An InterSCREW with Michael 5000 Watts
In anticipation of his gig in Brooklyn this weekend, we called up the Houston legend.
See what I did there, with the title? I had no choice; Choppin' it up with Michael 5000 Watts was already taken. Anyways, I was given the opportunity to interview a Hip Hop cultural architect, who also serves as C.E.O., Co-Founder, and DJ of Swisha House. To my Houston old school hip-hop heads out there, don't worry, this conversation wasn't Karo-ed with questions about Watts' influences growing up or the current Swisha House roster, and I didn't chum out the discussion waters with stale-almost-rotten tabloid dialogue on obsolete North and South Houston tensions, distinctions between Watts and Screw, and the politics of Lil' Keke signing to Swishahouse. While the aforementioned historical information is vital to a comprehensive understanding of Houston hip-hop, I thought we should all learn something new in this interview. With Watts playing the Mixpak vs. #Thread party at 285 Kent tomorrow night (presented by Good Peoples), I thought it was high time I rang the dude up and had a chat.
Noisey: When I was in law school a few years ago, I took a trademark class. The professor told us to look up the trademark of a company, on the USPTO website, we were interested in. Most of the students in the class were looking up the brands of college sports teams or fashion designers. I typed Swisha House, the name of one of my favorite music labels, into the search box. To my surprise, when I clicked the trademark registration link, I saw a hand drawn version of the Swisha House logo. Since then, I've always wondered who drew that.
Michael Watts: Wow. I think Mike Frost came up with that design.
Who is Mike Frost?
Mike Frost used to do a lot of artwork for us back in the day.
Does he still do artwork for y'all?
No, but he still does here and there, but he's onto big corporate stuff now.
Whose idea was it to call the label Swisha House?
Actually, we kind of grew into that because I used to call the mixtapes Swisha Mixes and I used to call my studio the Swisha House and the name was just so catchy at the time we just rolled with it you know?
Why did you choose that name?
Basically, back in the day, in the '90s, they used to have traps and [they] called them swisha houses and sold weed rolled up in swishas. That's how we used to do it down in Texas. They used to call them swisha houses. When I started doing slowed down mixes, I called them Swisha Mixes. I called my studio the Swisha House, so that's how I came up with that.
That is really interesting. Did Swisher Sweets ever give y'all any legal trouble for basing the name of the label off of them?
No. I hope they don't.
Has there ever been a Swisha House and Swisher Sweets collaboration? Do they ever send y'all boxes of Swisher Sweets?
We have worked with them on a couple of events before. It's funny that the name derived from the cigar, but what we are doing is totally irrelevant to what they are doing.
Aside from being a Founder of Swisha House, what other titles do you hold there?
DJ and C.E.O. with Dash.
How long have you been DJing?
Wow. Over 20 years.
During that time, how has your fan base changed?
It grew dramatically. I started off in high school and it grew from a high school thing to a neighborhood thing to a Houston thing to a national thing.
How did that come about?
I don't know. They hit my on the internet and asked me if I was available for the date. I was open for it and I took it.
How do you feel about potentially DJing for a bunch of Louis Tully lookin' hipsters?
I'm ready for the challenge man. I don't DJ in New York often, so it is going to be very interesting.
For some of the people who don't know, what is a Swisha House Remix?
A Swisha House Remix is when I make a mixtape out of somebody's album and slow it down.
What is your all-time favorite Swisha House Remix Project?
I've got to say Lil' Wayne's Tha Carter II.
On a DJ level I did a lot of unique tricks on there that I never did on any other project and it was just so fun to do it you know. I like a lot of other projects I did on the same level, but that is one of the ones that stands out. It was one of my biggest ones.
On Saturday are you going to mostly be playing Swisha House Remixes?
Normally I kind of play it by ear. Once I get there, I kind of see what crowd I'm working with, but it is going to be pretty Southern-based; a lot of it is going to be Southern remixes. I do a little trill step too, where we throw a little dub[step] in there, so it depends. But I kind of feed off the crowd and if I feel like it's the direction we might want to go then I might do that.
Are you concerned that the crowd at that party may be unacquainted with slowed down music and unresponsive to your Remixes?
