Friday, August 11, 2006

Screwed and Chopped

I recently came across a screwed and chopped remix of Paul Wall's "The People's Champ". I had been wanting to check Paul Wall out, as he'd made some fairly reputable top ten lists, and I wanted to hear what screwed and chopped sounded like. To understand what screwed and chopped hip-hop is, you first have to understand what it means to get your lean on and sip purple drank. See, evidently in Houston they enjoy imbibing codeine-laced cough syrup (from this point on to be called "drank", "syrup" or "purple drank"). Mmmm…nummy. As a result, they end up kinda slow and spacey. This narcotic drowsiness ended up being translated into hip-hop by the legendary DJ Screw (who od'd on purple drank about six years ago). Screw would remix songs by slowing them down, resulting in something that was drowsy and trippy, perfect for getting one's lean on. After his death, local DJs kept the tradition alive, most famously Michael "1000" Watts, head of Swishahouse records.

Screwed music was still largely strictly a Houston thing until the scene started getting major label attention. As a result, some of the majors have put out screwed and chopped versions of albums by Southern artists, mostly from Houston, but also people like T.I. and David Banner. The majors no doubt realized that they could make twice as much money off of the same album, since screwed and chopped versions retail at the same price as the original album, and just involves a little extra mixing time. Capitalism meets art - brilliant!

I gotta tell you, it's fucking genius. Basically, they just slow the record down, make cuts in it, and the result is ghetto trip-hop. The voices sound like they are underwater, the beats shuffle along at an agonizingly slow pace, and the rhymes get cut up into a stutter. "Sittin' Sideways" becomes "I'm sittin'/sittin/ sideways/ways." It's oddly soothing and hypnotic, sort of. Even the slowed-down voices aren't as annoying as you'd think they'd be.

I'm not sure I understand the logic of remixing an entire album. It's pretty difficult to sit through 80 minutes of the same artist slowed down. I think the original screwed stuff were mixtapes, and that makes more sense to me. After all, how do you figure that all sixteen tracks on an album would sound good slowed down, or are worth fucking with?

I'd also love to hear the style applied to different types of artists. I've never been the biggest fan of Southern hip-hop, and it's a little incongruous to have these trippy ass beats with mundane ass rhymes about candy paint and shit. Method Man's "Tical" would be amazing screwed and chopped, or the GZAs "Liquid Swords", or Madvillainy, or "The Chronic". Maybe mixes of that kind of stuff exist and I'm just not aware of it.

So kids, remember: Opiates are bad things to fuck with, but music made by people on opiates is some good shit. Billie Holiday, Charlie Parker, The Heartbreakers, Nirvana, Nico, and now Paul Wall. Fucking. Awesome.


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