Originally published: NME
When Houston’s DJ Screw started downing ‘purple drank’ (a recreational drug based on prescription-strength cough syrup) he wasn’t to know what affect it would have upon his life and legacy. A popular elixir within the south’s hip hop community, it slowed down the brain’s activity to give mellower music its appeal. With DJ Screw at his decks it helped inspire and inform his signature down tempo ‘Chopped and Screwed’ beats, seal his status within hip hop’s celebrity, and result in his death-by-overdose in 2000, aged twenty-nine.
His approach – slowing down the BPMs, skipping beats and affecting portions of the original music – has been imitated throughout hip hop’s narrative ever since, but for it to be used in a neo-classical composition is somewhat atypical. But then Micachu & The Shapes isn’t your usual rule abiding musical outfit. Their debut album ‘Jewellery’ ripped up pop’s rule book in 2009, dismantling its preconceptions to form boundless scores that disposed with traditional verse-chorus-verse structures and time signatures.
In collaboration with the London Sinfonietta, twenty-three year old Mica Levi has arranged a thoughtful composition that once again eschews any form of normality. With her unconventional set of instruments to hand, ‘Chopped & Screwed’ threads and weaves a tapestry of chamber music with her brand of avant-garde pop in a subversive mash-up of ideas and intellect.
Recorded in front of a live audience at Kings Place, London in May 2010 the opening whir of violins in ‘State Of New York’ sound like they could soundtrack one of Alfred Hitchcock’s cerebral flicks. And as the record unfurls with what ostensibly sounds like a deluge of twisted instruments piled upon one another, great care has been taken in texturing its aural scenes and imagery.
‘Chopped & Screwed’ unveils Mica as the precocious little talent that she is, and strangely marks a natural progression for the girl once famed as a grime DJ. With each track melding into the next, the album may be the first classically arranged mixtape of its kind. As ‘Everything’ whirls like a helicopter and lands with beat-matched perfection into the orchestral dirges of ‘Average’, Mica’s vocals ring out to the tune of a beating heat: “There’s always an answer/You don’t really care/Push the side of this love triangle/And make it a square.”
Classical music is often perceived as being reserved for the upper class elite while seemingly boring the arse off the everyman in society. Mica’s attempt at repackaging its intelligence and emotion akin to the likes of Bjork and Fever Ray makes it tangible, at the very least. And in its latest great infusion with her chopped and screwed pop, keeps it contemporary, too.