There is something irresistible to me about the “Chopped & Screwed” format. Even after by all rights the novelty should have worn off a long time ago, I find myself consistently satisfied whenever one of these mutant remix discs crosses my path. Perhaps it is slightly perverse, but I’m far more interested in the “screwed” version of something like the Ying Yang Twins than the actual artifact itself. Michael “5000” Watts is without a doubt my current favorite remixer. I wait in breathless anticipation for the advent of Radiohead: Chopped & Screwed—and if you don’t think I would pay good money for such a disc, you don’t know me very well.
But it’s one thing to admire the sheer bizarre splendor of something like the Chopped & Screwed version of United States of Atlanta, but another entirely to offer up genuine praise. As has been repeatedly stressed, the Twins are ingenious producers, and the murky, psychedelic haze of being screwed does little to inhibit the charm. A track like “Wait (The Whisper Song)” is indelible on the radio, and it’s similarly indelible when slowed down to a crawl. It was languid to begin with and now it sounds downright painful. Slowing down a track like this stretches out frequencies, causing already deep basslines to become positively monstrous.
United States of Atlanta: Chopped & Screwed
US: 9 Aug 2005
UK: Available as import
But the disc has nevertheless left me with a singularly negative impression. As someone who is well acquainted with the history of juvenile sex rap—from the funk of Blowfly, through Too Short’s early self-distributed monomaniacal odes to oral sex, through the advent of the 2-Live Crew and the endless gross-out shenanigans of the gangsta style that engulfed both the West and the East (not to mention the South and the Midwest)—I’ve heard some pretty wild stuff. But there’s something about the Ying Yang Twins that surpasses almost everything else I’ve ever heard, an almost lackadaisical approach to the objectification of women and sex that makes their casual approach to conjugal battery seem rote. Why is it that I can listen to Blowfly without flinching, groove along with Luke Skyywalker and the gang when the mood hits, but Kaine and D-Roc’s antics turn my stomach?
The screwed vocals make every word out of their already-hoarse voices sound positively demonic—the uncensored chorus to “Wait” (“Bitch, wait’ll you see my dick”) sounds less like a come-on line than a prelude to sexual assault. Elsewhere, the images of stabbing hoes with “ten foot poles” and “beating up pussies” with “baseball bats” leaves similarly unpleasant connotations.
Hip-hop has been around long enough that we can see generational splits and shifts. What was once daring, transgressive, playful or even just risquéé has been accepted by the younger generations to be simply business as usual. There’s an old saying that a new generation always believes—wrongly—that they invented sex. Well, the problem with rappers like the Ying Yang Twins is not that believe they invented vulgarity but that they take it for granted. It doesn’t mean anything. It’s become comically exaggerated, and in the process it’s also turned casually venomous.
It’s a rare day that doesn’t pass without new evidence that feminism is a dead concern in America, but the most damning evidence is that a CD like this can be released without so much as a whimper of protest. Is the Left so afraid of being seen as censorious, scolding killjoys that they are unwilling to recognize sexism in the public arena? I can’t pretend to speak for the feminists of the world—I’ve the wrong set of chromosomes for that—but there’s something deeply disturbing about the silence on this issue. More to the point, though, is why so many people of any persuasion seem willing to accept a status quo that allows for the acceptance of serial misogyny without comment. Certainly, the Ying Ying Twins have every right to sing about violent sex acts, but why the hell do so many people have to buy their albums? (The original unscrewed United States of Atlanta was recently certified platinum by the RIAA.)
There’s a longstanding tradition in hip-hop for MCs to spend entire albums spouting violent, sexist and derogatory lyrics, and then make up for it in the eyes of their critics by putting a “Dear Momma” or similar pious exhortation at the tail-end. There’s one of those here as well, “Long Time” featuring Anthony Hamilton’s screwed-up sinister, syrupy vocals. But it doesn’t really wash—it didn’t really hold water with me when Tupac did it, and it seems even more transparent here. Hamilton’s presence is anomalous—did he still need to make bail or something?
Am I wrong here? I fully accept that I could be barking up the wrong tree, and that I could receive a deluge of letters informing me of my error. But it seems that there has historically been a reluctance on the part of critics to condemn hip-hop for sins that would be considered execrable on the part of a white rock & roller. Why is it that Ludicris is considered a star and Blackie Lawless is considered a cretinous boor, when both of them are just lewd musicians who can’t keep their minds out of the gutter? I say that as someone who likes Ludicris—he’s playful and clever, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t occasionally cross the line between sexual banter and derogatory crap.
If they put out an album of Ying Yang instrumentals, I’d be all over that—they’re certainly talented, original producers. But man, do their mommas know what they’re doing? Somehow I doubt it. More power to them, but that doesn’t mean it’s right.
// Notes from the Road
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