Screw Music | Music | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Screw Music

Southern Rumble, Chopped & Screwed

Paul Wall

The People's Champ (Chopped & Screwed)

Swisha House/Asylum


Mike Jones

Who Is Mike Jones (CD + Ltd. Bonus Chopped & Screwed Version)

Swisha House/Asylum


Slim Thug

Already Platinum

Star Trak/Geffen


Bun B.




When 'Trina dropped, everybody paid. We ain't talkin' about 'Trina, the Bazooka-butt former-stripper emcee from Miami; we're talking about Katrina.


The Category 5 hurricane and its plaguing followers ran entire 'hoods of New Orleans and Houston cleanly off the map. The storms hit just as Deep South hip hop really began causing its own turmoil on the national rap scene.


Screwed and chopped music, which originated in Houston, was fast becoming the select hip-hop sound of note -- to the point where MTV even began showing chopped-and-screwed music videos. When 'Trina stopped, though, that's exactly how she left New Orleans and Houston: screwed and chopped.


Screw music, in which records are smeared to a snail's tempo, was named for DJ Screw, a popular Houston deejay who was found dead in his bathroom five years ago this Nov. 16. His unofficial cause of death was an overdose of codeine -- the numbing, time-retarding syrup that puts its consumer in a slow-mo, blue state of being, and bent over the edge of unconsciousness.


What prevails in the South -- poverty, inadequate education and corrupt police -- is likely what these Houston ghettos would like to remain unconscious of. It's spilled out in the hip-hop story of Houston, which begins in the mid-'80s with the Geto Boys before flooding the arena in the past couple years with Lil' Flip, Chamillionaire, Paul Wall, Mike Jones (who?), Slim Thug, Pimp C. and Bun B.


Bun B.'s Trill is the culmination of all Houston has offered hip hop. Other artists, such as Mississippi's David Banner and Memphis' Three Six Mafia, have borrowed the screwed-and-chopped feel for their releases. Bun B., one half of U.G.K., won't let any rapper forget about DJ Screw or his imprisoned rhyme partner Pimp C., from whom much of the South learned its hustle and flow.


Earlier this year, Mike Jones, Paul Wall and Slim Thug came together to give hip hop one of its most interesting listens of the year with "Still Tippin'," the track with the hauntingly beautiful violins that informed everyone from Viacom and beyond about Houston's new problems.


Their brand wasn't cosmetically much different than any other hip-hop region's: 20-inch + chrome rims on "big-boy" trucks, precious sparkly metal chains, psychedelic pattern braids and lusts for fat, Laffy Taffy asses.



What's different is the slow-pendulum rhythm and long grits-y drawls that remind of slow death. 'Trina was God's first act of urban renewal, doing in a few days what urban-redevelopment companies normally need months to accomplish. Southern black culture don't move that swift. The music, like the swagger, like the swings of their candy-painted rides, left to right, at single-digit miles-per-hour, reflects the deliberate, slow speed of decay in the city's schools, communities, law and order.


Who Is Mike Jones? broke that mold. It expressed urgency and desperation. It annoyingly repeated Jones' phone number and name to the world, as if to keep us from forgetting his existence. It might as well have been the well-below-poor blacks of Texas and Louisiana screaming, "Don't forget us!" as Paris- and Oprah-Americans seemed to be moving on without them.


This is that "crack/black music" Kanye West raps about, often inaccessible to white America. There's always exceptions, though, including Eminem, or Paul Wall, whose The People's Champ serves up enough "big-ballin' and 84" tales that his burdens seem entwined with those of the darker-skinned dudes he grew up with.


Paul Wall was once part of one of Houston's more fiercely lyrical duos, with Chamillionaire. After a disappointing breakup, Wall ended up with Mike "5000" Watts at Swisha House Records, where the Screw legacy continues, but with a broader scope.


Slim Thug's Already Platinum was one of the rare discs that didn't come from a Southern label. Already dropped on Star Trak, run by Pharrell Williams, who'd been mining for gold down South ever since his New Orleans collaborator Mystikal got locked up. As a result, Slim's doesn't match the same syrupy Southern sound as Jones' or Wall's, instead taking a more sonic galactic route. Songs including "Like a Boss" and "Click Clack" prove that Pharrell can capture the deep-bottom rumble of Southern tastes, but not its simple tick.


Southern philosophy says, what sounds good, sounds good. Doesn't matter if that's using a 50-track mixer or a baby rattle and a bucket.


Bun B.'s Trill uses only Southern producers. Some we've heard of, including Mannie Fresh and the increasingly unimpressive Jazze Pha. But most we haven't: Cory Mo, Bido and Sean Wee. His biggest hit came when he did "Big Pimpin'" for a Jay-Z album, but Bun B., who recently did a track with Pittsburgh-Larimer Ave. rap group Tha Govament, consciously avoided drawing a non-Southern act for Trill, even though his record label harassed him to do a "Big Pimpin' 2." His explanation of all this in "The Story" helps you understand what keepin' it trill is all about.


Not that Bun B. won't work with other artists. He's done tracks with West Coast artists Self Scientific and Chino XL. Recently, on, Bun discussed his affinity for hip-hop "purist" fave Little Brother, saying how "they grew up on N.W.A. and A Tribe Called Quest. So did I. I want to push for them niggas. They have some of the best music on the shelf, right now."


Many so-called "purists" dismiss screwed, chopped, crunk, anythingtnotlikeNativeTongues music as unreal hip hop. If the Southern brand isn't real hip hop, I don't know what is. While much "progressive" East Coast rap has gone liveband or laptop, screw music has preserved the streetness and flyness of early Run-DMC, Slick Rick and Rakim. It also preserves the turntables, drawing from the creative impulse of the deejay, whom most other regional hip-hop has rendered invisible.


Free Pimp C.