sung-spoken word play about legacy offers an ode to the fallen members of S.U.C. As the audience delivered Jackson a standing ovation at the close of the show, the answer to the opening question shifted into focus.
What is the lasting impact of an influential group of young rappers who shaped the character of a city, but ultimately all died too soon to see their vision realized? You’re looking at him.