This time last year, we attended the Awready! Houston Hip-Hop Conference at the University of Houston, an informative and thought-provoking event whose main purpose was the presentation and preservation of DJ Screw's legacy and contribution to the city's culture.
In the same respect, Rice University's Center for Engaged Research and Collaborative Learning (CERCL) hosted an open-panel discussion Tuesday night featuring the Swishahouse camp from the Northside.
The impact that Swishahouse has on this city's music and culture is undeniable. The label continued the chopped and screwed sound that originated in South Park; garnered success by sustaining the "mixtape hustle" model of distribution and sales; and introduced extremely talented and charismatic rappers such as Slim Thug, Paul Wall, Chamillionaire and Mike Jones. The resurgence of Houston as the rap capital of the South can be directly linked to Swishahouse's efforts.
The night began with an in-depth and sometimes humorous mini-documentary that provided the history of the label and presented its major players. Those individuals include Co-CEO GDash, Founder and Co-CEO Michael "5000" Watts, and co-founder OG Ron C.
Also on the panel, moderated by radio personality Mad Hatta, were rappers Chamillionaire, Lil Keke and Archie Lee. The following are seven things we learned from Tuesday's discussion:
Archie Lee and Lil Mario coined the term "Swishahouse" early on in a freestyle. As they were setting the scene for the rap, they proclaimed to be "smoking in the swisha house." The name stuck.
Lil Keke recalled being hesitant and apprehensive as he moved from the Screwed Up Click to Swishahouse. He flat-out said, "Hell no!" when Mike Watts first proposed the idea. He later accepted the deal, knowing that it was a solid business decision for his career.
In an original version of "Still Tippin," Chamillionaire misspoke when he rapped, "Always been about them horizontal lines through them 'S's / That's a dollar sign." He wanted to say, "That's an Impala sign." To this day, people ask him about the lyric and wonder why he misinterpreted the $ currency sign.
Paul Wall and Chamillionaire used to pass out flyers and do promotions for Swishahouse. Cham also drew the artwork for several of the mixtapes. After doing this for a few years, Cham approached Mike Watts and demanded payment. Watts denied his request at first, but later called him and worked out a deal.
OG Ron C made the mixtape Parking Lot Pimpin specifically for Jay-Z. He was able to hand the CD to him, and Hova was very happy with it.
Watts was asked if he had ever envisioned that the company would grow into what it has become today. He said no, they did it just for fun at the beginning. It was only after the demand for his mixtapes outgrew the supply that he realized they could turn this into a successful business.
GDash and Mike Watts have been friends and business associates since the '80s. GDash used to rap on Watts's tapes, and later created his own R&B label called High Blast Entertainment. They merged High Blast with Swishahouse, and the actual legal name of the company to this day is SwishaBlast.
A question-and-answer session followed the discussion. The questions ranged from topics such as team building, online representation and contract negotiations to questions about individual songs. Rocks Off took the opportunity to ask a question of our own:
"Given the high rate of violence, crime, gangs and drugs in the Northside during the formation and success of Swishahouse, how did the company insulate and circumvent this negative aspect of reality in your surroundings?"
The answer: "We knew all of the gangsters, LOL!"
Given that a real answer would most likely involve the time and consideration not available during an open-forum panel discussion, we nevertheless would have appreciated a more insightful answer.