The history behind 'slabs,' the custom cars with an important place in Houston's hip-hop community
- "Slabs" are a popular type of custom cars that originated in Houston, Texas.
- The name is said to be an acronym for "slow, loud, and bangin'."
- Iconic elbow wheels, high-gloss candy paint, and over-the-top stereo systems set these cars apart in the world of custom automobiles.
- Slabs are perhaps most well-known for being a major part of the city's hip-hop culture.
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Following is a transcript of the video.
Narrator: They're loud, shiny, brightly colored, and impossible to miss. At quick glance, they might look like simple lowriders, but it's their iconic elbow wheels, high-gloss candy paint, and over-the-top stereo systems that set them apart in the world of custom automobiles. These are slabs.
Said to be an acronym for slow, loud, and bangin', slabs are a type of modified car that originated in the city of Houston. Their looks can be traced to the over-extravagant rides featured in 1970s blaxploitation films and a number of mainstream movies too.For those looking to learn more about slabs, there's only one person to talk to - Houston native and slab aficionado Langston Wilkins.
Langston Wilkins: I'm a folklorist, ethnomusicologist, researcher, and I've been researching and writing about slab culture for the last several years.
Slabs emerged in Houston, Texas' African American communities in the mid-1980s. More specifically, it emerged in the streets. This was the mid-1980s during the crack era. Some young men were getting relatively wealthy selling drugs, and they used slabs as a way to show off their success, while also using it as an artistic outlet. But in the early 1990s, slabs moved out of that experience and became part of the local hip-hop culture. And that's when the slab scene really expanded and grew.
Narrator: So what makes a slab, a slab?
Langston: A slab is typically an older model, large-bodied, American sedan - Cadillac, Lincoln, Oldsmobile, etc. And it's embellished or outfitted with various types of body additions, the first and most important one being the rims called "swangas" or "elbows." Those are those cone-like rims that poke out pretty far. On the trunk, you have what's called a "fifth wheel," which is a rim that's cut in half and enclosed in a fiberglass casing. Also explosive stereo systems that rattle or shake the car and shake the surroundings when listening to rap music. And within the trunk, you often have what's called 'trunk displays,' which are neon or sometimes glass signs that convey particular messages to their communities.
Narrator: With such a distinguished appearance, overt style, and potential for expression, it's no wonder Houston's wide collection of hip-hop artists have embraced slab culture.Langston: I would say slabs are the visual element of Houston hip-hop culture. It's like graffiti or fashion in other scenes. Slabs are a form of material culture that illuminate the values, attitudes, and ideas of the local hip-hop communities.
I think it's the 'swangas' that separate slabs from other custom car cultures. That's why they're talked about so much. But beyond that I would say it's the larger hip-hop community, the Houston hip-hop community that makes slabs special. Houston hip-hop is marked by a slow sound. It's psychedelic music. It's atmospheric music. And we see all of those characteristics in slab culture. Slabs are meant to be driven really, really slow. Slab drivers commonly weave in and out of lanes when driving their cars. So a slab isn't just a type of car. It's an entire experience, and it's an entire culture, so it's certainly special.