Originally published at Forbes.
O.G Ron C has spent two decades cementing a mixtape empire and furthering Houston’s rap culture. With limited industry experience, the DJ founded Swishahouse Records alongside partner Michael “5000” Watts after they met at radio station KBXX in 1994. The duo promoted overlooked Northside talent, while music pioneer Robert “DJ Screw” Davis dominated the scene with his demiurgic Southside records. Not only did Ron C’s business savvy and unorthodox distribution methods helped make national stars of Paul Wall, Slim Thug, Chamillionaire and Mike Jones, but the O.G was also pivotal in uniting Houston’s swollen metropolis and calming the deep-rooted tensions between North and South by allowing both sides on his projects.
A decade after leaving Swishahouse, Ron C continues to grow the legacy of DJ Screw by bringing his city’s now famous sub-genre “chopped and screwed” to an international audience. The DJ keeps busy with a 24-hour radio station, charity music conference, thousands of mixtapes and some of the best selling chopped remixes out there. He spoke about his biggest financial regrets, experiences in mixtape distribution and the current status of his “chopped not slopped” brand.
What has been your most profitable venture to date?
My biggest profit was the Swishahouse days when I was working with Michael Watts. As a small businessman, I’m trying to climb back to that. The actual saying [“Chopped Not Slopped”] is bigger than the actual income, but maybe one day we’ll be at the [same level as] Swishahouse. We’re just getting our business together and preparing a proper launch in the summer time of 2016. What we’ve just been doing the last four, five years is really branding it, and there’s really been no profit.
Maybe the profits come in through getting a DJ gig here or there to keep life going, but with big branding, it’s about building something to find someone to maybe invest in that so you can make your brand a household name. That’s just the art of business.
What about your biggest financial mistake?
Probably my biggest financial regret was not pursuing my contract that I had with Swishahouse. I probably would have lots of money right now if I had been about my business. I just walked away period, and I didn’t ask for nothing. I didn’t receive anything; I finally just walked away.
[Following ongoing financial disputes between Watts and Ron C, C walked away from Swishahouse in 2003. The label released one of their biggest hits "Still Tippin" in 2004, and the company later signed a distribution deal with Asylum Records. Paul Wall's debut, The People’s Champ, hit number one on the Billboard chart a year later. Watts and Ron C are now on good terms.]
Is Watts more business-minded and you more musical?
I’m more business-minded, Watts really knows music. He really really knows music; that’s what made our chemistry from the get go in 1994. That’s what made us get so cool, because Watts knew music, and I knew how to talk to people; I knew how to street hustle.
In the early Swishahouse days, did you try to run everything just the two of you?
Ah nah, for us to be successful, people had to do their jobs, too. Watts had people in place. We were young before the business end came into it. We didn’t really learn business until both of us was gone -- when they started Swishablast records, the record label. If we had learned business when we were doing mixtapes… damn we’d be aight. We’d probably be president or something. We didn’t know nothing about business. We were just young. We put out our tapes and kept it going, so we didn’t know nothing about how we could organize it and make it a big business. No, we were just young kids who found something that was happening that was cool, and people started liking it.
It became bigger than what it was. We didn’t know it was going to become that big. We just knew that we were doing something that nobody was. We took the attitude like “yeah, poke your chest out, nobody can mess with us, because we do what we do and we represent for the Northside.” That’s what it was. We had the passion because they were bashing us so much on the Southside, and we couldn’t get no representation out of people. Our area liked slow down music too, but there was no representation, you still had to ride around with like “f… the Northside” [playing in your car.] Damn! So Watts came and opened that door, that’s how that phenomenon began because Watt’s believed like, man you got to open that door and let the rappers rap about Northside stuff.
You've said previously the majors aren’t as keen on Chopped Not Slopped remixes as they used to be, because $100,000 isn’t enough for them to care about.
It all depends on how they market it, and most of the time with these things they don’t have to market, so they’ll just sit it there. They don’t market it because they don’t see that the web is really into it. I’m a work for hire so I don’t get a chance to see the numbers at the end of the day. Take Little Dragon for example, Loma Vista Records, they put that out [the Chopped remix]… and I’m pretty sure they were pretty happy. Especially with the overhead they had to pay, it was dirt.
You’ve been making the F Action mixtape series for over a decade, and it’s remained popular. How do you make money from them, are you paid for downloads, etc?
I don’t receive any profits. Those things just go online. Most of the time if you see people selling it, they’re just taking the risk on their own. They’re just grabbing it from online and doing what they do. That’s what those type of people do because most of the time they can fly under the radar with that stuff. That’s their business. I don’t get involved in that. I put the music out there for the people to gravitate to. We just put mixtapes out there, then artists come, and they want to pay us to do their official mixtapes. That’s where a lot of the survival comes in, when the artist wants you to do their personal project. That’s what I do, I remix artists projects from the major to the independent. The [unofficial] mixtapes are just a promotional tool like giving away a bottle of water or whatever.
