10 Years, 100 Songs: #88. “Five Percent Tint So You Can’t See Up in My Windows”
Posted by Andrew Unterberger on June 24, 2009
Over the final months of our fine decade, Intensities in Ten Suburbs will be sending the Naughty Oughties out in style with a series of essays devoted to the top 100 songs of the decade–the ones we will most remember as we look back fondly on this period of pop music years down the road. The archives can be found here. If you want to argue about the order, you can’t, because we’re not totally sure what the qualifications are either. Otherwise, sit back and enjoy.
(Vid not very safe for work)
For the longest time, no one would explain to me what Screwed & Chopped meant. I would ask, and they would give answers to the effect of “well, it’s when DJs take records, screw them and then chop them.” (Thanks.) When I actually found out that it just referred to DJs slowing records down considerably and cutting them up a little bit to aurally simulate the effect of tripping on cough syrup, I sort of understood–when you explain it in theory, it kind of sounds like a dumb practice to make something close to on an entire subgenre out of. Not that the records were particularly revelatory either, but as far as quickly forgotten (in mainstream pop anyway, I’m sure the practice is still huge in the greater Houston area) 00s musical trends, S&C was one of the more enjoyable ones. For whatever reason, some songs like The Chi-Lites’ “Have You Seen Her?” just sounded extremly cool when played at third-speed and stuttered somewhat.
The coolest thing to come out of the craze, though, was “Still Tippin.” Not officially a Screwed & Chopped remix, the “Tippin” beat nonetheless certainly seemed inspired by the practice. Slow and low, with a clearly wound-down vocal hook, the song seemed to just sort of ooze out of the radio, sounding almost experimental in its lack of forward momentum. And the result was totally badass, one of the most striking and unforgettable hip-hop songs of the middle of the decade. Perhaps uncoincidentally, the song took a long-ass time to get going on the national scene–S&C was still mostly an underground trend, and at the time the pop charts were dominated by songs going the other direction, ones by Kanye West and Just Blaze based on soul samples that were sped up. But the thing was too good to stay dormant forever, and though it didn’t chart very high, it was big enough to make the names of all three of the rappers on it.
Slim Thug was up first, being probably the most high-profile of the three at that point. It served well as an introductory verse, hitting all the key themes of the song (rims, drugs, bitches, guns, personal accoutrements, record-label namedropping) and even kind of summarizing the feel of the song in its first line (“Now look who creepin’, look who crawlin’ / Still ballin’ in the mix”) . His voice also certainly set a tone for the song, deep and laconic, in no particular rush to get anywhere because he sounded like he was already where it was at. Mike Jones was next, certainly one of the more memorable personalities of the decade–not exceptionally skilled as a rapper (though stumbling across a good line here and there), but winning by sheer force of personality. He was a one-trick pony, sure, but for one song at least his relentless self-promoting was mildly intriguing, and his thick, slurry drawl was compelling as well.
The real surprise, though, was the last man standing, Paul Wall–a Houston rapper/jeweler who wouldn’t even have been on the song if not for inheriting the third verse after Jones’ fallout with Chamillionaire. With a southern accent even more pronounced than Slim or Mike’s and a dialect seemingly all his own, just listening to him pronounce his own name (“Pahhh-ullll Wahhh-ulll”) was hypnotic. He looked like no other rapper on the scene, almost creepy in his relentless ugliness, but somehow that just made him all the more lovable. The verse introduced all the phrases that would go on to become Wall trademarks, hooks and/or album titles (“What it do,” “The people’s champ,” “Baby, holla at me”) and had a couple great lines that wouldn’t have made sense coming from just about any other rapper (“I’m crawling similar to an ant / ‘coz I’m low to the Earth,” “I got the internet goin’ nuts / But T. Farris got my back so now I’m holding my nuts”–the latter of which endeared him particularly to net communities). You weren’t sure who the guy was or how he got there, but once in, you couldn’t get him out of your head.
Still, the real star of the song was absolutely the beat, produced by Salih Williams, and based around a line in Slim Thug’s verse. It was a relatively simple beat, mostly riding on a back-and-forth between a pounding piano chord and a moaning violin riff. It’s a stunning combination, weird and almost haunting, sounding more like something out of a John Cale song than anything we’d heard out of Houston so far. But the key was how raw the thing felt, how thoroughly street and uncompromised–a perception certainly reinforced by the song’s video, which in censored form just felt like the three guys and all their local friends hanging out with a 5k budget, and in uncensored form (above, which I actually had no idea about until very recently), unapologetically dirty enough to become a word-of-mouth favorite or just a BET: Uncut classic. Just about anything would’ve sounded great over the beat; with these three guys on it, it sounded like a sensation.
The country took notice. By the end of the year, not only would all three guys have relative hits of various sizes of their own (“I Ain’t Heard of That,” “Back Then,” “Sittin’ Sidewayz”), but all three would appear as guest artists on the megahits of others (Slim on Beyonce’s “Check On It,” Mike on T-Pain’s “I’m in Luv (Wit a Stripper)” and Paul on Nelly’s “Grillz”), becoming constant presences on the pop scene. Mike Jones in particular briefly became a phenomenon, mostly due to his ridiculous marketing gimmicks–naming his album Who is Mike Jones?, giving out his personal phone number for fans to call, shouting his name all the damn time–which, remarkably enough, actually worked for a while. It couldn’t last, and it didn’t, with follow-up hit “Back Then” being almost comically monotonous and rapidly wearing out its welcome with its ceaseless “Back then, ho’s didn’t want me / Now I’m hot, ho’s all on me” hook–which, oh yeah, already appeared four times on his “Tippin” verse.
But in general, none of the three have yet recaptured the excitement or originality of “Still Tippin’,” a song which sounds just as cool today as it ever did. In ten years or so, it’ll probably sound like an alien transmission of some sort, and we’ll wonder how there was ever a time when Paul Wall was ever permitted within a hundred feet of a female on national TV.