Kanye West's 'My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy' chopped and screwed: The full album, slowed down to a crawl
A few weeks ago, writer Jon Caramanica wrote a perceptive piece in the New York Times on a remix technique developed in the mid-1990s by the late Houston producer DJ Screw. A storied personality in the history of Southern rap, Screw would "chop and screw" his tracks with the aid of cassette players by slowing down the music to half-speed. The result, released on mixtapes (the real kind: cassettes) and sold on the streets of Houston, was a tripped-out, bugged-out sound that turned real-time 88 bpm boasts into menacing, deep, digital 44 bpm blues. At first, chopped and screwed tracks sound funny. But the more you listen, the stranger and more magnetic the music becomes.
After Screw died in 2000 -- he was addicted to cough syrup, a fact that no doubt played a part in the allure of such slow sounds -- his mixtapes became Texas talismans, underground tokens of a weird moment in rap history. David Banner's 2003 album "Mississippi: The Screwed and Chopped Album," given a reworking by chop and screw master DJ Michael Watts of the Swisha House crew, is one of the darkest, bleakest documents of the '00s.
The remix technique has continued to germinate underground since its peak in the late '90s/early '00s, and its influence has spread to a new generation of music makers -- including the loose affiliation of producers such as Salem and oOoOO creating spooky, syrupy dance tracks that fall under the so-called witch house subgenre. Last year, some joker chopped and screwed Justin Bieber, and nothing sounds more dangerous than this screwed version of "Party in the U.S.A." by Miley Cyrus.
It was inevitable, then, that Kanye West's acclaimed new album, "My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy," would get chopped and/or screwed. In fact, DJ Michael Watts last week tweeted, "I said I was gonna chopp Nicki Minaj's album, but everydody's seems to want me 2 do Kanye's. I can only do one of them. What do u think?" The response was overwhelmingly for West.
Watts has yet to finish, but a few people have beat him to the punch, most notably DJ Candlestick of the Chopstars, also of Houston, whose "Chopped Not Slopped" version of West's work reveals all the nooks and crannies within the production work, and best, slows down West's breakneck wordplay and narrative to a more digestible speed. Where in real time a song like "Monster" takes dozens of listens and deep concentration to completely understand, the chopped version lays it all out there for you.
The tones, major key celebrations in the original versions with cameos by Pusha T, Minaj, Jay-Z and Kid Cudi, turn minor when decelerated, and feel somehow more emotive and nuanced.
Alas, West is known for his sharp tongue, one which prevents us embedding any of the Chopstars tracks within. But if you can handle your cuss words you can snag the whole album chopped and screwed by clicking here (for now). Another DJ, Kreep, has also chopped and screwed "Beautiful Dark Twisted" tracks. You can check a few out here and here.
-- Randall Roberts
Photo: Kanye West. Credit: Matt Sayles / Associated Press