Either the Pink Taco restaurant inside the Hard Rock has become such a tough reservation that it needs a mammoth, tattoo-covered bouncer, or I’ve found my man. Big B is standing by the door—nearly engulfing it. At 6-foot-7, 330 pounds, the Vegas-by-way-of-California artist is unquestionably the biggest (and perhaps only) rapper/punker/white-trash guru/Carey Hart flunky in the music industry. And he’s hungry.
We sit. He scans the menu and selects the chicken quesadilla. It arrives piping hot, steam rising. In some ways, the willowy steam is emblematic of a career that, until recently, was on a slow burn. Two decades into a musical odyssey that’s taken him from punk to rap to alternative and back again, Big B (real name: Bryan Mahoney) is finally enjoying the fruits of his labor. He’s toured nonstop since 2004, annually performing 200-plus shows with the likes of Kottonmouth Kings and Tech N9ne.
The Southern Highlands resident has had two weeks off in the last five months, and after his upcoming show (he rarely plays Vegas—more on that later), it’s back on the road. Which means he’s had little time to savor the success of his breakout single, the twangy “Sinner,” with Scott Russo of Unwritten Law—it peaked at No. 29 on Billboard’s Hot Alternative Tracks chart. The accompanying video features a jailed Big B pleading for his girlfriend’s understanding. Says B: “I never got radio play before this song. Now more people recognize me.”
Some of that recognition is undoubtedly due to his role on A&E’s Inked, starring his friend Carey Hart. He’s the biggest guy on the show. (In his day job he works at the new Hart & Huntington tattoo shop in the Hard Rock.) The rest, he says, is the byproduct of an indefatigable work ethic sculpted in his teenage years in Las Vegas, where he jumped back and forth among the rock, punk and rap scenes.
During summers, he earned money bagging groceries at Larry’s Best Buy, a store at Lake Mead and Civic Center owned by his uncle Larry. “This was the mid-’80s, and this area being predominantly black,” Big B says. “I still loved punk rock, but hip-hop grew on me. I used to wear parachute pants.”
Unable to land a deal with 187, the band he formed after high school, Big B got a job painting cars and doing body work. Before long, though, he’d worked his way back into music, perfecting a brand of “outlaw hip-hop” that mixed all the musical styles he loved. “That’s why I call myself punk rock’s fat brother and hip-hop’s bastard son,” Big B says. “I defy categorization. I know how to rap, but I’m not a rapper. When I first came on the scene, people didn’t know what to expect. But suburban white kids knew what I was up to. I was tapping into them.”
Because he’s on the road so much, and always grinding (his fifth album, American Underdog, came out in March), Big B tries not to do too much when he’s home. Marriage and fatherhood fill his schedule, with any remaining time spent “doing something or other for Carey Hart.” As for why he only does two to three shows a year in his adopted hometown, “My fans here show me love. But people want me to be a lounge act. I used to be in the rap section, now I’m in the alternative section in the record store. I’m not that easy to define.”