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As an avid music fan, I tend to approach all of my characters with a simple question: "If they lived today, what would be on their iPod?" It’s not the most scientific approach, but it humanizes the characters, regardless on their actions in the play. No matter who we are, where we come from, or what we are doing, we all have or had some kind of MP3 player (or music listening device) and we develop a playlist for some facet of our lives.
I can’t just create my character’s playlist willy-nilly. I follow a couple of rules:
1) Each song should match the natural rhythm of my character’s movement through space. Each of us walks to a specific rhythm or beat (if you doubt me, take some time to watch people walking down the street: Everyone seems to be walking to his or her own soundtrack.) The songs that I choose have to match the character's own natural rhythms.
2) At least in theme, each song has to match the overarching soundtrack of the show.
3) Each song has to be emotionally affecting.
4) Each song has to be realistic to the age of the character, his socio-economic background, and the region.
When crafting a playlist for Private Reeves, I kept a few things in mind: he’s 19, mid-Texan, low income, from a broken home, and a school drop out with an affinity for drugs. Also, knowing that the music being selected for 9 Circles focused on hip hop rhythms, I began to research the Hip Hop of Houston ...
Houston itself was one of the most dynamic inspirations for Hip Hop music during the early 90s, and birthed a unique sound that was radically different from anything happening within its southern cousins (Atlanta and Miami) and even within the hip hop Mecca and Medina (New York and LA). Though most Southern Hip Hop was fast and abrasive, (similar to heavy metal) Houston’s music was distinctly slow. The lyrics drove the songs and, like West African griots, they centered more on story telling than catchy one-liners. “Screwed and Chopped” a term derived by a DJ known as DJ Screw, the founder of Houston’s style, became the overarching term for this brand of slow hip hop. Sampling traditional Hip Hop beats, DJ Screw slowed them down to the point of being unrecognizable. He then added a back beat or a snare to maintain some rhythm. He actually aimed to mimic the auditory side effects of cough syrup -- which at the time was actively being abused.
To me “Screwed and Chopped" is unnerving and edgy, similar to the emotional state of Reeves. Its melodic rhythms, demonic sound to its major voices, and haunting melodies have captivated my imagination. Below are a couple of links to a sampling of “Screwed and Chopped.”