It’s been almost two decades since the first wave of Houston’s rap dominance when names like Slim Thug, Paul Wall, and Mike Jones ruled the airwaves. Since then, we’ve seen Houston culture appropriated by the likes of Florida production team The Runners and Harlem rap collective ASAP Mob, we watched the wave wash away, and in the last two years, we’ve seen a resurgence in the Texas town’s rap relevancy, with newcomers Don Toliver and Megan Thee Stallion leading a new uptick in interest for Lone Star rappers and singers in the mainstream limelight.
It took a whole pandemic, however, to bring back the aspect of the culture that makes Houston music so unique. That is if you ask Houston hip-hop pioneer OG Ron C, who credits the sudden dearth of things to do outside with the revival of the slowed-down style affectionately known as chopped and screwed. Ron C, who helped pioneer the style in the ’90s and early 2000s and has carried its standard through some of the driest times for chopped-up music over the last decade, was recently tapped by 21 Savage and Metro Boomin to remix their Savage Mode II reunion project, putting their own spin on the 2020 trend of juicing album sales with deluxe versions.
For those who might not recognize what the subgenre entails, here’s a quick primer. Chopped and screwed music takes existing R&B and rap hits, slowing them way down and editing them so that parts of the song cut back and repeat themselves… like DJing in slow motion. The style takes its name from “inventor” DJ Screw, a South Houston stalwart who helped pioneer it, and imitates the muddy, slurred sensation that comes from sipping “lean,” the combination of soda and cough syrup that Houston has also become known for over the years. In the late ’90s, Ron C and Michael “5000” Watts united to form Swishahouse, the North’s ostensible answer to the dominance of Screw and his cohorts the Screwed Up Click.
However, DJ Screw would miss out on H-Town’s 2000s-era explosion, overdosing from lean in November 2000 and leaving a long shadow over the scene for the decades to come. While both Watts and Ron C would outlive him, Ron C departed from Swishahouse just before their breakout as well, leaving Watts and the remaining artists to reap the rewards. However, in the intervening decades between then and now, Ron has been a driving force keeping slowed-down music alive with his presence as a radio DJ for 93.7 The Beat, as the founder of The Chopstars DJ collective, and with his association with Drake’s OVO Sound imprint. He also continues to make his “Chopped Not Slopped” remixes of popular releases, from artists as disparate as 2 Chainz and Little Dragon. He even released a remix of the soundtrack from the 2016 Academy Award Best Picture Moonlight.
I chopped it up (you damn right, that pun’s intended) with Ron C by phone to talk about his Chopped Not Slopped Remix of Savage Mode II, working for nearly three decades in hip-hop, being a Houston rap icon, and the impact slowed-down music has had on the rap game for over 20 years. The interview has been condensed and edited.
— Metro Boomin (@MetroBoomin) October 18, 2020
How has your year been? I know that the pandemic has changed things up for a lot of people. How have you been riding it out?
I ain’t going to even lie, man. The year’s been great. I don’t want to be insensitive to those that we may have lost to this tragic pandemic, but COVID been very good to the Chopstars. Everybody ain’t got nothing to do with their money. So everybody acting like the job’s really brand new. Cool with me.
How did 21 Savage and Metro Boomin get in contact with you to remix Savage Mode II?
We’ve been doing it. We never stopped. I’m glad that the major record labels are finally feeling like it can help. It can help the progress of whatever the album is. We’ve done 21 Savage from day one. We’ve done Metro Boomin from day one. They all out there, I swear. Go Google them. I’m glad that the record labels have came back to the digital era because they were on it at first with the physicals when we was doing the Lil Wayne and all that. Early 2000, they was on it. But then, I guess when it dissipated from the street, and when the whole Drama situation went down, they thought that it was gone.
No, we just moved it to the web. And now it’s making sense. Now that it’s moving really good numbers from the web, it only makes sense from a business standpoint for the labels to come and do it because they’re in it for the business. Metro Boomin been my little homie. Every time he drop, I’m gone drop. So this time, we just tried doing what we tried to do for [All Heroes Don’t Wear Capes] but we just couldn’t get it into the system. We couldn’t get the labels to bite on it. Thank God again for the pandemic.
There are only a few people who can say that, but I’m glad it’s working for somebody.
It’s true. Everybody money slowed down, so what’s another source of income? We can’t get no money off these shows. Get that chopped and screwed, it’s another source of income.
