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May 04

JUVENILE – Juve The Great: Screwed & Chopped

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JUVENILE – Juve The Great: Screwed & Chopped
DAVID BANNER – MTA 2: Baptised In Dirty Water: Screwed & Chopped
LIL FLIP – You Gotta Feel Me: Screwed & Chopped

In late 2003, thanks to David Banner’s star turn for what had previously amounted to the questionable activities of recreational drug users, everyone was quick to compare screwin and choppin to dub. And sure, there were some neat surface parallels that made for a good hook: “street culture merges untutored neurochemistry with cheap tech to creat new art form” or whatever. Working in a record store gives me more opportunity to check out stuff I would never buy, even moreso than SLSK with a dialup connection. And these three albums highlight the dub/s&c connection…but probably not in the way its defenders would like. But mostly they knock it down.

First of all, s&c is never as “out there” as the most out there dub. Dub remixers attacked tracks from the rhythm up, whereas s&c is a much more surface tweaking (sloooooow it down and then chop it up). So the results are largely reliant on the qualities of the original song, how it takes to the process. A lot of the thrill seems totally random: new sounds, structures, noises appearing from a simple tempo change…hidden ghosts in the music being released, unwittingly. While more adept/adventurous s&c technicians (and surely that’s the only word for them) might get a little more deconstructive, they never rebuild tracks from scratch. (There’s no s&c King Tubby, in other words.)

And while adepts claim that there’s infinite variation in dub records, most of us just wonder about the quality of their weed. Maybe there is; I don’t know. (We all have our particular obsessions where we rhapsodise evangelical about minute differences the general public might never notice.) But dub is a specialist music, and one I’ve resigned myself long ago that certain cultural factors (that I’m not a black Jamaican in the 70s; that I don’t smoke a brick of skunk a day) are going to prevent me from loving it whole heartedly. As with s&c…call me a prude if you must, but sippin on syrup holds no thrill for me. And without engaging with the music on its own terms, I am destined to begin to hear monotony where others here ecstatic fractalization. Too much drag-assness in the tempo, too many (pointless?) stu-stu-stutters on certain phrases or hooks. There are always going to be specialist albums that even the most general listener can sit back and go “wow” (King Tubby’s Meets Rocker’s Uptown, Pick A Dub, or the s&c version of the first Mississippi: The Album). And one thing that I think gets lost in all the dub-scientist-we-invented-the-remix-fool rhetoric is that even at dub’s most across-the-board popular, the vocal cuts still ruled.

To be sure, there are moments on here that outstrip their album counterparts, or completely reinvent them, or otherwise just make you step back and say “goddamn”. The new version of Banner’s “My Lord” is one of the most beautiful things I’ve heard all year, and I’ll be grateful for a long time for having heard it. But I am beginning to question the accounting logic of seemingly every southern rap record showing up with an attendant s&c version a few months later, all backed by major labels, and appearing in the racks of a record store in suburban Pennsylvania. EIther there’s been a growing epidemic of cough syrup abuse among middle-class white kids, or some Houston jokers are laughing all the way to the bank. Either way, music aside, I couldn’t be happier.

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