10 Things We Learned At The Awready! Houston Hip Hop Conference

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The much-anticipated Awready! Houston Hip-Hop Music Conference was held Wednesday at the University of Houston, drawing in academics, screwheads, and media alike. The conference is a joint venture between the University of Houston Libraries and Rice University's H.E.R.E. Project (Houston Enriches Rice Education). Julie Grob hosted the event along with Dr. Anthony Pinn, and the diverse panelists included rappers, professors, and an auto shop owner. The panels were split into the following:

  • "The Origins of Houston Hip-Hop" with K-Rino, Steve Fournier, Willie D, and Ricky Royal; moderator: Maco L. Faniel
  • "DJ Screw and The Screwd Up Click" with Big Pokey, ESG, Meshah Hawkins, Lil Keke, and Shorty Mac; moderator: Lance Scott Walker
  • "Slabs & Syrup" with ESG and Lil Randy; moderators: Langston Collin Wilkins, Dr. Roland J. Peters, and Julie Grob
  • "The Legacy of DJ Screw" with Bun B, Chingo Bling, Paul Wall, and OG Ron C; moderator: Matt Sonzala

Here are ten things we learned Wednesday:

1. Screwed Up Records and Tapes has re-opened at their new location in the Hiram Clarke neighborhood, 3538 W. Fuqua.

2. Much of what we know as gangsta rap was inspired, sometimes directly, by Houston rappers battle rapping and "ranking" on each other in bars and clubs such as the Rhinestone Wrangler. Steve Fournier recalled Lyor Cohen and Russell Simmons visiting Houston, then taking what they learned back to New York City to produce some of their most successful records for Def Jam in the early '90s.

He also said that Death Row visited Houston six months before The Chronic was released, and he clearly sees a correlation between Houston "reality" rap and the West Coast gangsta rap.

3. Willie D is both a mad rapper and a comedian. He told the definitive history about the origins of The Geto Boys' last and most recognizable incarnation, including a hilarious altercation that ended with him punting Bushwick Bill like a football, and getting booed in NYC in front of two thousand people.

He told the attendees that regardless of setbacks or obstacles, if they have a talent or a dream, keep fighting and trying until you succeed. Several panelists credit Willie D as the true originator and epitome of the Houston rap sound.

4. According to ESG, the current street value of a pint of codeine promethazine cough syrup is roughly $800. The owner of one of the major pharmaceutical companies who produced this type of cough syrup sold for around $2 billion dollars.

ESG made it clear that although it does taste good, it is very addictive and the legal penalties for possession and distribution are severe. The success of Houston rap and its rappers would have still occurred without the introduction of syrup.

5. There are rules to creating a slab. You start with the engine, then move to the interior, and finish with the candy paint and rims. Riding in a slab used to be a privilege, but now you see swangers on cars like the Ford Focus and PT Cruisers.

The original meaning of the word "slab" is not the acronym "slow, loud, and bangin'." The origin is attributed to the vehicles rolling on and touching the concrete slab of the streets. The cars were low because of the rims, tires and the heavy speakers that they carried. Non-slab cars are called "hoops" or "undercovers."

6. At the height of his career, DJ Screw would sell about 40,000 cassette tapes of each project at $10 each. Considering the large number of mixtapes he produced, Screw was doing very, very well for himself.

7. Screw was also a phenomenally talented DJ, aside from making his screw tapes. Apparently, he once went to New York to compete against other DJs like Kay Slay and Funkmaster Flex, and he won that competition.

8. For rappers touring through Houston, their first stop was the radio station, then the concert venue, and then DJ Screw's house. Lil Keke recalls being at Screw's house when a then unknown Master P from New Orleans came to visit. Screw talked to him through the metal gate of the front door, and didn't even open it or invite him in.

9. Speaking of Lil Keke, many of the phrases and much of the vocabulary utilized in the big Houston rap hits come from those old Screw tapes, many originating from Keke's lyrics (draped up and dripped out, wood-grain wheel, pimpin pens, Screw done already warned me, etc.). Keke says that Paul Wall knows every line, every tape and every sample that Screw ever produced.

10. According to Bun B, the UGK album Ridin' Dirty was designed to sound and feel like a Screw tape, which is why many of the beats and tempos are slower.

Of course, this is only a small sample of the things we pulled from our notes. There were times when we forgot we were on assignment at a conference because the conversations were so natural and fluid, as if we were at a family bar-b-que or high school reunion. We hope this becomes an annual event, and maybe even extended to two days or even a week long function. Dreams do come true, and this conference is a testament to that.

The "DJ Screw and the Rise of Houston Hip-Hop" Exhibit runs through September 21 at the M.D. Anderson Library on the University of Houston main campus. More Info here.

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