Interview: OG Ron C
OG Ron C is a DJ and businessman from Northside Houston. He’s best known as the co-founder of Swishahouse Records, his Fuck Action series of chopped and screwed mixtapes, and for his work with the ChopStars DJ collective, of which he is a founder.
When did you and Michael Watts meet?
Yeah, we met in 1993. So, you know, adolescence. Radio brought us together - actually, ‘94 because he came to radio in ‘94. And you know, we started hanging out - I had a teen club, I invited him to be the DJ while I’d emcee. We figured out a thing that worked, and one thing led to another.
What sort of stuff was in heavy rotation at that time?
We was doin’ what we did on TV. We did have our own circuit here of rappers trying to get on; a lot of rappers don’t even get mentioned, they get overlooked, and then we had a lot of the Big Mellos, 5th Ward Juvenilez, 5th Ward Boyz, Too Much Trouble that was around by ‘88, ‘89. We had rappers. Taking what we saw on TV and then tellin’ our story from where we was at.
I was a producer and an emcee before I actually DJed - that was like, ‘86, ‘87. But no, I’m not the rapper Ron C from Dallas [laughs]. But I did start in a rap group, beatboxin’ and stuff. It started first with me and my childhood friend Anthony Pope in the 7th grade, we started rapping, beatboxing and stuff, just battlin’ people around the school. Then by the time I got to the 9th grade is when I started trying to be in a rap group, and that first group was called Sinister Crew. We went to make a demo and didn’t have no music, so I was taught on the scene how to produce a track. So that’s how I got into it - I know how to beatbox good, but when we was practicin’ to do our first demo we had thought that the music was made at the studio [laughs]. So we was taught how to make a plain beat, and I fell in love with that because I had wanted to be in the background. We had a DJ - Stickabush was our DJ, my homeboy Mark Lewis - and he was a real turntablist, so one day he just pulled off some real cool, live tricks and I knew that’s what I wanted to do.
So you weren’t necessarily one for the spotlight and all that?
Yeah, I always wanted to be in the background - I like the group performances, I was always in the little talent shows and all that. Entertainment was just my thing, period, but I wanted to see if I could do something valuable but still be in the background.
Were you aware of everything that was going on around the city at the time, or were all these neighborhood cliques and scenes kind of working in a vacuum?
Well, it was such a split-up city back then. At that time it was a Northside/Southside beef, so a lot of people couldn’t really go from one to the other. That went through the mid-’90s. But we definitely was aware. A lot of that stuff really didn’t even have nothing to do with the rappers, it was the street guys. The rap is what ended up breaking down the barrier.
With all of your albums and tapes, how do you keep them straight or think about what you want to accomplish with a given release?
[laughs] You know, that’s a great question man. I think probably my format has changed a little bit now because I do more whole projects for artists, turning that into a mixtape version. But when I was doing the mixtapes and tryin’ to stay up on the hot music, it was basically whatever was hot at that moment. Basically then you’d get fifteen or sixteen hot records - talking about tapes, they were only a certain length anyway. Once you slow it down, it had to be at seventy-four minutes. And then we got blessed with six more minutes and made eighty-minute tapes. Then they made eighty-minute CDs… but it was just hot records, man. And we was on the radio too, so that gave us an edge over a lot of DJs.
With that quantity of music, do you ever worry about some of it getting lost? I was looking for, I think, F-Action 38 recently and just couldn’t find it anywhere.
I have, man, probably ten safes now full of masters. I got everything, I need to go count and see how many I got [laughs]. And then now, with the digital, I can keep it easier than an actual physical tape or a master.
Houston’s got such an independent streak as far as labels go - with Swishahouse, did you ever have trouble convincing people that they needed to work with a label?
I guess things had kind of changed by then, because you gotta remember that we started as a big crew. So we didn’t even really have a chance to become a freelance label and go out searchin’ for artists. Everybody was pretty much already part of the crew, waitin’ to be next in line with his homeboy. Everybody was already close or knew somebody already on the label, so we was never short on talent. Even before we had got the record deals, there was seventeen of us doin’ the mixtapes.
What got you started on slowing tracks down?
Michael Watts was the one who really got me into slowin’ down a record. Because for a long time, I was just his emcee talking on the records. He wouldn’t let me do the mixtapes, my style wasn’t developed yet. When I did start doing the mixtapes, it was because Watts had gotten so popular as a radio DJ that they had him workin’ all the time. His demand was bein’ increased for to be on the radio, and our demand was bein’ increased for the mixtapes on the streets at the same time.
I don’t even remember what’s my first tape, man… the very first tape that Watts let me talk on, I think, was Northside 7. I started shoutin’ everybody out, that’s what kept me as the emcee. I knew everybody from the neighborhoods, the record stores, I had just came from East Texas bein’ in college so I would shout them out.
I know that you think of yourself as having a responsibility to carry on Screw’s legacy - do you also feel like you’ve got to make sure that the sound keeps progressing and growing?
Definitely, definitely. And for the record - I didn’t know DJ Screw personally. He’s from Southside, we from Northside. But it was something that brought the city together as a whole, first of all, and I felt like I didn’t want Screw’s music and what he did to be lost. Everybody know that Screw wasn’t the first person to slow down a record; everybody knows that, even though it took a lot of us a long time to accept that and to get over it, but it’s been researched and everybody now knows that it started in Tampa. But DJ Screw made it cool by coming in and adding the freestyles, the chops, addin’ his style to it. So I didn’t want the world to get it mixed up who made it cool, who made it popular to listen to slowed-down music. It was a way of life that he created, that got rappers out of a lot of places too, so I want to keep that goin’ too. 2008, when DJ Screw’s music had died, me and DJ Candlestick brought that back and took it to the internet to grow this whole fanbase. For this internet fanbase and everything, we did that. The ChopStars did that. To make sure people didn’t lose track of where that came from and who made it popular, DJ Screw.
How did ChopStars get formed? I imagine you could use that same internet presence to recruit from outside Houston.
It was actually, it never was formed as a group. It started with me and DJ Lil Steve - he was such a student of Screw music, and seeing the love that he had for it… I was already becoming a celebrity at this, so me and him, we were choppin’ it up and we were stars. And then I had became the president of the world-famous Go DJ Music Group that was started by DJ Hi-C. And DJ Candlestick and DJ Hollygrove, I found out that they loved to do chopped and screwed music. They would bug me everyday, listen to my tape, and I never did. All the CDs were just written on, so since I had the manufacturing equipment at home I was going to print on it to help the young dude out, and at that point I finally gave it a listen. And man, this dude really cold! So it started with just giving him some pointers, giving DJ Hollygrove some points, and now it’s all four of us [laughs]. And so I thought that if I’m on a journey to keep this this thing together, we might as well take the young dudes along. I think over the internet I’d see this or that little hot dude doing Screw music - Slim K, DJ Ryan Wolf. I knew Blurray and WhutItDew because at the Southern Entertainment Awards they’d be in the competition every single year. Somebody told me that Mike G from Odd Future chopped and screwed records, so he sent me some stuff. DJ D.A., he came from Moscow. He’s a heart surgeon or somethin’ over there.
Do you think there are elements of the sound itself that have had to change to keep up with the internet era, or is all of that just on the business side of things?
I don’t think the artform has changed, but the music does change the sound. But it’s slowed-down music, it’s like anything. It’s like washin’ powder - it’s just washin’ powder, but then you might like Tide, or Gain. You have your reason, you like Gain because it might do a good job and be least expensive. Or you like Tide because you was raised with Tide all your life. That’s how I look at it with the different DJs.
Me, OG Ron C, I was the first to go and chop and screw a full album, and it was Houston Hard Hitters, these compilations that Madd Hatta used to put out for radio stations. And then the first group to get they album chopped and screwed was Hustler E, Texas Money Boyz, from Waco. Me and Watts did that together. Then the first major album to come out from a major artist was 8Ball & MJG, when they had the Space Age 4 Eva album. That was the first official chopped and screwed album.
How has your experience been with taking commissions and whatnot from outside groups? Are they usually pretty up on the culture, or just looking for the name?
I’ve had incidents with both, sometimes they want the name and sometimes there’s people that grew up on it and have been waitin’ they whole life to get they stuff chopped. I know I’ve had to convert people, and I’ve converted a lot. People used to always think that you had to be high, or sip syrup to listen to chopped and screwed music, but I proved that wrong when I chopped up a Taylor Swift. When I chopped up, one of my favorites to chop up, is John Mayer. When I chop up a Little Dragon or something like that, those people don’t sip syrup. They might smoke weed. Everybody smoke weed, weed ain’t shit, but those people ain’t gonna be on syrup. If I have to convert somebody, I just need to find out what they like. If I know what you like, I’ll get you - I promise you I’ll get you.
At the end of the day this is how I sell it to you: slowed-down music is just your favorite, whatever it is, turned into a ballad. It can be rock music, I done heavy metal, I done it all. That’s basically what chopped and screwed is. If you can groove to it fast you can groove to it slow.
Have you had projects that blew up out of proportion to the source material? Like obviously Chop Care would do numbers, but something like the Moonlight soundtrack was maybe more of a wildcard.
Yeah, we didn’t know. Sometimes you really don’t know. We didn’t know Moonlight would do that. You wanna know another one we didn’t know would go crazy? Thundercat! Oh my god, that shit everywhere. They printed up vinyls and all that. And then some, like the Drake projects, that we’ll do over three, four, five times, we might end up thinkin’ that we overthought it. But at this point I’m kinda able to just make everything feel good. Some of the stuff that’s recorded that’s older, that’s live, those are the real challenges because they’ll change BPMs and not always stay on the beat.
Do you tour at all?
Yeah, I did. I don’t like tourin’ anymore. It’s about the youngsters, the new up-and-comin’ DJs. People tend to think that chopped and screwed DJs are just slowing down records - we real DJs, we might give them a little music slowed down at the end, but that’s not what we focused on. And when we go, we go! I done been to Czechoslovakia, I been a lot of places. I ain’t gon’ lie, I like Czechoslovakia, Germany, but I ain’t goin’ back. Right now it’s about securing something that’s set in stone forever, going to get the right licenses from all of the majors. And I did that. Now I’ve got six hundred million records to chop and screw for the rest of my life. So now I work on my retirement plan. I ain’t come outside, I ain’t DJ no clubs for no $1500, I don’t do none of that. I’ve got the three major catalogs, I can let the younger DJs get they wishes sittin’ at home making music and not chasing down club promoters for they $300 for four hours of DJing tonight. You can sit at home choppin’ records and make $1000. And that’s my new company, it’s a mixtape label.
Does it ever get to the point where it feels more like a factory than a creative process?
Well, you actually still gotta do the mixes. The statistics has shown to the aggregators and the DSPs that people listen to mixtapes more than anything else. That’s why playlists is the shit right now - what is a playlist? It’s a mixtape. I know some artists that put they mixtapes out like a playlist, one song after another with no scratching or mixing or anything. These artists came through and fucked the game up, so now I want to put power back into the DJ’s hands. Show me the artist in the ‘90s that said they was droppin’ a mixtape. That’s our thing, the DJs. And we finna take that back.
Do you think the independent, self-distributing route to success is still viable for musicians?
Yeah, well there will continue to be new listeners. If you was recycling listeners then it would be different. If there was a little baby DJ, all the little babies would definitely look up to the kid, because they can relate to him. “Look at that little baby! And he playin’ all the new music!
Is it difficult for you to approach music from a business mindset?
It isn’t, because I know what the music is and I know what business is. I’ll give you an example from back in the day: you had the X Clan, who maybe would not generate as much money as BDP because BDP’s songs were playing all in the club. They’re more about tryin’ to bring out a message to you and not to make you feel good. Either the music is meant to make you feel good, or to bring a message - there’s no in-between. There’s alway been a saying, “music calms the savage beast. That never had a genre connected to it, it’s music calms a savage beast. Everyone’s got that beast in them, whether it’s a calm beast or a happy beast. A birthday or a funeral.
I don’t even listen to rap, really. I listen to alternative rock, and r’n’b. Hip-hop is goin’ down. Anybody can be a DJ and just play music, play what they like. But being able to know the people, know the crowd, that’s what makes you a great DJ. I have to stay up with the youth, because that’s what rap is for. It’s made for the youth. Who makin’ records for old people?! Kurtis Blow hadn’t lived no twenty years in rap, nobody knew what it was twenty years after you last had a hit. So it’s the youth, that’s how you’ll know when the new Lil Peeps come, when the new Smokepurrps come. Ain’t nobody who just lost they job after twenty-five years pickin’ up to be a rapper now. “Oh, I’m forty-eight. I’ma rap for the people out there forty-five and up who just lost they job too. It ain’t ever gonna happen that way.
Do you think there’s resistance to embrace that generational shift here in Houston?
Yeah, definitely. Everybody’s scared of change, right? We all scared of change, and we all startled for a second when somethin’ just pop up in your face. That’s what happens when the new shit comes around, everybody’s “I don’t know, man. But it’s gonna change, it’s not gonna stay “tippin’ on fo’ fo’s for the rest of our life. And we gotta stop tryin’ to make it that! When we was listenin’ to chopped and screwed music, everybody said we was retarded! Seriously, “how you country motherfuckers… you motherfuckers country bumpkins than a motherfucker. And then they slow down they records, sound even more. These kids aren’t growin’ up on that, they growin’ up on they own mind just like we did.