By Leslie D. Rose
The elements of hip: the B-boy, the DJ, the emcee, the graffiti artist… and the barber.
That’s right, hip hop has a fifth element in Baton Rouge with local barber/radio DJ Michael “Mike T.” Thomas.
Thomas, who said he has been a fan of hip hop all of his life, has been the owner and operator of Uppercuts Barber Shop on Bluebonnet Blvd. since 2008. Anyone who’s ever gotten a hair cut in a shop like Thomas’ probably knows that hair cuts are laced with plenty of conversation, ranging a wide variety of topics, but at Uppercuts one topic is always guaranteed.
“I have been cutting hair for over 15 years and I don’t think there’s ever been a day that we haven’t talked about hip hop,” Thomas said.
It is through his many barber shop conversations with his Baton Rouge emcee and hip hop enthusiast clients that he has been able to stay in tune with the genre. It’s even how he met the person who asked him if he’d be interested in hosting a hip hop show on Baton Rouge’s all-volunteer run community radio station WHYR 96.9.
Excitedly obliging, Thomas now hosts The Sole Lab every Thursday 10 p.m. to midnight where he plays classic, underground, and local hip hop and sometimes even has debates with his opinionated friend, area physicist Mark Wallace, whom he affectionately refers to as a hater.
All hating aside, Wallace seems to bring about an air of what a barber shop debate is like at Uppercuts, thus bringing Thomas’s two career paths full circle.
But admittedly, merging the two never crossed his mind until area rappers began requesting his shop as a venue for album release parties, to which Thomas has agreed, allowing artists their own space Uppercuts.
“My barber shop is a real pillar in the community,” Thomas said. “Anything the community needs, the barber is there, and if hip hop is a part of the community and they call for my barber shop, they got it.”
With his kindness to the heavily criticized genre, Thomas has not only staked his place as a hip hop aficionado but also as a sound bite with his name being mentioned on a few area emcees’ albums. One such shout-out can be heard on Marcel P. Black’s “Saturday Morning” where Thomas is referenced in the hook as part of Black’s weekend ritual that includes getting a hair cut — proof that the love between area hip hoppers and Thomas has always been mutual.
This camaraderie, Thomas says, makes him happy to be able to provide an outlet for musicians to be heard on Baton Rouge radio.
“I play pretty much the opposite of mainstream hip hop,” Thomas said. “The station really wants me to spotlight local artists in Baton Rouge because there’s nowhere else for local rappers to get their music heard.”
While area rappers can email MP3 format songs to email@example.com, Thomas warns that he has standards beyond just local and underground.
“The content is a real big thing but it’s more than just non-cussing, it’s also about if it sounds good,” Thomas said. “I’m still going to be a judge of character if the song is worth playing.”
In its current format, The Sole Lab is mostly music, but in the future Thomas said he plans to conduct interviews and have live freestyle rapping on-air to model his show after New York’s Power 105.1’s popular hip hip-inspired show The Breakfast Club.
Until that level of growth is reached for The Sole Lab, Thomas said he will continue to remain a staple in Baton Rouge through his passion for what he calls real hip hop and community building with Uppercuts.