Houston

Houston rapper Big Pokey dies after collapsing at a show in Texas

Big Pokey began to garner local fame in the late '90s as an original member of Houston's Screwed Up Click, a friend group-turned-rap collective led by DJ Screw

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Big Pokey, a popular Texas rapper and original member of Houston’s pioneering Screwed Up Click, died Sunday after a Juneteenth performance. Born Milton Powell, Pokey was 48.

Known for Texas and Gulf Coast hits such as “Ball N' Parlay,"“Who Dat Talking Down,” and a verse on DJ Screw’s nearly 36-minute iconic freestyle known as “June 27th,” he collapsed while performing at Pour09, a Beaumont bar and nightlife space about an hour east of Houston.

Videos quickly circulated on social media of the rapper, who was featured on Megan Thee Stallion’s 2022 “Southside Royalty Freestyle,” taking a deep breath into his microphone before appearing to pass out and fall onto his back. Pokey’s death was confirmed to The Associated Press by his publicist La’Torria Lemon, as well as Tom Gillam III, a justice of the peace in Jefferson County, where Powell was performing. Family and officials are awaiting autopsy results to learn the cause of death.

Big Pokey, known by a slew of nicknames including Big Poyo and Podina, began to garner local fame in the late '90s as an original member of the Screwed Up Click, a friend group-turned-rap collective led by DJ Screw. The trendsetting DJ developed the slowed, pitched-down music style known as “chopped and screwed” music that would eventually become synonymous with Houston, and whose mixtapes spread throughout the southeastern United States.

The sound reached a fever pitch in the mid-2000s as other fellow popular underground Houston artists like Lil’ Flip, Slim Thug, Paul Wall, Chamillionaire and UGK signed national distribution deals and brought mainstream attention to the sound.

Pokey released his debut album, “Hardest Pit in the Litter” in 1999, and “Da Game 2000” the following year. It was a pre-streaming era where music was regionalized, and the most popular Houston rappers could become wealthy without ever having to tour or get radio play outside of the state.

Pokey grew up in the southside of Houston where he became a football standout at Yates High School, becoming very close friends with George Floyd, the Black man whose murder by Minneapolis police touched off global protests and a national reckoning with police brutality and racism.

“This was my brother. And to sit there and watch my brother die — the law killed my homeboy in front of the world. We watched him fight for his life until he was lifeless. That was torture. He died a horrible death, and that hurts,” Pokey wrote in an op-ed for the Chronicle published days after Floyd’s killing.

In the op-ed calling for police accountability, Pokey reflected on his days playing high school football with “Big Floyd” and their an enduring bond.

“He’s from Houston, Texas, Third Ward, and he was proud of it every day of his life until they took it,” he wrote. “He was somebody. He’s got a whole community that loves him.”

Pokey took his athletic talents to junior college football powerhouse Blinn and then Abilene Christian University before focusing on his emcee skills.

Nationally, Pokey was most known for a featured appearance on Paul Wall’s 2005 debut hit song, “Sittin’ Sidewayz.” The chorus was sampled from Pokey’s verse on “June 27th” in which he rhymed, “Sittin’ sideways, boys in a daze/on a Sunday night, I might bang me some Maze,” referring to the legendary soul band.

“June 27th” is regarded as arguably the most influential song in the chopped & screwed cannon, and one of the most important songs in Texas rap history. The sound is still prevalent today with native Houstonians like Beyoncé and Travis Scott incorporating screwed elements into their music, along with other huge artists such as Kendrick Lamar, Kanye West, A$AP Rocky and Bryson Tiller. Hip-hop superstar Drake, an avid fan of Houston rap, paid homage to “June 27th” on his song “November 18.”

Pokey also crafted other Texas classics, dubbed as “country rap tunes” by late southern hip-hop icon Pimp C, like “On Choppers,” and penned standout guest verses on Big Moe’s “Maan!”, a popular Texas take on Black Rob’s “Whoa!”

His last project was 2021’s “Sensei,” referring to another one of his nicknames and dubbed as his comeback album.

Fans, friends and collaborators took his death hard, with tributes pouring in from the likes of Paul Wall,Slim Thug, best friend Lil Keke, and Bun B, who called Powell “one of the most naturally talented artists” in Houston.

“He’d pull up, do what he had to do and head home. One of the pillars of our city,” Bun B said on Instagram.

Powell leaves behind a wife and three college-aged children.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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