Monday, April 23, 2007
Pop goes what?
I spent the past weekend in what I considered to be great weather, until I returned back to my beloved Montreal only to find that it had transformed into wonderful spring. My trip was to Seattle and the Experience Music Project's 6th annual Pop Conference to present a paper, alongside the talented Mr. Dave Stelfox, entitled "'Screwing up the world': Hip Hop Slows Down And Makes Do In Houston, Texas."
I've been forcing people to listen to plodding hip hop and R&B for quite some time, insisting that everything really does sound better slow. Dave and I had a bit of a time of it trying to figure out how to bring together a journalist (him) and an academic (me) to cook up something that might explain the whys and hows of a genre of music that, upon first listen, defys explanation. If I may say so myself, after much consternation, we did a good job.
There were some spectacular papers at the conference. I'll prolly tell all of you about them when we sit down and have a glass of wine on a terasse. Soon.
Until then, here's Dave's and my abstract:
Michel De Certeau speaks of divining "ways of using the constraining order of place.” In the case of Houston, not only do we find oppressive heat, the city’s hometown rap scene also comes under similar pressure. Texan hip hop is squeezed between the east and west coasts. The "art of being between" and the "unexpected results" of which De Certeau speaks, are evidenced here—in the form of gorgeous tonalities and deep, vulnerable strains, all created by taking regular hip-hop and simply slowing it down.
Far from being an underground phenomenon, slowed music represents a genuine “alternative mainstream” culture, enjoying massive audiences throughout the Southern states. A rudimentary, yet dazzlingly effective way to recontextualize existing records in a truly original way, it also lays claim to this region’s own special place in wider hip hop culture. Taking into account the spatiality of these recordings, this paper will explore what happens when the world turns slow.
DJ Screw, originator or slowed or “Screwed” remixing, becomes not simply a turntablist, but a revolutionary. The desire is not to rework a track, but to let it breathe, to open it up. The integrity of the song is maintained—it is the same product as before, but the way that it is experienced changes. It's filtered through heat, through drugs (don't think that the screwed and chopped style isn't also a manifestation of the codeine cough syrup so popular in Houston), through America, through hip hop, until it begins to "function in a different register." If Paul Virillio believes that speed is the essence of American life, screwed tunes present a response.
The legendary story of DJ Screw's accidental discovery of the transformative power of slowness is a profound act of "making do." That screwed music has become a genre now entering the mainstream demonstrates the momentum of a movement, or a need, as opposed to a considered idea. The existence of hundreds (if not thousands) of Screw's mixtapes is evidence of this need to make do. Screwed and chopped music, as representative of a reaction to a space and place is essentially an example of just doin' it because they are, they can and they do.