According to Wikipedia, you've released over 3,000 mixtapes. How long does the average Chopped Not Slopped mix take to put together?
Actually to be honest, I don’t know how many mixtapes I’ve put out, but I know it’s well over that though. Three thousand, woah, that’s very small! [Laughs] That I’ve done personally? Pssh, man. But… I’m accustomed to doing them, as opposed to when I first started when it might have taken me a while. Now I can do five or six mixtapes in a day.
Your release schedule must be crazy.
Oh yeah, I drop like ten. Like ten every two weeks. Like five a week.
Only an indie artist could drop music whenever. Majors would have a long term release plan.
Well, you know I’m a DJ. I get music. Plus, I’m a radio DJ, so I’m getting all of the music right now. I get so much music in my email, every day. I get so much music when I step out on the streets, my van is full of music. I’ve got so much music, so this is what I do. That’s my job, to help the artist out.
The OG Ron C Music Conference is now in its’ ninth year. How did it start?
I used to go and speak at a lot of people’s conferences in the 90s and early 2000s, and people paid $400 or $500, sometimes more, $1200, to get in these conferences, and they weren’t really giving you the information from the ground level. They were always giving you information from a certain level. “After you get to this level, then this is the information you get.” I just got tired of being on panels with people that were like “oh don’t bring me your CD if it looks this type of way.” It was just too much judgmental stuff, and nobody was really giving. I didn’t really feel like that. I wanted to focus on not taking people’s money, not charging people a grip. How can I make it affordable for people?
So that was the first year, I let people in for $50. After the first year, I had a lot of sponsors, so I just decided that this isn’t worth $50: If I’m going to do it, just do it because I want to do it anyway. This is what I want to do. I’m going to do it for free and start giving back. Then in the third year I started doing it for charity, instead of having it in the fall, have it during Christmas season. I started doing something different to give back to the community. To give to homeless people, shelters that we give to and children’s homes, just to see those kids get those toys at the end of it is amazing.
The conference is the “OG Ron C Music Real Conference,” and let me clarify because I don’t want to say that any other conference is fake. The R.E.A.L stands for Resources, Education, Accessibly, Longevity. I’ve always felt like if we educate people about the assets they have in this game and the resources they have, that will give them more longevity in this business - the entertainment business. It’s not about the rap business because we have models on management, videos, we have all kinds of aspects that we go over. I try to bring in my professional friends in those areas.
When you and Michael Watts built the big mixtape following for Swishahouse, what methods were you using?
When I go to different gigs with artists, I would just carry my mixtapes and give them out everywhere. I always went to music conferences. I always went to all of that stuff, so that’s how I got my music out. I have to credit the bootleggers too. When you put out something good, people bootleg it all over the world. That was how I was able to go DJ over here, DJ over there, because they bootlegging the tapes out there. I wasn’t selling out there. I’m selling them out of my trunk. I ain’t selling that many CDs out of my trunk.
You’ve dedicated your life to the Chopped movement, money-aside why is it so important to you?
My whole theory was that nobody ever knows where the origin of something begins. Take for instance, if you ask a certain person, you never know who they’ll say invented rap. Some people might say Kool Herc, so it’s not a sure positive. Like who invented the carpet? My thing was I never knew [DJ] Screw like that, personally. Yeah I’ve met him, but we’ve never had no relationship or nothing like that. I decided that since I’m the forerunner at this, and I’m one of the pioneers to help it get off the ground. I just felt like once I left Swishahouse, there wasn’t nobody stepping up to do it. Nobody was stepping up to keep Screw’s legacy going, but Michael Watts.
[At the time] I wasn’t with Watts, I’m being Ron C and this is what I know how to do. So what am I going to do? I’ve either got to keep doing what I do or go get a job and be Ronald Coleman. So I just decided to keep doing what I’m doing, because people like me, like my music and my mixtapes. So that’s how I started growing my name. I’m going on the road with Chamillionaire, I’m going on the road with Slim Thug. I’m out on the road with these folks, and I’m just using all of my avenues to get my music out there and it worked.
There was Chopped and Screwed music because it was based off of mixtapes. It wasn’t about online then. So I just said “I’mma switch the game up. Pimpin’ ain’t dead, it just moved to the web.” Just like Pimp C said. That’s what I did, I just stepped it up, chopped up everybody’s stuff, put it out there for free. I contacted all of the artists that I’ve met. All of the artists that I knew that had projects coming out, so I did it for free for everybody.