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.

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