Normally when I DJ live, I don't DJ slowed down. I'm not going to have the equipment to do it like that. If I do it, it is going to be very slight and I'm going to be DJing on regular turntables. So, unless they have the MK5s over there I might not be able to do it really slowed down the way we do it on the air down here. Don't get me wrong. There are times when I do it, but when I totally vibe off of the crowd.
In college I had a roommate for less than 24 hours. We both moved in on the same day and that night I played a ton of screwed and chopped music and the music scared him and I remember, when he heard it, he said, he felt like he was dying. The following morning, he moved out. I think slowed down music naturally filters out uncool people.
Earlier you mentioned trillstep. What is trillstep?
It's a mix with dubstep and Southern. Everybody has their own version of dubstep or electronic music that they do. Trill step was created by DJ Bad Boy BMC. BMC introduced me to the electronic world. So, me and him did a couple of projects together. He's the one that's all into electronic stuff like dubstep and trap and I added the Southern stuff like the KeKe and Slim Thug to it and put more of a Texas twist to it.
How come trill step hasn't taken over the world yet?
BMC moved from Houston. BMC moved to Colorado and I'm still in Houston, so since he moved away we really haven't been connected like that.
What projects are you currently working on?
Right now I just got through doing some stuff with K.R.I.T., I did K.R.I.T.'s last underground. I'm doing Slim Thug's Boss Life, which is coming out. I got an underground coming out called No Favors.
What's up with the Final Chapter Mixtape for 2013?
You know what? I might do one. I don't think I did one last year. I kind of backed off the mixtape thing, but I might do one this year, though.
Do you think the world will end this year?
No, I don't think so.
I wanted to talk to you about Swisha House's materials archived at Rice University. Who is responsible for that?
Cory Garrett. We have worked with him on a lot of community events and he had a connection with Rice University. And he was one of the ones that had a big hand in putting that thing together.
What is archived over there?
We have some plaques there. We have some of the original Swisha House albums there. We have some of the mixtapes there. Wow. I am trying to think, what else do we have there? I think I have the original mixing board that I did the Before Da Kappas and all that type of stuff, original vinyl that we pressed up, a lot of the news clippings. There is just a lot of materials from when we started and what we started building into.
I was reading that the Kinder Institute for Urban Research spearheads that project. Why did they feel it was important to gather that material for their collection?
In Houston, we are not just consuming Hip Hop. Houston was a big force in Hip Hop. We have a whole Hip Hop culture around here. We have artists that went Platinum out here. We have artists relevant today that was a real big part of Hip Hop culture as a whole, out here, so I think that is why they really pushed it like that.
A few years ago, I wrote a blog post on Swisha House and I was reading the comments on the post and someone left a fascinating comment. Maybe the people at Kinder Institute for Urban Research can do a study on the substance of it. I am going to read you this comment:
This made my mornin' homie! I haven't heard these cuts in a minute. I actually grew up in Southeastern Washington and there was a direct connection there from Texas. Along with the seasonal workers and drug runners came a grip of H-town mixtapes. This was the bulk share of my 10th grade summer ridin' music, haha…
Wow. That is interesting. I never knew that. I really wouldn't be surprised by that, especially if they said there was drug runners in the '90s because at one point this right here was a hub, Texas, I mean Houston was actually a hub for drugs. A lot of people from Chicago got hip to Swisha House and a lot of Houston music because there was a big drug trade between Houston and Chicago too.
Who are your three favorite rappers in Houston right now?
Wow. I don't want to restrict it to three. Shit. I've got to say one of my favorite rappers is Z-Ro. I feel like he is one of the most talented rappers from Houston, by far. I've actually had the chance to sit in the studio and listen to some material that never got released. This man has more talent than anybody could possibly fucking imagine. The dude is fucking mind blowing talented.
Another one of my favorite rappers is Slim Thug. I am a fan of Slim Thug and it is beyond the rap talent. I am a fan of his hustle. The man totally made a complete business with this shit. Do you know what I mean?
Shit. Who else? I got so many people I like for so many damn reasons.
Sorry. This might help: what I meant to ask was who your three favorite up and coming artists are?
Killa Kyleon. He is kind of like that vet that never got that break. He is one of my favorites. I am going to put him in the top three.
Is there anything that you would like to tell the Noisey readers?
Be on the lookout for more things coming out from Swisha House in the year 2014 because we just got a distribution deal with Orchard, so we will be putting out more commercial products in 2014.
Douglas Doneson is on Twitter - @droopydood