Spotlight: Houston Rap
Houston’s Screwed Up Sound
Best Shit West of the Mississippi
Heads up Tennesseans, Memphis ain’t your only rap watering hole. For decades now one of the richest southern cities in groundbreaking rap music is not Memphis or Atlanta, but the city on the Gulf. Since the late-1980s, Houston, the city on the “third coast,” has been providing rap fans a smooth blend of southern soul and Texas attitude, a refreshing alternative to the black-and-white product offered from East-West coast rap. Sizzurp sippin’ artists such as DJ Screw, Scarface, Slim Thug, Devin the Dude, Lil Flip and Z-Ro have been dropping records that change, enhance and advance the signature sounds of rap music. The established music scene has even recruited talents from outer cities and towns. Rap group UGK, who is Bun B and the late Pimp C, spent much of their time in Houston cuttin’ tracks, as opposed to their hometown of Port Arthur, Texas.
The heart and soul of Houston’s style can be drawn to the late DJ Screw. Forever a Houston legend, DJ Screw, born as Robert Earl Davis Jr., is the original creator of the “Chopped-&-Screwed” sound that exploded onto the national rap scene following his death. Chopped-&-Screwed is a remix method that involves slowing the music tempo down, between 60-70 quarter note beats per minute, while topping the sluggish tone with skipping beats, scratching and stop-times. Although you are more likely to hear the product of Screw’s work in a shallow Chris Brown song, it’s vital to sample the source of the revolutionary style. The slothful sound DJ Screw developed derived from the consumption of “purple drank”, or syrups containing promethazine and codeine. The syrups are typically mixed into two liter bottles of sodas and juice drinks to create an inviting high. The low, monotone sounds are DJ Screw’s special way of transporting your ears and mind to a similar sense of euphoria gained through drinking syrup.
During Screw’s glory days from 1993-2000, Davis was integrating local rappers into his purple drankin’ music crew, “The Screwed Up Click.” Houston artists such as Z-Ro, Big Moe and Lil’ Keke all gained monstrous success under Screw’s contagious sound. Loyalty to his Houston roots was even displayed through his career moves, when in the mid-1990s Davis was offered a record deal from Priority Records, only to reject the deal and continue working independently through his Houston office, Screwed Up Records & Tapes. Screw’s passion for syrup imminently resulted in his death in November of 2000. The DJ was found dead in his studio bathroom as a result of consuming a lethal mixture of codeine syrups and alcohol. However Screw’s death would not be enough to kill the strong foundation he had built in Houston. In the last few years Houston natives Mike Jones and Chamillionaire have had the most publicized success, yet MCs Devin the Dude, Scarface and Slim Thug have all quietly broken the Billboard Top 50 with releases in the last three years. Many talented rappers have supported their own sounds without overuse of the Chopped stylistics. Devin the Dude has perfected a quirky, often funny style of rapping typically served with the type of funky beats reserved for high times. Z-Ro, the “King of the Ghetto”, maintains a strictly ghetto, hardcore approach to his music, similar to the sounds of 2Pac’s later records.
Legendary Houston record labels Rap-A-Lot Records and Swisha House are still churning out local gold, serving as launching pads for the quiet genius situated between the blocks of H-Town. But don’t let my article have you tattooing the Texas flag on your ass cheeks, let the music convince you. All of these songs are available on GrooveShark for your listening pleasure, so don’t give me that ‘I’m Broke’ bullshit. Roll up a fatty, sip on some sizzurp, get down with your girl, whatever it is you have to do to listen to some new shit. Here is my recommended block of songs to keep your trunks rattling to the Houston beats.
pat spitz’s hot tracks: Houston Playlist
1. Mind Playin’ Tricks On Me –The Geto Boys
2. Lacville ‘79 –Devin the Dude
3. The Mule (feat. Devin the Dude & Juvenile) –Z-Ro
4. Sunny Day –DJ Screw
5. On My Block -Scarface