Mississippi: The Screwed and Chopped Album
s the burgeoning underground world of screwed-and-chopped aficionados steadily trickles into the limelight of mainstream acceptance, the style runs the risk of becoming a ghettoized oddity. Born of the smoke-filled codeine-laced dreams of Houston's DJ Screw, slowing down and cutting up records is rarely mentioned without acknowledging its debt to recreational drug abuse, as a means both to create and enjoy. Fortunately, a rapper with an unusual sense of morality has managed to firmly ground the technique as an aesthetic capable of enhancing both music and message. David Banner's Mississippi: The Album, screwed and chopped by DJ Michael Watts (of Swisha House Records, which carries the torch of the late DJ Screw) proves that screwing and chopping is more than a novelty or trick: it is a technique with potential for a wide variety of applications. Mississippi screwed and chopped explores the many nuances of an odd regional style, and stands as perhaps the most accessible and ambitious document of the scene.
Banner's original manifesto is as much a regional document as the screwed and chopped style, perhaps more so. As the first Mississippi rapper ever signed to a major label, Banner's sense of isolation is palpable. "The place where your grandmama scared to come… the place your mama ran from" he describes amid the barks and bluesy guitar of the intro, his voice slowed to a demonic growl. Mississippi is a dark, foreboding place, a place forgotten by the moral leveling of modern culture where Evil (in its grand Christian form) still lurks. Through the prism of Michael Watts' DJing, this world becomes more alien, more isolated, more menacing, and more distinctly Southern as well.
"Might Getcha," a carnivalesque contribution from crunk's patron saint Lil Jon, moves from dark aggression into full-blown creeping horror. The song is a threat, an attempt to strike anxiety and fear into the object. A host of potential fates are listed in a mocking, ironic tone – "Might getcha jaw broke / Might getcha wig split" – and drawing out the intimidation can only add to the anxiety. Death is easy, it's the anticipation that tortures us. This segues into "What It Do," stutter-funk laced with West-Coast synths creating the perfect platform for Watts. DJ Screw favored the slow, smoked-out G-funk for his productions, slowing them down even more to prolong the groove; "What It Do" seems tailor-made for screwing and chopping.
Banner's own rapping suits the style as well. His knack for melodic delivery is accentuated when slowed down, and his syncopated flows make for interesting rhythmic variations when chopped. But the benefits of the screwed and chopped treatment extend beyond highlighting the strengths of an excellent MC. Ironically, one of the most interesting side effects is the flattening out of voices until they are almost indistinguishable. Accent, timbre, and intonation become buried under Watts' molasses – human voices become disembodied ghostly moans. The inebriated inertia of "Really Don't Wanna Go" becomes a hazy vortex of detuned crooning, far more unsettling (and therefore effective) than the original. "Fast Life" is a hopeless plea for slowing the tempo of a violent life using medicinal benefits of drug use; the song's exhortation "I think a nigga needs to slow it down"—and as the tempo is literally slowed, the self-destructive violence of the lyrics progresses with the assuredness of a car wreck in slow motion. The hook provides the prescription – "Vibe to the beat / Bust a Swisha Sweet / Fill it up with 'dro / Nigga, you know," but Watts eviscerates it into a barely intelligible scat breakdown, distancing it from the song's main text.
Mississippi is far more than a simple rap album, or even a crunk album. Banner touches on many southern musical styles – blues, folk, hints of distorted Southern rock, marching band drumline cacophony – to create an all-encompassing document of cultural life in his home state. Screwing and chopping the folk-inflected "Choose Me" into a sprawling, psychedelic opus on love hints at the potential future for the technique: it need not be constrained by the predilections of its originator. As guitars wail out of control and gospel choruses wail like baritone banshees, it becomes obvious that screwing and chopping has only begun to touch upon its potential. If Mississippi: The Screwed and Chopped Album isn’t the record that makes DJ Screw a household name, it is surely on the horizon.
Reviewed by: Gavin Mueller
Reviewed on: 2004-01-14