Lil Jon & the East Side Boyz
Crunk Juice (Chopped & Screwed by Michael "5000" Watts)
In Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Hunter S. Thompson makes an astute observation on the historical context of 1971's drug-use trends. "What sells today," he notes, "is whatever fucks you up. ... Consciousness expansion went out with LBJ, and it is worth noting, historically, that downers came in with Nixon."
You might say the same thing about Houston's mid-'90s hip-hop scene, in which even the weed was more chemical than organic, but where the shit du jour was sipping lean -- chugging codeine-laced cough syrup mixed with juice or candy, often with a malt-liquor chaser. And as with all underground music scenes, the deejays and musicians had to follow where their audience's drugs led: Thus, DJ Screw and the popularity of "chopped & screwed" hip-hop remixes -- beats and vocals pitched down to a threatening horror-movie slur, the records cut up, phased and echoed to replicate the audience's running-in-molasses mental state. It's no coincidence that, just as chopped & screwed's Texas popularity swelled under Gov. Bush, its stab at the mainstream -- in the able hands of Swisha House top dog Michael "5000" Watts -- comes at the apex of the equivalent national nightmare.
Here, Watts makes lean-sippin' mind-fucks out of the entirety of Ying Yang Twins' U.S.A. and Lil Jon's Crunk Juice, finding a willing and more-than-able partner in Atlanta crunk. As Simon Reynolds said of the original Crunk Juice release, "what's slightly eerie about Lil Jon's music is how, for all the party-up intent, the actual feel of the tracks is dirge-like." What Watts has done is reinforce that dirge with a more dangerous demeanor -- if U.S.A. and Crunk Juice were desperate and menacing records muted by mainstream popularity and commercial success ("How could that Lil Jon fella from Chappelle's be scary?"), Watts returns them to a scene more underworld than underground.
Of the two, U.S.A. is the more successful in its c&s version: Songs like "Badd" (featuring Swisha House poster boy Mike Jones) and "Pull My Hair" go from simple pornography to threatening, Italian zombie-flick S&M set pieces. Most of all, Watts fulfills the potential that Ying Yang's international hit "Wait (The Whisper Song)" had as the most demented production to rep America in ages. As the antidote to the sanitized-for-radio remix topping the charts, the screwed "Wait" should send children screaming and grown men panicking for the syrup and the gun.