Moonlight recently won the Academy Award for Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Mahershala Ali won Best Supporting Actor for his role. The film is visually captivating. Please see this film if you have not already.
Moonlight holds a special place in my heart. I saw it on November 8th, 2016 (kind of a big day). It was late in the evening, the Electoral College numbers were coming in and my friend and I figured we should go see Moonlight to distract from what was happening. When the credits rolled, I was an emotional mess. Then my friend and I turned our phones on and saw the election results. I couldn't move.
Barry Jenkins, Moonlight's director, listens to chopped and screwed music everyday. Robert Earl "DJ Screw" Davis Jr. created the chopped and screwed (or "slowed and throwed") technique in the early 90s on turntables by slowing down the tempo of a song, skipping beats, and using stop-time to give the song a cool, sedated Houston lean.
Unfortunately, DJ Screw passed in 2000, but his legacy is strong and his influence is everywhere in hip-hop. Popular Harlem based rapper A$AP Rocky heavily relies on the chopped and screwed technique, Kanye West used it in the chorus of 2012's hit song "Mercy," and Houston rapper Mike Jones featured the sound on his break out hit "Still Tippin'."
Now, I need to take a moment to pay homage to "Still Tippin'." I was 13 years old when this record came out and it quickly became my pre-game ritual for every basketball tournament that spring. I balled out thanks to it. "Still Tippin'" was a track that made the rare crossover from the Houston streets to the airwaves of Los Angeles where I grew up. At the time, LA rap stations really only played West Coast artists with the occasional mainstream East Coast/Midwest artists, and the only taste of southern rap being from Atlanta. I was mesmerized by the thick slowed chorus, the abrupt strong keys and the rappers' smooth Houston dialects. In Shea Serrano's New York Times Best Seller The Rap Year Book: The Most Important Rap Song From Every Year Since 1979, Discussed, Debated, and Deconstructed, "Still Tippin'" is crowned the most important rap song of 2004. It's in this song, Mike Jones blesses the world with his iconic line, "Back then h--s didn't want me, now I'm hot h--s all on me". He raps this phrase 4 times in a row because repetition supports emphasis. He needs us to know what's up. Featured artists Paul Wall and Slim Thug give nice supporting verses. Paul Wall wall in particular has been integral to the grill culture in Houston, The South, and hip-hop in general. In Moonlight, gaudy grills become part of Chiron's shielded exterior in his manhood. He even drives an old school "slab" (slow loud and banging) car, like the ones featured in the "Still Tippin" video. Grills, chopped and screwed sounds, slabs, this is peak southern hip hop culture. Disclaimer, this is not an edited version and the lyrics are explicit:
Moonlight's use of chopped music works perfectly with the film's mood and southern coastal backdrop. Like the story and its protagonist, Chiron, the music is dense, haunting and trudges along. Thanks to the success of the film, Barry Jenkins teamed up with Houston's very own collective, The Chopstars, to bring us the Purple Moonlight mixtape. "Keeping DJ Screw alive since 2001," the Chopstars honor DJ Screw in everything they do. They've chopped popular projects from Drake's Take Care to Little Dragon's Nabuma Purple Rubberband. Most recently, the collective chopped parts of Frank Ocean's Blonde and created a Houston throwed mash up of the Knowles sisters' Lemonade and A Seat at the table. The Purple Moonlight mixtape is a 26 track "chopped not slopped" version of the movies soundtrack as well additional recent releases at the end. I've listened to it everyday since it came out. "When life movin' too fast, let the Chopstars slow it down for you". Enjoy.