Welcome back to The Five Spot, a Rocks Off recurring feature. Every Friday, we'll examine a recent bit of music news and list five reasons why it's either brilliant or dumb-assed. Send tips to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wednesday, RapRadar.com threw up an interview with former Roc-A-Fella rapper Freeway in which he discussed jumping ship to the Cash Money camp. Now, by most accounts, Philly's favorite bearded son has had a very solid career - there was a good two-year stretch when Free was arguably Roc-A-Fella's second best rapper- but reading about his successes served only to remind us of the curious case of one of Houston's most loyal spokesmen: Big Pokey.
Every city has its own Big Pokey: a local underground icon who's seemingly preordained to do nothing but churn out beautifully region-specific smash singles.
Of course, the charm of this type of track is lost on anyone without an intimate knowledge of the city from where it spawned*, and in Big Pokey's case, that has caused for an unfair maligning of his efforts.
But Big Pokey is like a time-period art piece - chastising him for being "too Houston" and "not universal enough" is like chastising a Van Gogh painting for not being a Picasso painting. When he gives applies his esoteric wit to a song, it is downright aristocratic. Before or since, few have been able to corral the sound of Houston rap as near-perfectly as Pokey has. And he should be lauded for that, not denigrated. So let's get with the lauding already:
"Ball and Parlay"
Without question, "Ball and Parlay" is Pokey's magnum opus. Despite our sincerest efforts, we've yet to come up with a definition for the phrase "ball and parlay." We have, however, surmised that (a) it can be done whether the weather is sunny or gray, and (b) it involves drank and hay. Kudos to us for that.
"Where I'm From"
Even though it's the kind of attention to detail normally reserved for the rhapsodic Devin The Dude, we love, love, love the line about him being "behind the Jack in the Box." Also, Z-Ro kills it here.
Count us among those who are glad that Pokey's sound and style wandered away from the Geto Boys-ness that this song intimated it would become. Mind you, the Geto Boys are obviously great, nay, the best, at the deep, dark visceral rap genre they founded, but it just doesn't seem to suit Pokey the way it did Bushwick or Willie D. And that extends beyond just sonically - honestly, who's going to take a threat from a guy named "Pokey" seriously? Gumby?
"Let Them Boys Know"
If we're not mistaken, this is from 2008, nearly an entire decade after he released his debut LP, Hardest Pit in the Litter. It's impressive how Pokey has managed to maintain his Houston ethos while continually updating his sound to be totally contemporary. It's like the guy hasn't gotten older; he just always sounds so "right now." He's rap's Kurt Loder.
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"Ridin' On 4's"
It's not until you line him up next to some genuine heavyweights that you really realize Pokey was/is absolutely able to produce the type of universal lyricism and recognizable delivery that could carry a sound nationally. (If you don't think his contribution here was better than 75 percent of Rick Ross's discography, then we would like to mail you a punch in the stomach.)
* The first time we heard Fat Pat's "Tops Drop," back before we had lived in Houston for several years, we thought it to be the most incongruous bubbly-rap track we'd ever been forced to listen to, whereas now, "Does this person know at least 70 percent of 'Tops Drop'?" is one of the first questions we ask when we're determining whether or not someone is a total choad.