Six years ago last week, on May 1, 2006, local rapper and Screwed Up Click Five-Star General Big Hawk was gunned down outside of a friend's home on Redfern on Houston's Southside. He was 36.
While it's never acceptable to lose a gifted artist to violence in the prime of his life and career, Hawk's slaying was especially hard to take for a number of reasons. John Hawkins was a family man who left behind a wife and two sons when he was murdered.
He was no thug -- after his brother Fat Pat was killed in 1998, Hawk shied away from glamorizing guns and violence in his raps, focusing instead on his love for his family, his friends and Houston's unique hip-hop culture. To many in the scene, he was a big-brother figure and a respected cornerstone of the influential rap clique that bore DJ Screw's name.
Most maddening of all is that his death remains a complete mystery. The night he died, Hawk showed up at a friend's house to play dominoes. His friend wasn't home, however, and when Hawk went round the side of the house looking for him, he was shot down by one or more punk motherfuckers who apparently had no problem putting the father of two young kids underground.
If anybody saw anything, they damn sure weren't talking. HPD turned up no leads and no suspects, and nobody was ever arrested or charged with the homicide. That's how it always seems to go when a rapper is taken out.
Hawk may be gone, but his legacy lives on in the city he called home. Thanks to Hawk's widow, Meshah Henderson Hawkins, and Julie Grob, the University of Houston Libraries' Coordinator of Digital Projects and Instruction, Special Collections, a number of personal mementos and artifacts from his rap career: A handwritten notebook of lyrics, rhymes, domino scores and other notes.
These are permanently preserved as part of the UH library's Houston hip-hop collection. This way, Hawk's place in the city's musical history can't be forgotten or overlooked by future fans and historians. No doubt the big man would have liked that a lot.
Hawk's music hasn't been forgotten here at Rocks Off, either. There's a lot of it to remember --Hawk's soft, smooth baritone flow was featured on dozens and dozens of albums, gray tapes, mix tapes and collaborations over his career.
In memory of his contributions to local music, Rocks Off has collected the following six essential tracks from Hawk's career -- one for each year since he was taken from us. Twist up a sweet, turn up your computer speakers and bang 'em loud in tribute to a Houston hip-hop original.
6. Lil' Troy feat. Fat Pat, Yungstar, Lil' Will & H.A.W.K., "Wanna Be a Baller": For thousands of casual rap fans in Houston and beyond, Lil' Troy's "Wanna Be a Baller" served as a memorable introduction to Big Hawk's lyrical skills. Hawk took the song's final verse, turning in the rhymes that remain the easiest and most fun to sing along to in your busted-ass hoop to this day.
"Wanna Be a Baller" was a pretty massive regional hit and can still get a bar full of Houstonians rapping along in 2012, black, white or brown. The single powered Lil' Troy's debut album, Sittin' Fat Down South, to platinum status in 1999.
D.E.A., "Heart of a Hustler:" In 1998, Hawk joined his fellow Screwed Up Click originals Fat Pat, Kay-K and DJ Screw himself to release the album Screwed for Life as D.E.A. -- the Dead End Alliance. This classic track is the album's standout, and once again, Hawk delivers the final verse. Throughout his career, Hawk would play the role of clean-up hitter on killer tunes like this one, better than pretty much anyone else in Houston rap history.
Big Hawk, "You Already Know:" Often identified by its chorus as "Chillin' With My Broad," this track from Hawk's 2001 album HAWK is an undisputed Houston rap masterpiece. In the history of hip-hop, there aren't too many songs that deliver rapper braggadocio from this particular angle:
Hawk laughs off the clingy affections of groupies with the words, "I got a wife / And you're just my late-night hype." The beat is infectiously danceable, an ideal showcase for Hawk's smart, supple flow.
Trae feat. Big Hawk, "Swang": This moody, downbeat track from Trae's 2006 album Restless became something of a self-applied eulogy for Big Hawk after he was killed later that year. Fittingly, his memorable verse pays tribute to a few of the things he loved the most: cruising through the streets of Houston's Southside, poppin' a trunk and shouting out Fat Pat and DJ Screw. Trae paid tribute to his fallen friend with the song "Give My Last Breath" from 2007's Life Goes On by turning Hawk's "Swang" verse into the hook.
3rd Degree feat. Big H.A.W.K., Big Cease & Kyle Lee, "I'd Rather Bang Screw": We don't have the stats to back it up, but Big Hawk probably dished out more assists in Houston than John Lucas. The man had the guest feature down to a science.
Dub K got this track from 3rd Degree's 2006 album Since Day One off to a proper start, taking the first verse for once. If you're recording a rap tribute to DJ Screw, there's pretty much no one better to get on your song than Big Hawk. This stuff is his bread and butter.
"What Screw did for me / Was real as could be / That's why the whole world must know his legacy." Hawk never forgot his friends, and we imagine they'll never forget him, either.
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Big Hawk feat. Big Moe and Big Pokey, "Roll up a Blunt": When it came to mary jane, Big Hawk was hooked like handcuffs, and he made his appreciation clear on this track. The endless bales of hay burned to this tune, featuring his Original Screwed Up Click fellows Big Moe and Big Pokey, since its release in 2000 likely represent a significant pillar of economic growth in Houston over the past 12 years.
Call up some partners and empty out a cigar or two today in memory of Big Hawk. We miss that guy. If you blow hard enough, maybe all that smoke will keep floating up until it reaches him in heaven.