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Chopped & screwed
Paul Wall emerges as Houston hip-hop’s great white hope
Whut it dews

A brief glossary of Houston slang

• Candy paint (n.): a brightly colored high-gloss finish applied to luxury automobiles.

• Lean (n.): hydrocodone promethyzene with codeine; generally mixed with soda and also known as "drank," "oil," and syrup.

• Posted up (adv.): to be situated on one’s block or neighborhood, often as a means of protecting one’s territory.

• Slab (n.): a fully customized luxury automobile; acronym for "Slow, Low & Bangin’."

• Trill (adj.): combination of the words "true" and "real," appropriated by Houston rap pioneers UGK.


Related Links

Paul Walls official Web site

The first thing you notice about Houston rap is that it’s slow. Like, molasses slow. Slow like pressing your fingers down on an LP to see whether you can stop it from spinning. Everything about the music — from the creeping beats to the drawling flows — makes it sound like the rap equivalent of stoner rock, like something meant to be enjoyed under the influence. Which, of course, it is. But even if the boys in H-town are blunted, the real inspiration comes from the stuff inside that styrofoam cup.

They don’t call Houston the City of Syrup for nothing. Since the early ’90s, when Robert Davis Jr. (known to the world as DJ Screw) started cranking out dozens of underground mixtapes, a codeine-based drink known as "lean" has been a staple of both Houston raps and rappers. Screw’s special style of remixing (he’d slow a record to half-speed and then double up, or "chop," his favorite lines) is a direct homage to the effects of his favorite beverage, and his "chopped & screwed" mixtapes were the soundtrack to late-night, syrup-dazed excursions — especially those cruising well below the speed limit. Before Davis’s untimely, lean-related death in November 2000, he not only helped forge Houston’s identity but, by promoting fledgling rappers like Fat Pat and Lil’ Flip, ensured that the city’s scene would remain fertile for years to come. Even five years later, his impact is evident: virtually every release from a Houston artist contains an "RIP DJ Screw" somewhere in the lyrics or liner notes.

One of the driving forces behind the Houston renaissance of the past year is Michael "5000" Watts, a Northside disciple of DJ Screw and one of today’s most respected chopped & screwed DJs. Watts’s Swishahouse label has proven to be a juggernaut, lodging Houston’s foot firmly in the door of MTV-level hip-hop with this year’s smash Mike Jones single, "Still Tippin’," and subsequent full-length, Who Is Mike Jones? Slim Thug, another MC featured on "Tippin’," defected from Swishahouse shortly before signing to the Neptunes’ Star Trak label and dropping this year’s equally successful Already Platinum.

Still, the best may be yet to come for Swishahouse. When "Tippin’ " broke earlier this year, ears across the country perked up to the sound of mournful violins and low-voiced MCs bragging about their chains, grills, and cars. Sure, it was silly, but the delivery was impeccable and the jokes were charming. Jones was quickly on his way to becoming well-known to East Coast rap fans; likewise Slim, whose collaboration with the Neptunes’ Pharrell Williams, "I Ain’t Heard of That," made a buzz when it leaked in late 2004. But many were curious to know about the odd man out, the Shemp to the Three Stooges of "Tippin,’ " who seemed to have been tacked onto the end with a verse in which he boasted he had "the Internet goin’ nutz."

That voice belonged to Swishahouse’s Paul Wall, a diminutive, diamond-grilled DJ/MC who while maintaining the sonic sensibility of Houston’s other rappers presented one notable difference: he was white. Much as in the case of Atlanta’s Bubba Sparxxx, Wall’s talent transcends race. "Tippin’ " earned him notoriety and credibility; what remains to be seen is whether he can parlay it into solo success. On his just-released debut album, The Peoples Champ (Swishahouse/Atlantic), Wall uses that infamous verse as a springboard for a future single on "Internet Goin’ Nutz," a song chronicling his adventures in "on-line pimpin’." (Where exactly is Paul goin’ on the Internet? Where else — BlackPlanet.com.) Elsewhere, he racks up points with guest spots from some of the South’s biggest names, including Three Six Mafia and T.I. A high point comes when Houston meets Philly: on "State to State," State Property crew member Freeway’s urgent, impassioned delivery complements Wall’s laidback flow.

Whether through chain reaction or mere coincidence, Wall’s success has run parallel to a renewed Northern interest in Houston rap. Southern Smoke mixtapes and T-shirts emblazoned with the Texas-coined slogan "Whut It Dew" are suddenly all the rage, and tracks from underground Houston artists like ESG and Lil Keke are finding their way onto the blogs du jour. And Matt Sonzala — a Houston stalwart who hosts the city’s Damage Control radio show and runs the Houstonsoreal blog (http://houstonsoreal.blogspot.com/) — has collaborated with New York super-promoter Roxy Summers (http://www.oxycottontail.com/) to bring a cadre of Houston rappers to syrup-starved metropolitans.

Sonzala & Summers’s latest "Screw York" conquest came just last Thursday in Manhattan when a few hundred hopeful New Yorkers lined the sidewalk outside Joe’s Pub for a chance to hear underground Texans like Short Dawg and G.R.i.T. Boys. Once the show got under way, however, it became clear that much of the befuddled indie-ish crowd was unaccustomed to the rapid-fire workings of a late-night hip-hop show. Artist after artist took the stage, flowing over beats laid down by Sonzala’s radio partner, DJ Chill, for a brief 20 minutes before passing the mike to the next guy. Between sets, legendary Houston rapper and UGK member Bun B kept the crowd friendly and garnered vocal support for locked-up partner Pimp C, the victims of Hurricane Katrina, and the Belvedere he was sipping. Before anyone could ask why Bun was just hosting and not spitting any of his dozens of hit verses, the next rapper would emerge. It was the only quick-moving thing in a night dedicated to — who else? — DJ Screw.

Issue Date: September 23 - 29, 2005
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