Big Pokey-1687244829597
US rapper Big Pokey. Image Credit: AP

Rapper Big Pokey, an early member of Houston’s Screwed Up Click hip-hop collective, which helped pioneer the city’s groundbreaking “chopped and screwed” style, died on June 18, according to a statement posted to his official Instagram account.

No cause was given for the death of the rapper, whose full name was Milton Powell, which came after footage circulating online appeared to show him collapsing backward while performing onstage. Neither Big Pokey’s representatives nor local law enforcement immediately responded to an overnight request for comment.

“Big Pokey passed away on June 18, 2023. He was well loved by his family, his friends, and his loyal fans,” the statement said. “ ... Big Pokey will forever be ‘The Hardest Pit in the Litter,’” it added, in a reference to the title of his debut solo album.

Big Pokey was scheduled to perform June 17 night at a Juneteenth event at a bar in Beaumont, Texas, according to the business’s Facebook page. In a statement on June 18, the business paid tribute to the rapper, saying that a “tragedy that no one expected” had occurred. “Out of respect for those involved we will not be commenting on the incident,” it added.

Big Pokey rose to prominence in the 1990s in Houston’s music scene, where he became an early member of Screwed Up Click. The group was known for the Southern hip-hop tactic of “chopped and screwed” to slow tracks down.

In a 2019 interview with K-Rino Radio, Big Pokey credited the start of his career to meeting DJ Screw, who developed the style. “I ain’t ever touched a mic until I met Screw,” he said. “As far as music, I hadn’t done anything other than freestyling over somebody’s beats.”

“It all starts somewhere. Everything triggers something else. That’s the name of the game, that’s the beauty in it,” he said.

In 1999, Big Pokey released ‘Hardest Pit in the Litter’, the first of five solo studio albums. “I was shocked then,” the rapper said 20 years later. “The Screw Movement, that’s kind of what did it,” he said. “I didn’t know that this was my future. It was just a little music.”

The “chopped and screwed” style, which has a more laid-back tempo than other hip-hop genres, originated in Houston but later had a significant influence on the genre nationally, including on artists like Drake, Travis Scott and Beyonce. Megan Thee Stallion, who is also from Houston, featured Big Pokey in her 2022 studio album, “Traumazine.”

In a tribute shared on Instagram, rapper Bun B, who was part of Screwed Up Click, remembered Big Pokey as a pillar of Houston’s hip-hop scene. “Low key, humble mountain of a man who moved with honour and respect. He was easy to love and hard to hate,” he said.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner paid tribute to the “legendary” Big Pokey on behalf of the city in a statement on Sunday. “Though many called him ‘low key’, his presence was larger than life in helping to catapult our hip-hop scene nationally,” Turner said. “We are grateful.”