Just so you know, that low, persistent rumbling you feel in your gut this Sunday afternoon will have nothing to do with the Whataburger you pounded down at 3 a.m. the night before. It'll be the ultrasonic bass emanating from the popped trunks of 50 customized vehicles swangin' through Third Ward as part of the city's very first SLAB Parade and Family Festival at MacGregor Park.
What's a SLAB, you ask? Well, first off, thanks for visiting Houston, and we recommend that you check out Frenchy's Chicken before you have to leave. According to the Houston Arts Alliance Folklife + Traditional Arts Program, the Houston Museum of African-American Culture and Workshop Houston -- the triple partnership putting on the festival -- a SLAB is commonly an older-model American sedan enhanced by glossy paint, plush interiors and flashy rims. That '84 Cadillac with wire-spoke wheels and purple candy paint you passed on U.S. 59 South? SLAB, homie.
Don't get it twisted: We're not talking about West Coast low-riders or simple hoopties here. The SLAB is an H-Town thing, identified by markers such as a superfluous fifth wheel on back, neon lights in the open trunk and TV screens jumping up out the dash. And if it ain't got those swangers poking out -- "elbows," they're called -- it ain't a SLAB, baby.
"SLABs are a uniquely Houston expression developed in the Sunnyside neighborhood in the '80s and '90s," says Pat Jasper, the HAA's Director of Folklife and Traditional Arts. "Lots of people say SLAB is an acronym for 'slow, low and bangin',' but many say they're called that because they're just this giant slab of a car.
"Lots of songs sing directly about the SLABs or reference the SLABs," she adds. "For instance, on Beyonce's latest CD she does a shout-out to Houston where she references SLABs and proclaims her homegirl-ness."
The idea of a public celebration of this very peculiar regional art form was first proposed by Langston Wilkins, Houston native and Ph.D candidate at Indiana University's Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology, who did his fieldwork with the HAA and wrote his master's dissertation on Houston hip-hop culture. The HAA and HMAAC ran with the idea, resulting in a family-friendly festival in the park featuring music, spoken-word and dance performances alongside a parade of 50 pimpmobiles down Griggs and Calhoun to the park from MLK.
Though the uninitiated might see a SLAB and assume the driver is slangin' dope, it's far more likely he's just a regular dude with an artistic bent and an expensive hobby, Wilkins says.
"I really hope people see SLAB as an urban art form," he offers. "The SLAB community has kind of a negative perception in the public. I want people to see that this is a culture of hard-working men and women who like to invest extra funds in their cars. That's a very American thing."
No doubt. But if you're a little light on funds yourself, you can still prepare for the parade by experiencing SLAB culture through the sounds of Houston hip-hop. For those who would ride on '84s, we present the ultimate H-Town SLAB playlist:
10. Paul Wall feat. Big Pokey, "Sittin' Sidewayz" Perhaps no Houston rapper takes more delight in local SLAB culture than Paul Wall. In this breakthrough solo hit from 2005, the People's Champ offers a comprehensive primer on Houston hip-hop culture -- centering, naturally, on the almighty big-body Cadillac on swangers. To hear Paul tell it, you don't have to pull gals inside the club to get respect. If you want to turn heads, it's all about being the undisputed king of the parking lot instead.
9. J-Dawg feat. Slim Thug, "Ride on 4's" Boss Hogg Outlawz capo J-Dawg manages to perfectly capture the spirit of swangin' on this Nawfside anthem. Rather than gangbangin' or doin' dirt, J prefers to relax by rolling his candy-coated car through the hood, listening to music with friends and maybe taking a couple puffs of something or other along the way -- just remember to keep those tinted windows rolled up!
As always, the real SLAB rider must be sittin' on fours, the highly-sought '84 Cadillac rims that mark a true money-makin' hustla's ride. To confirm as such, the Big Boss himself, Slim Thug, checks in to show the world that he's blessed every time his voice is up in your deck.
List continues on the next page.
8. UGK, "Front, Back, and Side to Side" If you really want to take your SLAB to an absurd extreme, you've got to add switches -- the kind of hydraulic suspension that can make your car dance to UGK's patented church-organ gangsta groove.
