Saturday, February 20, 2010

AAS 357: The Real Hiphop 101

Every Spring Quarter, the Department of African American Studies offers us OU students a real hip-hop 101 session called Black Music Seminar I.

I took this course my freshman year because when I heard from Anita, then president of the Ohio University Chapter of Hip-Hop Congress, tell us about "the hip-hop class" I was amped. I had never heard of somebody literally teaching hip-hop in a classroom setting!

Yeah, I know you can teach someone about the ins and outs of the hip-hop culture, but never did I know that you could reserve a space on campus, as a faculty member of a university, and let students register and receive credit for learning about a subculture in America, including a curriculum and required textbooks!

Taught by Dr. Akil Houston, this class engages students in discovering and developing critical analytical skills within the context of hip-hop history, culture and politics. Hip-hop culture as a manifestation of Africana visual, performance and oral tradition is studied. Africana cultural practices that have given rise to the numerous manifestations of hip-hop in the United States and abroad are explored, and the class looks at how hip-hop has affected/infected all facets of popular culture from the classroom to the corporate boardroom. The development, contradictions and various representations of hip-hop culture are examined (from OU's online course catalog).

Here is this year's information for the course on Athen's campus:

AAS 357, call no. 00673, will take place on Mondays and Wednesdays from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. in Morton Hall Room 322.

Don't miss out on a wonderful experience. This is one of the best courses on campus because it's the best way to broaden your horizons within music as well as different cultures. Plus, your final is a performance organized and performed by you!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Still Tippin': A Chopped and Screwed Blogpost

DJing has many dimensions within its own element in the hiphop culture -- the scratching, the blending, the mixing and more. But one dimension is always left out of the bunch, and that is the art of chopped and screwed. Founded and based in Houston, Texas, chopped and screwed is a part of the DJing element of hiphop, relevent for how different aspects of culture comes out in its technique and for its connections to its hometown. It also known as controversial because of how people may interpret it. Being that it is, it is a techniques still finding its fit in hiphop.

The history of chopped and screwed dates back to 1991, where Robert Earl Davis Jr., also known as DJ Screw, was playing around with his turntables (scratching and cutting as all the typical DJs were doing) and found a cool, fresh sound. He dramatically reduced the pitch of a hiphop record (or "screwed" it), making the song sounds mellow and deeper, and the words sound slurred, similar to the style of Black Southern dialect. DJ Screw made mixtapes out of his house (often known as the "Gray tapes" because the mixes were recorded on gray tapes) with the sound, charging extra for folks who wanted a shout-out or who wanted to freestyle over his mixes (the freestyles, of course, screwed like the music). Once people caught on to freestyling over the mixes, the Srewed Up Click grew into a large group of emcees and DJs (including E.S.G., Lil' Keke, and Big Pokey). In all honesty, the rhymes weren't the greatest, but they were highly representative of the sound and the southern city.

But it doesn't stop there.

Once the scene traveled to the northern part of Houston, one particular DJ took Screw's techniques and added the "chopped" to it. Around the mid 90s, Michael " 5,000" Watts heard the tapes from DJ Screw and wanted to get the new movement out of Houston, TX. Aside from just slowing down the song, Watts had two records of the same song on a turntable and would start the first record a few milliseconds ahead of the second record. He would then cut back and forth so that the words sounded like they were repeating, almost as if the record was skipping. The result was more rhythmic and fun mixes than DJ Screw's mixtapes. And just like DJ Screw, Watts started the record label Swishahouse Records, holding a roster with some of the most well-known artists out of Houston (inlcluding Paul Wall, Mike Jones, and Chamillionaire).

A key track from Swishahouse (featuring Bun B) with the chopped and screwed sound and emceeing on it is "Chunk Up The Deuce." If you notice, only the beat is chopped and screwed, and the sample used (from the Twilight Zone) is screwed too. Below is the video. Enjoy!

Bad connotations from this scene in Houston are often associated with the predetermined reasons behind why DJ Screw and Michael Watts chopped and screwed their music -- drugs and alcohol. Around the same time the screw music started, this new trend also started, which involved people drinking Promethazine, a prescription cough syrup that contained codeine. Referred to in hiphop records as syrup, drank and Texas tea, the main and major side effects with codeine are dizziness, change in vision and even loss of consciousness. So people unfamiliar to the sound of Houston were quick to assume the cause of the DJing technique was from the side effects from Promethazine, even though screw music came first. And when DJ Screw died from a heart attack in 2000, there was codeine found in his system, although his death was never officially attributed to an overdose. And along with several songs released in the height of the syrup hype, people were ready to shut the screw music scene in Houston, Texas down!

However, even to this day you can find the hottest hiphop record being chopped and screwed. Although people connected codeine use to the chopped and screwed sound, the music still managed to identify itself with the neighborhood it served. The sound still resonates as the style and life of Houston.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Hiphop Pit Stop: Detroit, MI

While hiphop has rich styles down South in Atlanta, out West in Los Angeles and up North in New York, one city often forgotten about that has a rich hiphop culture is Detroit.

Known for the productions of the late and legendary J Dilla (who we'll save a blog for later), Detroit holds a lot of emcees who have strong lyrical skills but little to no credit. Not to mention the OTHER producers who can compose tunes just as good as Dilla did in his day.

The first artist that comes to mind is Black Milk. Not only does he come with raw lyricism that could get him through 8 Mile (and no, I'm not talking about the movie), but he is also a great hiphop producer. He has done work with J Dilla, as well as Slum Village, Royce da 5'9" and Lloyd Banks.

Speaking of Royce, he has just joined the new hiphop mega-group Slaughterhouse, composed of lyrical monsters Joell Ortiz (hailing from New York), Joe Budden (hailing from New Jersey) and Crooked I (hailing from LA). This group has the potential to be a group that no rappers will approach to battle. Ever. But the story of Royce is an interesting one. He first made his footprint in the hiphop scene under Eminem (who is also from Detroit). They did numerous tracks together (if you check Em's old albums you'll see). After breaking away from Aftermath for personnel issues, he kept a low profile until joining Slaughterhouse.

Another great hiphop artist that represents for the 313 is Invincible. She not only spits hotter lyrics than most men in the rap game, but she does a lot of community work too, which makes her far more hiphop than a lot of artists out of ATL, New York and LA. She currently works with kids in a program called the Live Media Arts Project (LAMP), where they research a problem in the city (ranging from public housing to education), and based on their findings they use one of the elements of hiphop as a tool to report it. This could range from an album to a graffiti mural.

One of the best videos that gives you an idea of the current environmental state of Detroit, as well as a great grassroots effort by Invincible and LAMP, is this docu-music-video called "Locusts," featuring rhymes by Invincible and Finale (another dope emcee from Detroit), as well as interviews from the kids in LAMP.