Houston Hip-Hop

Mike Watts and his stable of northside rappers take a southside legend's style to the masses

Then, in 1993, former Geto Boys Willie D and Scarface had a confrontation in a club. Less than a year earlier, Willie (a 5th Ward northsider) had left the group on bad terms and Scarface (a southsider) read some of the barbs on Willie's solo album as being directed toward him. "We ran into each other at a club on the southside," Willie told Rap Pages three years after the incident. "He came up to me and asked me about it, and I told him to take it however he wanted to take it. He went for his shit, and I went for mine. I was 'bout 199 niggas strong, and he was there deep, and before you know it shots started going off."

Following the shooting, in which Willie says people on both sides were killed, tensions peaked between the northside and southside. They finally subsided when Willie D rejoined the Geto Boys for 1996's The Resurrection. By then, perhaps Houston was too fatigued by the fighting to get riled up about the Watts/Screw rivalry starting to brew. K-Rino, the scene's elder statesman, addressed the north/south divide in his song "You Ain't Real": "You holler northside, southside, leave it alone/killing each other over land that you don't even own."

Still, Watts's popularity grew to a point where -- because of his national distribution deal, his record stores sales, and his radio show -- he and partner OG Ron C were arguably more famous nationally for making screw music than Screw was. At that point, S.U.C. members began to resent his success. On Screw's later mix tapes, it was common to hear S.U.C. members specify that if DJ Screw didn't make the tape, then it wasn't really a screw tape. Further annoying southsiders was the way Watts seemed willing to embrace the term "chopped and screwed" as a name for his slowed-down mixes (he later stopped using the term). To show their deference to DJ Screw, many southsiders avoided calling their slowed remixes "screwed," because Screw hadn't actually done the mix. Instead, they'd call it "slowed and chopped."

Slim Thug, captured here in 2005 near the Galleria as he launched the maddening album Already Platinum.
Daniel Kramer
Slim Thug, captured here in 2005 near the Galleria as he launched the maddening album Already Platinum.
Mike Jones (passenger) and Paul Wall (driver): "still tippin' on fo' fo's, wrapped in fo' Vogues."
Daniel Kramer
Mike Jones (passenger) and Paul Wall (driver): "still tippin' on fo' fo's, wrapped in fo' Vogues."

Once Screw died (of a codeine overdose in November 2000), however, the petty bickering over Watts seemed pointless. Screwed Up Click members even started working with Watts's Swisha House company. Lil' Flip was first to work with Swisha, on OG Ron C's 2001 mix, I-45, and then both the Botany Boyz and Lil' Keke appeared on Watts's mixes. S.U.C. veteran E.S.G. even made an album with up-and-coming Swisha House rapper Slim Thug, 2001's Boss Hogg Outlawz. "You got Pepsi and you got Coke, it's always like that," E.S.G. says, shrugging away the divide between Screw's and Watts's camps.

But just as north and south Houston seemed poised to live happily ever after, an interview with Watts showed up in the underground hip-hop magazine Murder Dog quoting him as saying he'd taken screw music to a whole new level. True enough, on a commercial level Watts certainly had brought screw to a wider audience. Still, his words felt like a slight to DJ Screw, and the S.U.C. went on the warpath. Rappers Z-Ro and Al-D shot back first, with the track "Screw Did That" on Z's 2002 album Life. Z-Ro was brutal: "Screwed and chopped by who? Probably never met the man . . . /Bitch nigga, you get out of dodge fast/5,000 watts of skills? Naw, 5,000 pounds of trash/Watch what you say in the magazines, ol' fat-ass nigga/Instead of nibblin' off my nigga's cheese, ol' rat ass nigga/I call it like I see it, and I can't be nothing but real/I guess they can't originate, so they do nothing but steal."

Surely it was some consolation to Watts that, while the S.U.C. dissed him, he was making a fortune off of slowed-down mixes. In 2000, Eightball & MJG's Space Age 4 Eva became the first major-label album to release a chopped and screwed version -- and Mike Watts was behind it. Watts launched his Web site around the same time, something Screw never had at his height. "I started getting hits from all over the nation," Watts says. "That's when I knew it was far beyond a local thing."

The north/south beef subsided as Houston acts began to once again enjoy large-scale mainstream success. "Everybody in Houston goes through that -- from age 16 to 24, that's the age group really tripping on the north/southside rivalry," Houston rap veteran Devin the Dude says. "Once you grow out of it and look at the big picture you're just like, 'Let's try to move units in China, ain't no sense in tripping about somebody across town.'"


While the Screwed Up Click remained a loosely defined group, Swisha House -- the label Mike Watts set up in 1997 with his partner G Dash -- served as an official organization with a roster of rappers and producers. Swisha House started releasing screwed mix CDs by Watts and OG Ron C, but where Screw never transitioned to creating original music, Swisha House was soon making tracks for its artists.

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