When Mike Xavier was in the fourth grade, the now 33-year-old rapper and single father penned an essay about Christmas. Like any 9-year-old, he mentioned presents and cookies and family. Then he wrote: “Sometimes I think about the people who do not have a Christmas tree. I try to do what I can to help those who do not have [anything].”
His teacher would be proud. Twenty-some-odd years later, he’s living up to that A+ essay.
On December 7, Xavier will host a concert and toy drive at the Arts Factory in Downtown Las Vegas. The lineup includes some of the city’s most promising voices: Sonia Barcelona, Halsey Harkins, Zack Gray and more—including one of its youngest. Xavier’s 9-year-old son, Jaylyn Thai, will recite a poem he wrote. Admission is a toy or gift card, with all items donated to HELP of Southern Nevada.
“I just want to help because I know what it’s like,” Xavier says.
When Xavier wrote that essay in the fourth grade, he was writing then, as he does now, from the perspective of someone who’s experienced heartbreaking hardships. Shortly before that class assignment, Xavier was living in a car in Los Angeles with his mother and siblings, sleeping in relatives’ garages with no place to call home. The holidays in particular cause him to reflect because he remembers having to go to a shelter to pick out toys himself.
Fast forward to 2015 and he’s in the same bleak situation. Unemployed and priced out of the inflating L.A. housing market, he and his son packed what little they had into his 2008 Toyota Camry, again bouncing between relatives’ homes and sleeping on floors—sometimes five to a room. The two were nomads for months before moving to Las Vegas for less pricey pastures. He finally found an apartment in October 2015 but didn’t have anything to put in it. Their two-bedroom home in North Las Vegas was empty, save for a mattress for Jaylyn. Xavier couldn’t give Jaylyn a proper Christmas, let alone a bed for himself. They didn’t have a tree, decorations or toys. It was painful.
“When I can’t buy my son something for Christmas, that’s depressing,” he says.
It remained that way through 2016. It wasn’t until earlier this year that he saw a break in the clouds.
This holiday, things are brighter. By working 50-plus hours a week at his day job, performing weekends at Interlude inside The Cromwell and playing one-off gigs, Xavier’s earned enough to furnish his home—including a towering tree in the living room for Jaylyn.
“He’ll get a few toys this year,” Xavier says proudly.
What Xavier is really giving his son is priceless. Though the toy drive will help others, the event is for Jaylyn.
“I want my son to be a good person,” Xavier says. “I want him to see the whole process of putting it together and see the joy it brings to people.”
Jaylyn has already taken after his father. He’s just as thoughtful and compassionate, as if his father’s heart and integrity were hereditary. The piece Jaylyn will perform at the toy drive, simply titled “Jaylyn’s Christmas Poem,” is a warm hug around the knees. In it, he writes:
It makes me sad to have to see so many people suffer
One thing I know is that the hurt will always make me tougher
Maybe next year things might get a little better
‘Cause after all, the hard times don’t last forever
It’s a harsh reality for a 9-year-old to acknowledge, but it’s one he’s embraced. His father recently asked Jaylyn if he would rather have any item he wanted at Toys R Us or forfeit his gift so that 20 other kids could get anything they wanted. Unsurprisingly, he opted for the latter.
Jaylyn doesn’t care that he doesn’t have the flashiest new toys or gadgets. Like his father, he gets more joy from uplifting others than material possessions. And he’s happy to be by his father’s side. It was Jaylyn’s idea to join him at shows, performing for the first time at an open mic when he was 6. Whenever possible, Jaylyn can be seen on stage, rapping alongside his father.
“He’s a light switch,” Xavier says, beaming at his son, who’s dressed in Spider-Man pajamas and engrossed in playing Football Heroes on his phone. “He reminds me of me.”
Mike Xavier is a testament to perseverance. He’s been down more times than he’s been up, but hasn’t wavered from his mission.
When he first started rapping at 16, he didn’t have any big aspirations and stopped recording music for several years. It wasn’t until Jaylyn was born that he found new inspiration.
“When I had him, my writing style changed,” he says.
He used to flip meaningless multi-syllable rhymes just to show off how good he was. Now every word has a purpose: to empower others.
Much of Xavier’s music documents his family’s struggles and victories. Songs like “Sunshine” won’t get play in the club, but it hits you harder than a Metro Boomin’ bass drop. And he does it without cursing or disparaging remarks, making it universal.
“The main thing is my son and my nieces, they all listen to my music,” he says. “I can perform my music at an elementary school if I wanted.”
It works to his advantage.
His music has taken him from open mics to to morning news shows. Some weekends he performs twice in one day. On a recent night, he performed at Brooklyn Bowl, then literally ran to his gig at The Cromwell.
It’s not a bad problem to have.
“A year ago life wasn’t so good, but it gets better if you keep going,” he says.
Poetic Music Group Toy Drive
Dec. 7, all ages, 7:30 p.m., free with donation, Arts Factory, 107 E. Charleston Blvd., RSVP at xaviershows.com