Pop Culture Handbook

How Chopped and Screwed Became Houston's Signature Sound

The laid-back style that's become ubiquitous in hip-hop originated here in the 1990s.

By Katharine Shilcutt June 21, 2017 Published in the July 2017 issue of Houstonia Magazine

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DJ Screw began distributing his now-famous Screw Tapes in 1993.

It’s a long way from Houston to the East or West Coast. Take that cultural isolation, add plenty of pure Texas swagger, and you’ve got the perfect petri dish for something authentic, creative and unmistakably Houston; Bun B might even call it trill.

In the late 1980s, Houston’s profile was already on the rise thanks to the Geto Boys, whose 1989 album Grip It! On That Other Level was a smash success for both the group and its label, Rap-a-Lot Records. Soon, however, the Southern rap scene would change forever.

In 1993, DJ Screw began distributing his now-famous Screw Tapes, slowed down and remixed versions of popular tracks featuring all-new verses from his hometown friends: Big Moe, Lil’ Keke and Fat Pat among them. Soon, Screw’s drowsy, dreamy style came to dominate the scene.

By 2005, following the success of DJ Screw and acts like UGK, the slowed down, chopped and screwed Houston sound had exploded onto the national radar, introducing the rest of the country to candy-colored slabs with swangas, TV Johnny’s grillz and “drank” —an addictive mix of cough syrup and soda that originated among Houston blues musicians in the 1960s and would later claim the lives of many of the city’s best rappers, including UGK’s own Pimp C.

Today, the laid-back Houston style has become ubiquitous in hip-hop. As Chamillionaire notes on “Draped Up”: “The world is looking like Texas man/Just watch how they pick up the slang/Just show ’em your grill/and pick up some drank and watch how they do the same.”

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