Dallas rapper Big Tuck finds 2 sides to fame

 On his CDs, the Dallas rapper spits out gritty tales about the thug life. But in real life, he's a college-educated music major who loves Miles Davis and Nirvana.

He looks like trouble – 6-5, 250 pounds, with a menacing stone-faced stare. But when he speaks, he's so polite and soft-spoken he's about as threatening as a week-old kitten.

He knows what it's like to be homeless, having spent two years sleeping in his 1979 Oldsmobile. Now he lives in an 8,500-square-foot mansion on Joe Pool Lake, complete with palm trees, a sauna and a new Cadillac Escalade in the driveway.

These are the spoils of being the most-hyped Dallas rapper since Vanilla Ice.

Last year, Big Tuck, 26, and his band Dirty South Rydaz signed a $7.4 million contract with Universal Records. On Tuesday, he releases his major-label solo debut, Tha Absolute Truth – a CD that could finally lift Dallas hip-hop out of the shadow of Houston's rap scene.

But for a man on the brink of mass fame and fortune, Tuck is in no mood to celebrate.

"More money, more problems," he says, sitting at home on his sofa as a burglar alarm chirps a low-battery warning in the background.

"Once you got money, everybody thinks you owe them something. Can't I just enjoy myself for just a second?"

Cedric Tuck grew up in South Dallas' rough Queen City neighborhood. His dad left when he was a kid, leaving his mom, who worked as a probation officer, to raise the family on her own.

At Lincoln High School, he wrote customized Valentine's Day poems for $1 a pop: "I was an entrepreneur from day one," he says.

He was also a serious musician who played drums in the jazz and marching bands. He was good enough to land a full scholarship to the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.

But while his drumming was paying the tuition, it was his free-style rapping that got him noticed on campus. In his senior year, he dropped out of college and moved back to South Dallas.

"I figured I had to put both feet into rapping, and I might as well be home doing it," he says.

"But when I came back, everything around me started crumbling."

His mom got married and moved in with her new husband, leaving Big Tuck the house and the rent. He struggled to find a job, and soon found himself with no heat, no electricity and a shrinking list of buddies.

"When the lights went off, all my-so-called friends left too," he says.

Before he knew it, he was sleeping in his 1979 Oldsmobile Delta '88 – his spare clothes in the trunk, his ego in the trash.

For two years, he toughed it out in his car, showering at the local Y and sometimes talking a friend into letting him crash on the floor of a recording studio and barber shop on Malcolm X Boulevard.

But most of the time, Tuck lived in his car. Some mornings, he'd wake to the sound of school kids laughing and pointing at him through the car window.

"Just when I thought I couldn't get no lower, it got worse: My girlfriend told me she was pregnant by one of my best friends," he says. "I was really depressed then."

But the bad news finally got him motivated. He jump-started his career and started recording with an ad hoc band of rappers, Dirty South Rydaz.

The group's manager, George Lopez, fronted him enough money to get an apartment. And by 2004, Tuck had a hit solo album, Purple Hulk, which reportedly sold 100,000 copies – huge numbers for an indie rapper.

Seeing dollar signs, Universal/Motown Records signed Tuck and the rest of DSR last fall. Erykah Badu, Chamillionaire and Paul Wall agreed to cameo on Tuck's solo CD, Tha Absolute Truth, which was set for a March '06 release.

But the CD kept getting pushed back – partly because of a corporate shake-up at Universal, but also because the first single, "Tussle," failed to catch fire nationally.

As Tuesday's release date approaches, Tuck is optimistic about how well Truth will sell.

"There's something for everyone on it," he says. "You got songs your crazy cousin can like and songs your grandma can like."

Granny might not be thrilled by "Bottom Bitch," a tune that helped earn the CD its parental-advisory sticker. But Tuck says the song is actually an ode to women who love men regardless of how rich they are – the anti-gold diggers.

Slightly more family friendly is "Ain't No Mistaken" featuring Ms. Badu, who also grew up in South Dallas. Months after recording with her, Tuck is still in awe.

"Every time she hit a note, everybody got chills," he says. "In high school, I had a crush on Erykah Badu. I was in love with her. But if I can't get married to her, at least we can do a song together."

"In Da Hood," fueled by a trippy flute loop, is the CD's obligatory pro-pot ditty. But Tuck recently stopped smoking after reading on the Internet that weed can turn testosterone into estrogen. "I did my research," he says. "If you smoke too much, you'll start getting a smooth face and turn into a chick. That's the side they don't tell you."

The less time spent puffing gives him more time to think about rap's ultimate subject – money.

Tuck admits to having mixed feelings. On the one hand, he embraces the bling – the gigantic house, the fancy cars, the massive diamond necklaces he wears (he's part owner of K.D.'s Masta Grillz & Jewelry). As he puts it in "I Know U Want That," don't hate him because he's rich – figure out how to join him.

On the other hand, Tuck says money has messed up his love life.

"Once you get money, you don't know if chicks want you for you, or for your money," he says. "I don't flaunt my name, but they already know who I am: 'You're Big Tuck.' So it's hard to tell what they're thinking."

At the moment, he's single, celibate and planning on staying that way for a while: "I'm a one-chick person," he says.

But it's not just the ladies who pose a problem. The more famous he gets, the more cautious he is about his male friends – especially the new ones.

"There's a lot of leeches out there, and you don't know it until they've drunk a gallon of blood from you then," he says.

"So now, I feed all the new people with a long-stem spoon until they show me they can come a little closer ... I don't know if that's good or bad. It's just something I have to do."

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