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 Welcome back to the "Filthy South" ...

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 The buzz on the City of Syrup spreads nationwide ...

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For the better part of the last three years, Wall, Chamillionaire, Jones and Slim have been elevating themselves through the mixtape game, and even though the major labels came calling, no one was in a rush. You see, in H-Town, the independent-record hustle is so lucrative that most of the guys making waves on the underground circuit are living like kings — which is the story behind the title of Slim's upcoming major-label debut, Already Platinum. When you put out records yourself, you can work it so you get most of the profits; artists signed to major labels have to sell millions of records before they can even dream of seeing a million dollars, while the H-Town boys only have to sell a small percentage of what would be considered platinum to make a king's ransom.

Nickname: H-Town, the City of Syrup.

Lineage: J. Prince, Scarface, the Geto Boys and Rap-A-Lot Records, DJ Screw; Houston Rockets, Houston Astros, Houston Oilers; the Galleria Mall, syrup, Fat Pat, Destiny's Child and the incomparable UGK.


candy paint — A shiny coat of paint for your vehicle. You can usually see your reflection in the paint.

Tastemakers : O.G. Ron C, Michael Watts, Big Bub of the S.U.C. and Matt Sonzala of Damage Control Radio.

chopped and screwed — A record is slowed down drastically ("screwed") and mixed to skip or repeat certain phrases or passages ("chopped").

syrup: A dangerous combination of promethazine and Codeine that produces a fuzzy, slowed-down effect. It's usually mixed with cough syrup and/or liquor or soda.

tippin' — Cruising in your car.

Fashion: You're likely to see a bunch of white tees, jeans and sneakers. Fitted caps and Jerseys are also the norm, but the fellas in H-Town are more focused on dressing up their cars with rims, flat-screen televisions and candy paint.

"You don't need a major deal," says Jones, who is also a world-class self-promoter. "I went and did a show in Nebraska, and dudes on major labels were opening up for me because in that area, I'm hotter than them off the street buzz. I went to Alaska, and it was a couple of people on a big label opening up for Mike Jones. I'm like, 'Man, I know they got all type of TV push. I just got the street.' The streets is what makes people come spend a couple of dollars. You can't force nobody to jam no hit."

By 2004, the buzz on the City of Syrup was so strong that execs at major labels began shelling out millions of dollars to secure these talents. Slim Thug finally cashed in on his local popularity and inked a deal with Interscope after being in the eye of a bidding-war whirlwind; he was eventually signed over to the Neptunes and their Interscope imprint, Star Trak.

Paul and Chamillionaire went through a bitter breakup after scorching the mixtape scene. Milli left and started his own Chamilitary label, which was picked up for some huge coin by Universal. Meanwhile, the Swisha House boys hit paydirt when Watts signed a distribution deal with Warner Music's Asylum Records. Even DJ Clue, whose label includes no less a talent than Fabolous, is starting a Desert Storm South label with Houston upstart Magno.

"The independent game was heavy here back in the day, and it seems like everybody that was independent is trying to take it to the major level right now," Slim Thug says. "I think it is time to take a chance. I'm gonna keep it all the way real, man. Universal was the last label I thought I'd sign to, but you gotta get in there.

"This is my life," Chamillionaire says. "Just trying to show the world there's another side of the South. They're looking at the South like we just be on some simple stuff. I feel like I fill that void of lyricism. There's some other people out here, like Bun B, that get us respect as far as lyricism is concerned."

But it's not only lyrics that has H-Town catching ears, it's also the sound. Just look at some of the records out now. Memphis Bleek raps about slowing things down "like the beat was screwed up," on his new single "Like That." And that slow, bass-heavy track you hear on Ciara's "Oh" was influenced in part by Houston's chopped and screwed sound.

Desert Storm South artist Magno
"I think a lot of music is influenced [by Houston], whether subconsciously or whether they know what they are doing from a production standpoint," says Ludacris. "It all kind of intertwines with what goes on in the South from the bounce era and the crunk era."

"It's the same thing with all Southern music and Midwest music," says Nelly. "It's just now coming into the limelight but people been doing their thing since the mid '80s/early '90s."

The chopped and screwed sound has become so hot that majors have been calling on DJs like Wall, Watts and former Swisha House co-CEO Ron C. to chop and screw albums by such artists as Young Buck, Lil' Wayne, T.I. and Ludacris.

  Slim Thug
"Like a Boss"
Already Platinum
(Star Trak/Interscope)
How the albums — not freestyles on mixtapes — sell over the next few months will tell just how big the Houston scene will get. Mike Jones is off to a strong start, and the early indication of Slim Thug's album is that he will continue to carry the city's flag. Already Platinum is due to be released on May 24 and features production by the Neptunes, Jazze Pha, Timbaland and a guest spot from Snoop Dogg, among others. Wall, who in his spare time makes gold grills for the likes Nelly, T.I. Lil Jon, Kanye West, Master P. and the Indiana Pacers' Stephen Jackson, has his People's Champ coming out later this summer; Lil Wayne, T.I., BG and Freeway make cameos. Meanwhile, the city's already-proven champs, like Bun B, Lil' Flip and Scarface, are also planning to put out material this year.

With many of the underground stars now signed to majors, where does that leave the all-important underground? Still tippin'. Swisha House will continue to drop mixtapes, as will Chamillionaire and Slim and his Boss Hog Outlawz. There is still some untapped talent making rounds in the streets as well: Ching-O-Bling, a Mexican rapper who makes satirical raps — like "Rubbers and Friends," his take on "Lovers and Friends" — is making noise, and rappers like Lil' Keke and ESG are still holding things down for the Screwed Up Clique.

"There are some great, great artists coming out of Houston," says Scarface. "I'm thrilled to death to see the city coming up and getting deals. Hopefully we'll be smart about the deals we're accepting and continue to move forward and get some money."

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Photo: Getty/MTV News

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