I’m sure we’ve covered the whole screwing/chopping phenomenon before, but let’s go through it again quickly: the late DJ Screw became a Houston and southern icon by remixing rap songs in the image of the way he saw the world through the eyes of his favorite drink, a codeine derivative. This drink, which ended up being called “Screw”, makes the world sssslllloooowwww ddddoooowwwwnnnn, and these slow tempos and their inevitably new low growly vocal tracks seemed to best be called “screwed” versions. Screw also figured out an excellent way to further disorient his listeners: he figured out a brand new way to cut between two records to repeat phrases and riffs, a way that ended up putting the rhythmic emphasis on the two and the three that came to be called “chopping” the record.
This screwing and chopping is in some ways the heart and soul of Houston hip-hop right now: there are places where you can pull up with your tapes, hand them over with some cash, and get your screwed/chopped version there while you wait. The big national exposure to this kind of remixing came in the last few months, when David Banner released Swisha House screwed and chopped versions of BOTH of his solo records, but it’s everywhere down in H-town; I’ve even heard screwed cumbia.
Tha Smokin' Nephew: Screwed and Chopped
US: 2 Mar 2004
UK: 16 Feb 2004
So there was no way that Houston’s new pop-rap sensation Baby Bash wasn’t going to get his Tha Smokin’ Nephew released this way. He and producer Happy Perez turned their tapes over to local crew The Choppaholix, This multi-ethnic crew with serious Chicago ties is just making a name for itself down there, and this is a pretty high-profile gig for them, considering how high Bash’s profile is right now with the success of “Suga Suga”.
Well, the Choppaholix don’t disappoint. They screw and chop this thing up something lovely. The opening track, like on the original album, is “Suga Suga” itself, and this version is actually more structurally radical than most of the other S/C remixes I’ve heard. Not only does the screwing more accurately reflect the feeling of being fucked-up on drugs, thereby bringing out the subtext of “Suga Suga”-hell, that might be the ONLY text of that song, “sugar” having been used as slang for pot at least as far back as the Archies-but they really pull a fast one on us here by sneaking in times where the chop comes slightly before the two-beat. All in all, it’s a great Barthes-ian reclamation of a top ten pop hit, and a fun thing to listen to.
That’s what it all about, for me: s&c versions just sound cool as hell. My boy Trife says that only IDM nerds like this kind of thing, but I’m not an IDM nerd and I love it, so there goes his theory; I just like it because it sounds like really hard heavy metal vocals. In the case of this album, it adds a heft that the first versions sometimes didn’t have. For example, on the original album, Baby Bash referring to himself as “the modern-day Jimi Hendrix” to indicate his drug use (I guess forgetting how Hendrix died) just sounded silly; now, however, slowed down so he sounds like the Jolly Green Giant, it sounds fearsome and tough as hell. A lot of questionable similes and scenarios just sound doper when they’re slowed down like this: “I’m a savage like a Dallas Maverick / Got nephews that’ll do ya” is hereby turned into hardcore street poetry rather than an ineffective double-boast.
Actually, I think this version helps me appreciate Baby Bash’s songwriting more. He constructs his raps a lot better than I realized by just listening to the original, and the verses build on each other rather than just free-ballin’ the way I thought they did. “Don’t Disrespect My Mind” benefits in a couple of different ways here-it was buried at the end of the original album, and now sounds much more prominent, as well as sounding a lot more real in its threats. And the weird disorientation of Oral Bee’s rapping in Norwegian on “Image of Pimp” is now compounded like bla-ZOW, so that it hits pretty hard. Who knew that Norway was breeding a nation of pimpery?
Of course, there are the random “oh my gawd” moments, the most prominent of them being the way “Ménage á Trois” turns Powda’s female vocal lines into ones that sound like guys are saying them. It never gets old to hear “He fuckin’ me” in a male voice on a major-label rap release! It’s all gender-bendy in an unintentional/intentional way. I’m also not entirely convinced that the new-jack criticism of “Oh Wow” isn’t really amplified when it comes to Baby Bash himself: “So you got a record deal oh wow / So what the fuck your punk ass fittin-a do now?” Well, he’s had a top ten pop hit, so he’s allowed to talk some shit… but it wasn’t that long ago that Baby Beesh was pushing his mixtapes down in Houston, so he may have been partly talking to himself when he recorded it. If that’s anywhere near true, the answer clearly is, “I’m fittin-a let my boys DJ Ovadose and DJ Coolaid of the Choppaholix make me a screwed and chopped record. How you like my punk ass now?”
This record has helped me appreciate Baby Bash on a whole new level, and it also establishes him as a player in H-town, someone who gets two versions of his albums released, someone to be reckoned with. This might not be the best rap record I’ve heard this year, but it’s #2 with a bullet, and I might change my mind upwards by year’s end.