Friday, November 16, 2007



The sound of Screw is the sound of technology - of a confluence of turntable, automobile, and antihistamine. It’s the effect of a unique meeting of different machines and affects. Similar to the way you use two turntables to match the speeds of two different songs together, in the case of Screw what’s been matched up is the slowed-down voice, the pace of a car in cruising mode, most likely late at night through Houston’s urban sprawl, and the time-retarding effects of one or more chemicals – robotussin, marijuana, alcohol, etc, or the concoction most unique to southern rap, syrup, or that purple drank, a combination of codeine and promethazine.

The sonic effect is by turns ominous, mournful, monstrous, and naively cheerful. The last of these is especially the case for Mike Jones, a rapper whose litany of artistic trademarks, such the repetition of his stultifyingly banal nom de plume, and the habit of giving out his phone number in every song, together with his upbeat and affable voice, contribute to a palpable air of guileless enjoyment. Mike Jones is not trying to sell you drugs, or take your drugs from you, or hurt you in any way. He is like the Barney the dinosaur of Southern rap, teaching your intellectual white ass above all that there is no need to feel guilty about enjoyment – in that way he’s cheaper than psychoanalysis.

South Park Mexican, on the other hand, is usually not concerned with such curative measures. Instead he’s deep in the nocturnal trudge of the Houston drug dealer, a world which in Power Moves the Table has little-to-no baller glamour or romantic outlaw appeal. It’s kind of a stoned-out, sleep-walking urban nightmare, epitomized by the lines “Oh why must I sell drugs to live right? Well I must survive, so it’s hustlin’ through the night.” There are some lighter moments, such as the endearing glockenspiel’ed weed ode “Mary-Go-Round”, and the liquid velvet flow of “VIP”, but the most intense effect of the record truly lies in how the screwed voices emotionally emphasize the near-baroque world of the local Houston drug game.
The familiar Screw listener will note here that this record is pre-chop, that is, it pre-dates the invention of Screw’s other trademark technique, the chop, by which the same record is played on two turntables each enough distance in time from one another such that a quick movement of the crossfader ‘chops’ the track, doubling it in an intrusive, sudden cut that is the direct aesthetic counterpart to the languid flow of the slowed music.

When I was introduced to this record by my friend Trey, a house DJ and Screw aficionado, he remarked that listening to one single album screwed all the way, as opposed to a mixtape, was the ideal way to enjoy the genre. Power Moves the Table is a two-disc set, the second disc being Screw’s re-working, slowing down and re-ordering the tracks for maximum flow.
I have never heard this album at the ‘right’ speed. I don’t know what South Park Mexican’s voice sounds like, and I don’t want to. The effect of listening to enough Screw is that hearing the track once again at its original speed can be disconcerting, now it seems too fast. Screw is a very engaging style for those who practice a minimal aesthetic – the additional milliseconds of time between each sound allows the listener more of a chance to hear each snare, bass thump, and so on, much the same way that abstract painting reveals unseen details in color and shape.

South Park Mexican is currently serving 45 years in prison for child molestation. An in-depth article on his life and career can be found here

"I rap for all the crazy muthafuckas, for all the muthafuckas that need help. For all the muthafuckas that are lost," he said. "I let them know that I've been lost and needed help just like them, and I put that in my lyrics. That's why everybody who follows me are the sickest, craziest, most ill people in this world…'cause that's who I want to help and change."

DJ Screw passed away Nov. 16th, 2000, of a heart attack, either resulting from the cumulative effects of codeine in his system or, as some claim, by an intentional and malicious spiking of his codeine with metamphetamine.

No comments: