Interview: OG Ron C on The Evolution of Slowed and Chopped Music

It's 2020 and OG Ron C is having a hard time conjuring up memories of the magic he made.

You can forgive the 46-year-old legend for losing some of the specific details of his process—in which he turns songs into slowed down versions of themselves—in the fog of memories.

Born Ronald Rummell Coleman in Houston, Texas, Ron C is a sonic alchemist of the highest order, being one of the earliest DJs to bring slowed down music to the masses, along with his partner and Swishahouse Records co-founder DJ Michael Watts.

OG Ron C and Brainfeeder teamed up for a slowed and chopped version of Thundercat's Drunk in 2018.

Beginning in 1995, Ron C remembers the two sound scientists in Watts' small, dusty, roach-infested bedroom pitching songs down to syrupy levels, drenching listeners in a woozy hypnosis that would be sporadically heightened by choppy repetition. This sound has its roots in Houston, Texas, where the slowed down tempo flowed in lock step with the culture of drinking the sedative "lean"—a drink containing prescription cough syrup of promethazine and codeine—which also originated in Houston.

The world commonly refers to the sound as "chopped and screwed" music, a phrase coined by fellow Texas legend DJ Screw. Ron C may not remember every detail, but his memories aren't clouded by revisionism.

"Chopped and Screwed is DJ Screw's version of slowed down music. So, the genre is slowed down music. Screw is the one who came through and made it popular. It's like a gumbo," Ron C tells Reverb. "Zatarain didn't create gumbo, they just made it cool for everyone to buy it in the store. That's basically what DJ Screw did."

Ron C has fond memories of the precedent-setting inventiveness ("I've seen Michael Watts chop up a record off of two cassette decks"), productivity ("I've done over 25,000 projects, for sure—I may be undershooting"), and how the equipment never made the magic—the elite understanding of DJing did.

"If you know the real essence of how to chop up a record, then you'll know you're chopping up the record and not the words. The words will fall into place. A lot of people don't know that, so I just gave them some new game."

Reverb caught up with Ron C, 25 years after he and Watts started changing the sound of music, to hear how his approach and equipment evolved over time.

Technics to CDJs

Before the days where an average person with any DAW can slow down any song they want in a few clicks, Ron C was making digital magic with analog tools. "Back then, we used Technics SL-1200 turntables and actually recorded to an analog Tascam multitrack tape recorder."

Generally, the process went: Watts and Ron would listen to music and find the songs they felt were good to manipulate. Then, they'd get behind the 1200s, hook it up to a mixer that would then be connected to the Tascam—recording their transformation of that record on the spot to a cassette tape. That means those 70-minute After Da Kappa, Before Da Kappa, Spring Break, and Summer mixtapes from the '90s were recorded in one take; an extended moment of magic that can't be perfectly duplicated in recollection.

Ron C's name started growing with the Fuck Action mixtapes, a collection of slowed down R&B songs that were "strictly for the ladies, so it was R&B," as opposed to the hip-hop on other mixtapes. While DJ Screw was chopping up on the southside of Houston, Ron and Watts were on the northside working at Houston's KBXX 97.9 FM radio station. Watts, being the radio DJ, gave them an edge they rode for years.

"It was really off the head. I don't want people to think we sat down and actually wrote down what songs we were going to have for the mixtapes," Ron C said. "Watts was the radio DJ and got all the music before a lot of [others], so we had to find innovative ways to get the music out to the public on the streets before they could get it."

Ron C's DJing talents are central, but the technology dictated the limits of the magic. He fondly remembers the 1200s giving him the control to pitch a record as low as -8. Then the pair moved onto the Technics 1200 MKII, which took the sonic depths to -16. Then, in the late '90s, CDs surpassed cassette tapes and vinyl, and the pair got another edge that would cement them as legends in the South.

OG Ron C- "It's All About Me"

"Whenever CDs came out, we were on it. That's how we got past Screw. We were the only people in the world where you could get music on a CD, because nobody had a CD burner. We found a place in Princeton, New Jersey called Princeton Disc that sold the very first CD burner made to the public, which cost $9,000 at the time."