Heavily influenced by the automotive trends promoted by West Coast stars such as NWA, switches were very much in style in '94, when Port Arthur's hardest released their second album, Super Tight, featuring the duo posing in front of a prototypical SLAB on the cover. Just try not to bob your head to this one.
7. Trae feat. HAWK, "Swang" One of the greatest, most somber tunes in the Texas rap oeuvre, "Swang" is perhaps the saddest SLAB-worthy track on this list, but it demands inclusion, regardless. To "swang," of course, is to ride' on swangas, the spoked rims that poke out from one's tires on the SLAB.
It can be an act of celebration, a warning or even a memorial, as tragically described in Big HAWK's verse on the best Texas rap track from '06. Dub-K describes popping a trunk in memory of his brother Fat Pat, a murder victim, while he bangs one of DJ Screw's many gray tapes in the deck. Tragically, it was to be one of HAWK's final verses before he was also cut down by gunfire not long after the song was recorded.
6. Mike Jones feat. Paul Wall and Slim Thug, "Still Tippin'" While local underground rap thrived in the '90s, the slowed 'n' throwed sound didn't explode on to the national scene until this gem hit the airwaves in 2004. Anchored by Slim Thug's career-making leadoff verse, "Still Tippin'" made a star out of Mike Jones (briefly) and Paul Wall, who had the Innanet goin' absolutely nuts.
In the nigh-indecipherable chorus, Slim boasts about tippin' (as in, gangsta leaning) on four "fours" ('84 Cadillac rims) wrapped in four Vogues, the preferred tires of the SLAB connoisseur.
5. Yungstar, "Knockin' Pictures Off Da Wall" When you're driving down the block, does the ultrasonic bass emanating from your trunk rattle the photographs and artwork off of your neighbors' walls? Well, then you ain't ridin' SLAB. At least, not the way that Yungstar prescribed in this bouncy, late-'90s local classic. The track is built around a sample of Kris Kross' "Da Streets Ain't Right," the same tune that provided the beat for DJ Screw's legendary "June 27" freestyle track. This one bangs faster and louder.
4. Lil' Keke, "Southside" You know the Southside is actin' bad on the SLAB when you hear this eminently danceable cut rumbling out the trunk of a passing car. Ideally, the SLAB becomes a rolling block party every time it leaves the driveway, a fact Don Keke lauds as he describes "throwin' up the deuce and givin' (gentlemen) dap" on his journey.
If you can't handle being the center of attention in your neighborhood, then keep pushin' that Chevy Malibu up the street, homie. Rollin' SLAB ain't for you.
3. UGK, "Wood Wheel" Oh, you better believe that UGK gets two entries on this list! As every SLAB must redefine luxury, that factory steering wheel you're working with just ain't gonna cut it. A real SLAB requires a pricey, aftermarket wood steering wheel, that you might grip the grain properly as you swang.
Driving through the hood holding polished wood in your hands apparently conveys a sense of personal success entirely unattainable to the simps in our midst; a fact stressed repeatedly by Pimp C on this easygoing cut from Dirty Money.
List continues on the next page.
2. Lil' Troy, "Wanna Be a Baller" Lil' Troy has only managed to produce one classic Texas rap anthem in his career thus far, but it's a doozy. If you can't sing along to the chorus of this song, you can't credibly claim to be a true Houstonian. There's a certain school of thought that claims 20-inch blades (those three-pronged, Star Trek-looking rims) have no place on a true SLAB, but the roster of Screwed Up Click affiliates that Troy assembles on this track make a pretty convincing case that you don't need wire spokes to ball hard. Particularly if your Chevy's been sprayed by Ike.
1. Fat Pat, "Tops Drop" Well, this is it: the ultimate H-Town SLAB anthem. Before murdering cowards robbed us of Fat Pat, the first S.U.C. rapper to truly break through, he delivered the bounciest, bangin'-est and flat-out best tribute to his hometown SLAB culture that'd ever been bumped before, and it hasn't quite been topped since.
Less concerned with the typical rap braggadocio than many of the songs on this list, "Tops Drop" manages to capture the simple fun of driving around town in a huge, candy-colored, pimped-out car with your favorite music blasting at top volume.
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