As news media in the United States and other parts of the world cover the murder by suffocation of George Floyd in Minneapolis while he was in police custody, apparently for presenting a counterfeit US$20 bill at a food store, on 25 May 2020, there seems to be a general tendency by the press and others to dismiss Floyd as yet another black American casualty of racist police violence, and moreover one with a history of criminal activity, like many others before him. Back in the 1990s however, Floyd had been active in the Houston hip-hop scene in Texas state as rapper Big Floyd in a posse collective known as Screwed Up Click led by DJ Screw (1971 – 2000: DJ Screw died from a drug overdose). DJ Screw was the innovator of a style of hip-hop known as “chopped and screwed” in which he manually slowed down the tempo of recordings and then applied various techniques such as scratching, skipping beats and others to achieve a chopped-up effect. This slow style of hip-hop, unlikely as it might sound to some, can be just as confrontational and aggressive as its faster siblings, and often soulful and emotional as well, as demonstrated in this DJ Screw track I found on Youtube, “Tired of Ballin’ Freestyle” from the album “Piece of Mind: Screwed and Chopped” by Tela. Big Floyd comes in with his deep velvety voice just after the fourteenth minute. Another DJ Screw recording “Sittin on Top of the World Freestyle”, featuring Big Floyd, is at this Youtube link. Amazingly this song is so soporific, it becomes heavy and hypnotic and seems to have a rich, almost psychedelic sound.
Besides working with DJ Screw and Screwed Up Click, Big Floyd released mix-tapes under his own name in the 1990s and also worked with Presidential Playas which released an album “Block Party” on the Presidential Records label in 2000. Apart from these releases, I have not been able to find anything else Big Floyd did musically after the year 2000. He did have a long criminal history in Texas that included drug possession and manufacturing, criminal trespass and two armed robberies, for one of which he served five years in prison. After his release from prison, determined to reform his life, Floyd moved from Houston to Minneapolis in 2014. There, he worked as a truck-driver and then as a bouncer for a Minneapolis night-club / restaurant until he was put off as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic lock-down in Minnesota. Coincidentally or not, the police officer who suffocated Floyd by kneeling on the back of his neck, Derek Chauvin, held down a second job at the same club as an off-duty security guard at the same time Floyd was employed there. Whether the two men had met while working at the same club or knew each other at the time of Floyd’s arrest on 25 May 2020, I do not know.
Sad it is to discover a former rapper who once had a significant role in an innovative scene within the hip-hop culture through news of his undeserved death at the hands of police officers themselves brutalised by an increasingly militarised police force culture, in a society that over past decades has been degraded by neo-liberal political, economic, social and cultural policies and programs at national, state and local government levels in the US. At the very least, as time passes, the musical legacy of people like DJ Screw, Big Floyd and others who died tragically before their time may come to be appreciated and treasured for its originality and expressiveness.
RIP Big Floyd.