So when he sent over the project, was there any record that immediately jumped out at you that became your instant favorite?
‘Cause I’m old school, I got to go with the sample from Rodney-O & Joe Cooley, “Steppin On N****s.” That song right there probably playing a big impact on older cats to make them like 21 and Metro. When I heard that I was like, ‘Whoa, Rodney-O & Joe Cooley? I’ve been telling people to sample this for the longest. That used to be my favorite song.
So nobody ever seems to ask, why do you call your version “chopped not slopped?”
Great question, ’cause a lot of people don’t even ask me that. That started as a joke. I’m not even gon’ lie, it was a joke and diss too. People gonna take this and they finna run with it like hell, but I’m gonna say it, ’cause it is what it is. When you listen to DJ Screw’s tapes, some of them wasn’t at their best of the scratching and mixing. Y’all know why: Because being under the influence of anything, you’re not gonna be perfect. So, you get the pass for that.
But you know, there’s a term in DJing called “railroading.” That’s when the blends get off the track, they’re not together. It sounds too different. So just taking aspect from other DJs that I was seeing trying to copy everything that we was doing, ’cause they said we was copying Screw. So with the fact that we all trying to copy, let’s just get real. You want to put it that way, then I came in and I said, “Well, I’m going to be better than Screw. I’m gonna be better than anyone who slows down the record.” The other boys’ stuff is sloppy. It was sloppy mixes.
I’m going to set the I’m going to set the margin. This is what it is: Chopped up not slopped up, because everything else is slopped up. Period.
Another thing I don’t see people ask about enough is the Moonlight soundtrack.
That was crazy. Just the whole thing, because Barry Jenkins is a good friend of ours. So just to see him even be nominated as a Black man for an Oscar, it was crazy. For him to win it, we just feel being a part of his team that we say now we got an Oscar. Barry Jenkins, he is a lover of chopped and screwed music. That’s why he had chopped and screwed music in the movie. He likes chopped and screwed music so much, he had to get his people to do a rendition of it at the time because it was so last minute. That’s why we didn’t do it. But when Beale Street came up, we did.
What would you say is the biggest thing that changed to bring chopped-and-screwed back into the public eye?
The support of the artists. It’s going to take more effort to keep slowed-down music going. It’s going to take more than just the DJ. The artist has to push it. The label has to push it. What Epic has arranged right now, this is the kind of stuff that has to keep going. If you put it out there, the people will make demands. If the people didn’t make the noise the last few years, then nobody wouldn’t even want to do it. They wouldn’t have made Metro even say, man, let’s do it. So now, you have to let the labels know. Now after maybe the label sees this, then they will be more inclined to say, “Hey, let’s do a chopped not slopped version of all our artists.” I tried to sell them on doing one with Future three years ago, but the numbers wasn’t big enough to see nothing yet.
Houston has a big wave coming out again with Megan Thee Stallion and Don Toliver. Do you think anything prompted that?
Texas period, it’s just not an entertainment hub. Has never been, it’s probably not even in the top 10 of cities for its entertainment industry business. Now, it’s just great to see that we can put all the business and everything in a perspective now to where the world is. Becoming known and recognized for entertainment during that era right there, it was new to us, so the city just didn’t know how to support each other. So we’ve just always had to really, really, really get it out the industry mud from around here. There ain’t no Clive Davis coming to Houston, just chill and then all over sudden running into Megan Thee Stallion. We don’t get that luxury.
It was still a mix up between the Northside and Southside. So the whole city wasn’t just really supported yet. But now with the new generation, they have. They have grasped ahold to it and that’s why now you are seeing people get real deals out here. OMB Bloodbath, she got signed. Maxo [Kream], he got signed. Don Toliver. You got Tobe Nwigwe, he’s all over the place right now. He’s independent. You got BeatKing, you got DJ Chose. There’s so much talent around here now we are having that wave again like you said. We got almost 10 artists now that have record deals or got them on the table, getting ready to sign. And this time for the youngsters, I just got a little bit more faith in the youngsters than we had, but we didn’t have no guidance. So the youngster got a little bit more guidance. We didn’t have a blueprint so we created the blueprint. So now it’s in a better situation. So, 2021 is about to be Texas year.
The Chopped-Not-Slopped remix of Savage Mode II is out now via Boominati Worldwide/Republic Records and Slaughter Boomin/Epic Records. Get it here.