What a ride: How rapper Mike Xavier went from making Uber passengers cry to changing lives

Last year, struggling rapper Mike Xavier was “dead broke,” but when a generous friend gave him a free pass to Las Vegas’s Life Is Beautiful festival, he had an epiphany. “I thought to myself, ‘This is how I want my life to be. This is how life should be,’” he tells Yahoo Entertainment. “It became this mission to make it to Life Is Beautiful. I said, ‘I’m going to play Life Is Beautiful; they just don’t know it yet.’”

This Friday, Xavier — a single dad who was homeless in Los Angeles for awhile before moving to Vegas — made his dream come true, playing sets on the Huntridge Stage and in the Toyota Music Den while his young son, Jaylyn Thai, watched from the wings and even from the stage. These were the biggest crowds that Xavier had played to yet, but he already knew his positive hip-hop could touch people, judging from the responses he’d gotten from much more intimate early test audiences: his former Uber and Lyft passengers.

“I started sharing the music with people, and they would cry in the back of the Uber or Lyft car,” recalls Xavier, who used to do ride-share driving in L.A. to make ends meet. “They would literally shed tears. Just the lyrics were hitting them so hard that they couldn’t fake that emotion of it really impacting them.”

Xavier would even tailor his songs to the moods of his passengers. “Each song kind of had a topic, a life topic. I’d ask them, ‘How do you feel? Are you happy?’ Or, ‘What are you going through in life?’ Sometimes they’d say, ‘Oh, I just broke up with my girlfriend or my boyfriend,’ so I would share a song that I had written at that time, and they would just cry. I shared a song called ‘Never Know,’ and it just talks about how anything can happen. Your whole life can change, so love the people around you and don’t wait until they’re gone. It would just hit people and they would cry.”

Xavier assures with a laugh, however, that he always got a five-star rating from his passengers. He knew he was on to something. “So from then, I thought like this: It’s like a mission. It became a mission for me to share my music with people, and to connect and inspire. That became this mission that I’m on today, to spread my music to the world.”

Last year at Life Is Beautiful, Xavier was affected by Third Eye Blind’s performance, and this year, during his own set, he sampled 3EB’s “Jumper.” It’s a song to which he has his own special connection. “My friend’s 12-year-old daughter, she had attempted suicide, and I always felt like that song just connected. … When that happened when my friend’s daughter, I decided to write the song [“Suicide Jumper.”] I put it out and it touched a lot of lives. … People have written me saying that that song has literally saved their life.”

With the indie success of his latest album, Old School Vibes, Xavier hopefully won’t have to go back to his day job anytime soon, but he knows he made an impact back in his driving days. “There was a Lyft ride passenger that I picked up two years ago, and he saw [that I was playing Life Is Beautiful], and he sent me a message today,” Xavier says. “He’d asked me for my autograph at that time. He told me that I told him, ‘I’m going to make it big.’ And he said he’s so happy to see me doing what I said I was going to do. … I knew I had it in me. I just had to stay positive and keep going, no matter what.”

Yahoo Entertainment’s live stream of the Life Is Beautiful festival from Las Vegas continues Saturday, with performances by Travis Scott, Foster the People, Miguel, Blood Orange, and more. Click here to watch.

Follow Lyndsey on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google+, Amazon, Tumblr, and Spotify.