Music

UGK: Chopped & Screwed

Lee Henderson

You think being chopped and screwed doesn't sound like a good time? Listen again...


UGK

Chopped & Screwed

Label: Zomba
US Release Date: 2004-12-07
UK Release Date: Available as import
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Who knew that being chopped & screwed would become such an honor? But it's true. From its humble origins in the '90s as a cassette-buzz pioneered by Houston's DJ Screw, using ample references and respect to the slowing affects of his favorite cocktail (which killed him in 2000), the screwed approach has become a bona fide genre in remix culture. Thanks to the great work of Swisha House and the Screw Shop, the style is a part of what gives southern rap its far-reaching popularity; every new release is followed by its own chopped and screwed remix album, these days usually produced by Mike Watts, and in the case of this UGK release, the lesser-known slow-thrower DJ 007 from the Chop Shop.

Well, who better to honor with a chopped and screwed album than UGK? They were host to parties where nothing but getting crazy drunk was known as "crunk"; they helped 3-6 Mafia introduce to the world the wonders of "Sippin' on Sizzurp", and their own five albums are stacked with classic upon classic tracks from their impressively long career. They've been around upwards of 15 years -- no small accomplishment in the rap game. And I wouldn't expect Pimp C and Bun B to say their farewells any time soon. In respect to their accomplishments thus far, 007 takes their best tracks to get candy-painted at the Chop Shop, turned out on major label tires to roll on 24s at 24 miles per hour down the street, bouncing on new shocks, trunk rattling with that soulful beat, and those rims large enough to scare off semi trucks... come to think of it, maybe a little too much codeine in the cough syrup to be sitting behind the wheel at all. Released by Jive (not some cratebox mix tape company with an office on your local street corner) this "best of" UGK is official product, and so it's fair to admit that DJ 007 plays it a touch too safe in his chopping, not to mention his screwing, in order to keep intact both meat and gristle of the UGK originals.

There's a lot to like in this approach to a "best of" album. Screwing & chopping the originals is enough to satisfy the rabid fan who craves alternates, bootlegs and remixes in the delay between official new material, while it also shows new listeners a fresh way to hear older gems. So even while 007's remixes don't level the same oppressive and vaguely demonic groaning and throbbing that defined early screwing and chopping, there's good reason for 007 to keep it clean and straight. What he's done to UGK is never as dark a mix as Michael Watts has turned out. Watts' remix of B.G.'s "Hennessy and XTC", is unmistakably grimmer. Sonically, DJ 007 isn't prepared to scare like that -- his mixing is for the sizzurp crowd, not zombie thugs. Nevertheless, standouts like his mix of "Fuck My Car" are so tight, hissing with underground static and thudding away on the original like a caveman, that it makes the album come together just like a true DJ set should.

The actual progression of tracks through the album, starting with deeply loved UGK songs, "One Day", and "Diamonds & Wood", is followed by a smooth transition into lesser-greats such as "Let Me See It", and "Belts to Match", without any lag in concentration (not to say these aren't classic tracks as well, but within the space of the album, they are properly placed to illustrate the amazing range of work within UGK's best musical accomplishments). The album ends with "Fuck My Car", an absolutely riveting and hilarious bit of ghetto humor rapped with the convincing pimp-style that is ideally suited to the sick beats, as highly glossed as a new blue Mercedes with milk chocolate leather interior, Alpine, GPS, and Xbox, chrome grill, and on and on, you know the drill. The final track on the album is "Pinky Ring," and it's sure to leave you wanting to hear the album again. 007's set list seems to prove that a second, third, tenth listen will only improve your appreciation for UGK. It's all about UGK. There's nothing in 007's mix that's going to change how you feel about sonic liberties, about remixing in general. This isn't ground-breaking invention. 007's best work for UGK is structural, the way each song progresses to the next, that's what makes this a great record. He's put together a brilliant set, and especially so for a chopped & screwed collection.

Looking at the chopped & screwed style with an eye to the historical, it's really a perfect evolution for the hip-hop DJ -- to chop & screw is to make clear the creative lineage between a scratched CD and the sounds of the old school turntable. This isn't the same lineage as someone like Markus Popp, who sees his generative work with scratched CDs as related to old stuff by people like John Cage and Stockhausen. For DJ Screw and the other DJs who work in the chopped & screwed style, linking the errors of both the vinyl and digital mediums then making a brand-new sound from their marriage, a whole cultural sound is discovered. In the way that it represents both sides of a technological shift in hip-hop, Chopped & Screwed is one of the most important historical markers for rap music in the digital age. And like early DJs with two turntables and a mixing board to make their beats, chopping & screwing uses just the simplest of tech concepts to make the sweetest new slow sound.

The chopped & screwed style has turned into an aural symbol of the Dirty South's revolution -- which played a major role in the digital evolution of hip-hop. On paper, it doesn't sound like much, but imagine one turntable, a mixer, a CD player and maybe a sampler. Chopping makes a groovy beat off the syncopated clicks and cuts of a scratched CD, sampling that for later. Screwing is just simply taking the song down, downshifting the turntable motor to first gear, slowing that song to somewhere in the 20-25 RPM range. The samples (the various seconds or microflashes of sound and vocal from the track) stutter the song once, twice, maybe three times before advancing to the next part, and so on. What's great about hearing a track chopped and screwed is not about how different the remix is from the original, but how intensely derivative it sounds. It's the same song, only way more chronic: Getting caught up in the dumb slowness of it, and the joy of hearing an actual song that's stuttering over the same favorite parts, the best lines of the rap that you're always saying to yourself in your head, running over and over and over and over. That's why chopped & screwed is so awesome.

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