DJ Archaic unravels his sound cords and weaves them around his dining room table. He hovers over a keyboard, scratches the decks and starts mixing. A medley of ’90s hip hop, electronic, and Houston’s own chopped and screwed rap all sound like one track.
Archaic — whose real name is Aarik Ryan Charles — is a DJ and producer originally from Austin, Texas who now lives in Houston. He’s one of the artists that is progressing one of Houston’s oldest rap traditions of chopped and screwed music. Fusing screw, electric and his own talents, Charles is opening the possibilities of this niche but influential culture.
“I personally think I took it to a different side, took it to a different direction,” Charles says.
In the 1990s of Houston’s South Side, a young Robert Earl Davis, Jr., aka DJ Screw, created a style of southern rap that would become a cornerstone of Houston’s culture and influence on an entire generation of artists. Charles describes Screw as “the face of a movement within the city.”
With chopped and screwed music, an artist takes an existing record and distorts the pitch, so that it slows down and sounds lethargic. A DJ uses the turntables to replay sounds and inserts scratching from the decks themselves. This makes the cadence of the song disrupted, creating a “choppy” feel.
“I don’t think you can actually say you’re from Houston if you don’t have at least one or two songs that are chopped and screwed on your personal playlist,” says young artist Ashton Watson, aka WATT$.
An older — or “OG” (original) — generation of Houston rappers like Big Hawk, Lil’ Flip and Z-Ro are big figures who pioneered the chopped and screwed sound. Some of them still practice the thoroughbred form of chopping and screwing. People like OG Ron C and the Chop Stars gave the chopped and screwed treatment to the Oscar-winning Moonlight soundtrack and score.
The new generation of artists, like Charles, takes inspiration from the original form of chopped and screwed music while mixing it with other music styles. After being exposed to Houston’s Z-Ro, Charles got exposed to screw music.
But along with using the sound of screw, Charles uses his passion for electronic music.
“One of my biggest inspirations is Flying Lotus,” Charles says. “He pulls from hip hop, electronic, and jazz. Video games are a big part of my influence. Thank you, Sega and Nintendo.”
Charles started making music a year ago and his talent has gotten him further than most, getting gigs, creating songs for other people and hosting parties. He says that he’s progressed faster because of how he relates music to sports.
“I enter it like a race,” Charles says. “When I hear other people’s music…it’s like a competition for me. I (feel) I can make something better, I can do better than that. That’s what forces me to make what I make.”
The screw style has influenced not only the entirety of hip hop but all of music.
“It’s a part of music now. It’s not really aligned with hip hop at this point,” Charles says. Artists like A$AP Rocky, Drake, The Weeknd, Bryson Tiller, and Frank Ocean have all used this southern style in their own music.
The current generation of Houston artists are emerging and making names for themselves. They have progressed the sound and made it their own by using other influences.
“Every day I see experimental soul and R&B artists, who sound nothing like… original chop and screw,” says Houston artist Robert Claveria aka Bobby Earth. With screw appearing in pop culture, it can open the door for gimmicks.
“The best chopped and screwed songs I’ve ever heard were great songs already,” says Joshua Lewis, aka Killarsa.
Charles, along with other artists like Tim Woods House of the Naked and Peyton, are all innovating the chopped and screwed culture with each of their own innate styles.
“That’s what it comes down to: It’s the feeling in the sound,” Charles says. “People tell me all the time that they’ve never heard a sound like that before.”
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