As people across the world mourn and protest the police killing of George Floyd, more and more are also discovering his music. As Big Floyd, the 46-year-old was a freestyle rapper in the late 1990s, as part of Houston legend DJ Screw’s influential Screwed Up Click. One song that’s made the rounds on social media is a freestyle Floyd recorded over the beat for Da Brat’s “Sittin’ on Top of the World,” from Screw’s 1996’s Chapter 324: Dusk 2 Dawn tape. Fellow Houston rapper Travis Scott recently posted the track on his Instagram Story. Floyd, entering around the 4:55 mark, rumbles, “B-I-G, it’s F-L-O-Y-D/Watch me raise up in my drop-top seat.”
The song was the result of a late-night session at Screw’s house, where Floyd and his friends laid it down live, as Screw worked his magic. Among those friends was Chris Ward, then just a teenager, who opens “Sittin’ on Top of the World.” Ward has continued to rap, both as a solo artist and a member of Slim Thug’s Boss Hogg Outlawz, and he also runs a label, Stone Hard, LLC. Over the phone yesterday, Ward reflected on his experiences with Floyd as a rapper and a friend. “Floyd would always say to me, ‘Stay grinding, stay winning—because if you winning, we winning, baby!’” Ward wrote in a text after our call. “I can just hear him now.”
Pitchfork: What do you remember about George Floyd?
Chris Ward: He was a big brother to a lot of people. He was a peacemaker. A mentor. Just a positive vibes-type person. A real great guy, man, all around.
Big Floyd was already a southside legend in Houston when I met him, because of the Screwed Up Click. DJ Screw was the radio for the city. Big Floyd was already on tapes, and already cool with the guys, and cool with DJ Screw. He was in his 20s. I was a teenager. I see a lot of myself influenced by him, because I never had a big brother. People like him were my big brothers.
Any specific conversations come to mind?
When my grandmother passed a year and some months ago, he was one of the people that called me. I remember that, ’cause I didn’t get that many calls. He told me to keep my head up, stay positive, put the music out—“I need some music, send me some music. I need whatever you got coming out, man.” I just loved him for that.
When Floyd called, he could get you to do what everybody else couldn’t get you to do. It was always love and respect. When he had a couple of friends that passed away that were like brothers, he called and had me come to the funeral home. It was just understood, I’ll be there. Every time he called, I just tried to go for him, because I knew he would do the same for me.
We’d talk now and then about the next generation: “Everybody doesn’t have their father around, so be in a positive mode, because they look up to you. You have a voice. They hear you.”
I ain’t gonna lie, when I was young, I always thought he was going to be a rapper. He could rap, you know what I mean?
Do you remember recording “Sittin’ on Top of the World”? How did that go down?
Yeah, I remember. [laughs] Me and my friends, we were young, but one of my older friends had a car. Floyd knew him. I actually had to sneak out of my house to go make the tape. It was probably 1 o’clock in the morning. I had school the next morning.
We got to Screw’s house. When I look back at it, I was like, “Wow, how did we get here?” But we made the tape. Screw was there, and we were chilling, listening to the music. It was almost like being at a private club. There were maybe only six or seven of us, including me and Floyd.
DJ Screw was doing his work. Everything’s happening in real time. It’s not like the music is actually slow. It’s actually happening at a regular pace. We were enjoying our time together, chopping it up, having fun and laughing. A couple of young guys just in there doing something that was actually history in the making. From that point on, we never, ever had a bad vibe.
What else do you remember about him as a rapper?
All the tapes that he rapped on, he was legendary. Just like all the original Screwed Up Click members, like Fat Pat and Big Hawk. And they weren’t really rapping. They were freestyling. Going off the top of the dome, is what they would say. This wasn’t rehearsed or written down.
For me at the time, it was special to be there with him. It was like, “Cool, Floyd rapped on the tape with us. Man, this is live. Can’t wait till our tape comes out. Can’t wait till they hear this.”
Tell me about the march through downtown Houston the other day.
I met a couple of random people from Pennsylvania. They stood out to me because they had their own handmade shirts. I shared the moment with them. And I actually gave them a copy of that CD with “Sittin’ on Top of the World” [Chapter 324: Dusk 2 Dawn]. I had the CD in the car for the past two months. I was making a screwed collection of songs that I’m on that people slowed down, and a friend of mine made a couple of copies of that CD. I needed those just in case something happens.
I gave those people a copy of the CD and explained to them that he’s on there, and I showed them a picture that Travis Scott had posted. I let them know a little bit about who he was. I didn’t know them, and they didn’t know me. I just gave them a piece of what I thought they could have, going back to where they’re going.
I don’t want to ask you to relive too much of the past few days.
Nah, it’s cool. When I first saw the Minneapolis tapes, I didn’t think too much of it. I remember my friend sent it to me on Instagram, and I was kind of waking up seeing it. And I was like, “Dang man, that’s crazy. They do us like that? They don’t even give a damn about us.” That was my response to him. I didn’t even realize that it was Floyd.
I started seeing the posts immediately after, and I was like, “Man, that can’t be him.” And then I saw somebody else—I can’t recall, that’s a blur, it might have been [Screwed Up Click member] Lil’ Keke—say, “Man, that’s my dog.” Then I said it out loud to myself, and I was like, “hell no.”
I went back and looked at it again. I put the volume up and I could hear his voice. And this shit, it just hurt different. It just hurt like double, triple, quadruple. I cried a little bit. Another one of my big brothers gone? That’s cold. Not like this. He was away somewhere else, pressing reset on life, doing other things. How is that even possible?
But if I know Floyd, I know this: If he knew that this happening to him would change the world or the way people would act about the whole situation, in a positive light, he would be all right with that.
Originally Appeared on Pitchfork