In early 1998, Pioneer released its CDJ-100S, a turntable system that plays CDs instead of vinyl, but Ron C understood its value beyond simply being able to play music from the latest piece of tech. The CDJ-100S allowed Ron C to pitch music down to -24, three times as deep as he was able to just a few years before. It also allowed for the DJ to start and stop a record at a certain point with more precision, and the CD format dramatically improved the sound quality over cassette tapes. Watts and Ron C were on the frontlines of the next era of slowed down music and made sure to keep up with the latest gear to stay that way.

Digital Days & Modern Magic

Recorded music is a symbiosis of man and machine. To some extent, it's impossible to separate the expansion of a genre from the advancement of the equipment available. Ron C admits he and Watts "always tried to stay ahead with our DJ equipment," but he staunchly asserts the magic was man-made.

"We used to get criticized. We were so cold, people thought we were using computers, at one time, to make these chops sound like that. But, we never did. We only used computers to capture the moment."

In the late '90s, as the pair was looking for ways to improve the sound, the Tascam was replaced with the Roland VS-880 and VS-1680, ushering them into digital sound quality. But, the process still involved a tedious tracking process. "You sit there, listen to it, and when it comes up to when you want to track it at, you had to make sure you hit it. If you didn't, you had an off track. If you listen to some of them, you'll see they don't start at the right point—they're off because it was a manual process."

Bun B Chamillionaire Slim Thug - "In Money We Trust" slowed and chopped by OG Ron C

Around 2000, slowed down music underwent two seismic changes: Ron C left Swishahouse and the personal computer started entering the home. After years of tedious recording with the Tascam and Roland gear, Ron C's mixes had finally transitioned to the computer via the multitrack recording software Cakewalk. Now, the CDJ would be connected to a computer, and Ron C could go back and make revisions if he messed up on a mix. "We already had our style and technique down, so it didn't take but one shot. We were professionals."

"After the Cakewalk era, it went to the Pro Tools era and we ain't look back since then. Nothing has come to beat Pro Tools and Pioneer."

In this new era, Ron C connected with the new school of hip-hop greats, like the most streamed artist of the 2010s, Drake.

A noted admirer of the Houston music culture, Drake told Ron C in 2009 that he listened to all of the DJ's Fuck Action tapes to write his music. One day in Houston in 2009, Ron C brought Drake the entire catalog, and the pair have been close ever since, with Ron C giving his treatment—which he now calls "chopped not slopped," in reference to the influx of new slow music practitioners who lack his turntable deftness—to Drake albums, including Take Care and Scorpion.

"For Take Care, we were probably on the [Pioneer] DDJ-1000, because they were cold. Those were the first ones they made that actually felt like a turntable," Ron C remembers. "Even if it was your album, I mixed it together to make it a mixtape, mixed and blended."

Drake - "Shot For Me," chopped not slopped

His decades of sonic alchemy attracted more than rappers. Filmmaker Barry Jenkins was a fan of chopped and screwed music and reached out to Ron C to give the "chopped not slopped" treatment to the Moonlight soundtrack. Ron C says Jenkins gave him original tracks from the film along with a few of his favorite songs.

"There were parts of the movie that had sound in it that we needed without the acting over it," Ron C says. "We created our own pitch. We have always had our own way of how we pitch down records."

Now, Ron C is the head of The Chopstars, a collection of up-and-coming DJs keeping slowed down music alive. He may not remember every detail of every moment, but he does remember how he made the magic.

"I'm going to have to protect the secret with that one."

About the author: Keith Nelson Jr is a seasoned music journalist who followed his innate passion for knowledge to interview some of the most influential figures in the music industry. He's a journalist who connects the dot to see the bigger picture.

comments powered by Disqus

Reverb Gives

Your purchases help youth music programs get the gear they need to make music.

Carbon-Offset Shipping

Your purchases also help protect forests, including trees traditionally used to make instruments.

Oops, looks like you forgot something. Please check the fields highlighted in red.