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Awready! Conference is a scholarly examination of Houston hip-hop

CLASS units collaborate with the Libraries, Rice University to host music and culture conference

The social history of Houston’s hip-hop culture stretches back to the city’s African-American musical roots.

Don Robey started Peacock Records in 1949 in Houston’s Fifth Ward neighborhood. The label produced Big Mama Thornton’s “Hound Dog” hit, as well as top selling records for Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, Little Richard and Betty Carter.

Archie Bell and The Drells in 1968 taught the nation to sing and dance the “Tighten Up,” a pop song that opens with Bell introducing himself and the Bells, shouting out his hometown of Houston and saying, “We don't only sing, but we dance just as good as we want.”

The Geto Boys also made it to the pop charts – and the pinnacle of the rap charts – with “Mind Playing Tricks on Me,” a 1991 single about hallucination, paranoia and delusion that is now considered one of the most influential rap records ever made.

“Houston is a music city with a long tradition of output that made waves in national popular culture,” said Maco L. Faniel, a history graduate student from Texas Southern University. “But too often Houston music culture, in particular hip-hop, is omitted from the national dialogue.”

Awready! The Houston Hip-Hop Conference provided a public space on the University of Houston campus on Wednesday, March 28 to discuss the nation’s 4th largest city’s impact on the music, fashion and politics of hip-hop.

Organized by Digital Projects and Instruction Librarian for Special Collections at the University of Houston Julie Grob, the conference focused on the story of the late DJ Screw (1971-2000). DJ Screw pioneered the “chopped and screwed” genre, Houston’s premiere hip-hop sound.

"Houston hip hop culture is multi-faceted and aesthetically rich and definitely worthy of scholarly examination," said conference panelist Langston Collin Wilkins, a doctoral candidate in folklore and ethnomusicology at Indiana University.

The conference was sponsored by three UH units – the Libraries, the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts and the African American Studies Program – and the Houston Enriches Rice Education (H.E.R.E.) Project at Rice University.

Faniel moderated the day’s first panel, “Origins of Houston Hip Hop,” which featured K-Rino, Ricky Royal and Willie D of the Geto Boys and Steve Fournier, a club owner and event promoter who provided venues for performers in the early days of Houston hip-hop.

The other panels and rapper MC panelists were:

"DJ Screw and The Screwd Up Click" with Big Pokey, Lil Keke, Shorty Mac, and Meshah Hawkins, the wife of late rapper Hawk, and moderated by music writer Lance Scott Walker.

"Slabs & Syrup" with E.S.G., Lil’ Randy, and Eddie Kennedy of 3rd Coast Customs and moderated by Grob, Wilkins, and Dr. Roland J. Peters, associate professor of behavioral sciences at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston.

"The Legacy of DJ Screw" with OG Ron C, Chingo Bling, Paul Wall and Bun B of UGK and moderated by radio show host Matt Sonzala.

The conference ended with closing remarks by Dr. Anthony Pinn, Agnes Cullen Arnold Professor of Humanities, Professor of Religious Studies and Director of the H.E.R.E. Project at Rice University. Pinn co-taught with Bun B a Religion and Hip Hop Culture course at Rice.

An extension of the conference is the DJ Screw and the Rise of Houston Hop exhibit on display in the M.D. Anderson Library on UH’s main campus through September 21, 2012. The exhibition features artifacts that are part of the Houston Hip Hop Collection at the University of Houston Libraries.