Michael "5000" Watts and Trillstep

The Swishahouse don has a new creation.

Michael Watts is having an affair. No, not that type of affair. His mistress is a new musical innovation dubbed "trillstep." Watts is, of course, better known for his steady relationship with chopped and screwed. He rose to prominence in the '90s as the north side's answer to Southside pioneer DJ Screw.

Watts started Swishahouse Records with fellow deejay OG Ron C in 1997. By 2005, it had become a catalyst for the city's hip-hop hegemony. Swishahouse artists dominated the scene, hoisting Houston onto a national scene that had only paid a cursory glance up to that point.

In short, you can't write the history of hip-hop in this city without devoting considerable ink to Michael "5000" Watts, a.k.a. Mr. Swishahouse. A.k.a. Mr. 5 Fingers. A.k.a. Mr. Independent Hustle. A.k.a. Mr. North Side. Watts is not only a revered deejay, he's the nester of North Houston rap, there when it sparked, there when it fizzled out.

Swishahouse Records co-founder Michael "5000" Watts now blends Houston raps and ­dubstep beats for "trillstep."
Courtesy of Michael "5000" Watts
Swishahouse Records co-founder Michael "5000" Watts now blends Houston raps and ­dubstep beats for "trillstep."

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3rd Annual "Don't Sleep on It" Youth Health Expo

With DJ Michael "5000" Watts, Killa Kyleon, MPS, 1040 Boyz, Beat King, Big Wood, D Boss and the Swishahouse Family, 1 p.m. Saturday, May 12, at Fifth Ward Multi-Service Center, 4014 Market, www.dontsleeponit.org.

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If you're reading this, you've probably heard of Chamillionaire, Paul Wall and Mike Jones. They started out at Swishahouse and went on to nab major deals and platinum plaques. It's hard to know where Cham and Wall would be today if Watts hadn't agreed to let them freestyle on his 97.9 The Box radio show.

But put past glory aside for now. There's something else on Watts's mind these days.

On a scalding Houston evening, the Houston Press heads to the north side and drives through the nondescript alley that houses Swishahouse Studios to talk to Watts about Saturday's "Don't Sleep on It" health-awareness concert in the Fifth Ward. He's been hosting these for about three years, and this year's event is a collaboration with the Houston Syphilis Elimination Advisory Council (SEAC) and the Texas Department of State Health Services.

His studio resembles a mad scientist's lab — assorted DJ equipment, laptops, plaques. Watts is in a black tee and khaki shorts. He greets me with a firm handshake and offers me a chair. He doesn't smile once. He makes eye contact and speaks calmly, measuring his words with the patience of a sage who's seen it all.

And he has.

The Press asks Watts what he thinks about Houston's current hip-hop climate, specifically the so-called Old Houston vs. New Houston debate. There's a sense of separation in the city, mostly between veterans who want to maintain old traditions, and new-schoolers, who seem to care less about regional boundaries.

Watts doesn't take sides.

"I mean, it's like that in any genre of music, you know," he says. "Of course, man, you got two different generations, and they grew up on two different principles. But, it's always gonna be a conflict. It's no different from when we was growing up versus what our parents wanted us to listen to versus what we wanted to listen to."

Unfortunately for the New School, the music industry is more crowded than ever. If you think of record deals as cake, more people have forks but everyone's starving. Watts knows — after all, he helped groom the first wave of New Houston back when the cake was still available in slices.

His artists eventually moved on to bigger and better ventures, but they retained a hard-hat work ethic that would prove useful long after the major deals.

"Those guys were willing to work, man," explains Watts. "I think that's the thing that separated them from a lot of new guys that's coming out now," Watt says. "They knew what work was. They weren't like the type of people to sit around and wait for somebody to do something for them. They went out there and was pushing just as hard as the label was."

He adds: "I think a lot of the new generation doesn't really know what it takes, because there's not that many people they can use as an example that are successful, like, that's right here in the community. I mean, you got a couple of 'em – you got Beat King, you got Kirko Bangz."

There's actually one thing Watts cares about more than hard work: Staying relevant. He employs terms like "changing with the times" and "staying current" so frequently it's safe to assume that this philosophy is now imprinted on the minds of his employees.

To his credit, he does practice what he preaches. Take trillstep, for instance. It's basically a Swishahouse innovation that blends Houston raps with dubstep beats. It hasn't caught on like Houston's other export, chopped and screwed, but the potential is huge.

Trillstep is part of Watts's vision for Swishahouse, a vision that hinges on cautiously evolving. It's like that Lexus commercial: Anything not moving forward is moving backwards.

As for "Don't Sleep on It" (or, for short, the Michael "5000" Watts Independent Artist Showcase), the purpose is to drum up awareness on syphilis and other sexually transmitted diseases. Everyone gets free screenings, door prizes and refreshments with a side dish of local music, all for an irresistible price of zero dollars.

Watts tells me that the main thing he hopes to accomplish is to have people "learn their status." That's an important point because syphilis is totally treatable (with antibiotics), which takes the edge off the whole "learning your status" business.

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5 comments
Nick Beatdown
Nick Beatdown

Whats wrong with fight music? The internet trolls towards the bottom are too scared to come to the club. Badbwoy BMC and Big Watts have been layin it down steady for YEARS and get no love because people like the assistant music editor are anti-bass music. Don't characterize a big part of the revolution as some type of disease or you'll get bitch slapped if you show your face in public. Some credit should also be given to another one of Houston's producers-- Claw, whose makin big things happen with Hulk and I know why he chose to leave this city.

Hootiewhobaca RO
Hootiewhobaca RO

Props to Watts for staying true to his character and giving credit where credit is due. Obviously some guy named Rizoh didn't do his homework. The majority of this article is about Watts' contribution to public awareness which is very admirable. Abstinence is really the only way to be 100% sure you wont get pregnant, get someone pregnant or contract an std but people who want to become sexually active will. Telling someone they shouldn't do something will never work-- hopefully the message was use birth control, protect yourself with a condom and go get tested. This is not some new nationwide social issue, there is no forefront in the war against vds and although Houston may have a problem Trillstep certainly aint what the poser child is listening to. The blinders of commercialism may have obstructed this guy's vision of what success in the music business actually is. I commend Watts for doing something positive for our community. I would contest that the ability to put on an event like this is success in itself. The assertion that someone is actively looking for the antidote to Houston's commercial slumber has not had someone else tell him that its already been found. Maybe they ain't ready haha

DJ Michael Watts
DJ Michael Watts

This is Michel 5000 Watts. I really want to give credit to Badbwoy BMC & Texas Dub for creating the whole Trill Step movement & allowing me to be a part of it. I have to give my family props since the writer of this article didn't.

Quit whining!
Quit whining!

Well, he sure seemed to treat you really well in the article. Nothing but positive things to say, even about the "trill-step" crap. Wish I could write so well, but I'd have to be more honest.

 

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