To understand the beginnings of car culture among people of color in Houston, Texas, one must understand essentially what a slab is. Rumored to be an acronym for Slow Low and Bangin’, slabs began as custom Cadillacs, Buicks, and Oldsmobiles. The cars are generally inexpensive, but the additions can cost tens of thousands and are even richer in individuality. Slabs are loud both sonically and visually. They’re themed and coated in candy paint. They swang. They bang. They’re decked with gold grills and rims. Most of all, they exquisitely display the vibrant personalities of their owners.
Similar to lowrider movement in the West, most slabs began as obsolete factory standard cars. A sort of one-man’s-trash story, Houston car owners in the 1980’s restored and embellished their previously modest cars to emulate automobiles driven in vintage black film. During the rise of slabs, theft grew rampant as the elaborate car parts were being stolen for reuse and resale. Approaching the turn of the century, the city’s car culture became nationally palatable with the rise of Texas legends UGK and DJ Screw, who quite often referrenced the custom cars in their music. In the early 2000’s, the auto obsession was reignited with a wave of Houston artists like Mike Jones, Slim Thug, Paul Wall, Lil’ Keke, and Chamillionaire.
How to Spot a Slab
make & model
While the car culture in Houston originated from a fascination with older model Cadillacs, it has since grown to accept newer model cars, classic cars, and the all-time popular police car of the 90s: Ford Crown Victoria.
elbows & vogues
Also referred to as “swangas”, elbows and vogues are essential to any and every slab. Word to the wise: As we were told on several occasions by several connoisseurs, the car is not slab without swangas. Simple. Elbows are actually spoked wire wheels that protrude (or “poke”) away from the car body, in the same way elbows protrude from the human body. Vogues or whitewall tires can be dated back 1914, when they were used on horse carriages. Unlike normal tires, vogues stand out due to a white stripe along the rim and grew popularity on classic cars.
Catch them switching lanes with the paint dripping. Vibrantly colored, this finish contains metallic elements, enabling the car to glimmer in the sunlight.
fifth wheel & popped trunks
The OG fifth wheel is not your average spare tire. It rests on the trunk of a car and is seen in unison with the rims and wheel type of the other four wheels. The inside of a trunk is almost as important as the inside of the slab itself as it can hold wondrous valuables: intricate sound systems, televisions, matching interiors and, most of all, personal messages that are scrawled across the inside of the trunk lid.
They have personalities. Literally. Some slabs are themed, displaying the creativity of their owners. Cars themed as popular cartoon and comic characters, luxury brands, alcoholic beverages and even popular candies can be seen on highways of Houston as art in motion.
Average sound systems are for your hearing pleasure. Not only can they be heard from down the block, but the sound systems of slabs are also for your viewing pleasure. With the trunk popped, sound systems are embellished with textures consistent with the auto’s interior and exterior.
interior & upholstery
This is the “cream on the inside” mentioned in the ever-popular ‘Ice Cream Paint Job’ by Dallas’ own Dorrough Music. Wrapped in leather, alligator, or crocodile, slabs have interiors more decadent than lobby furniture at the Waldorf Astoria.
One must grip woodgrain. To top off the vintage look that Curtis Mayfield sang of in ‘Diamond in the Back’, woodgrain steering wheels are used in many slabs.
swangin' & slab lines
When slab owners come together, they stop traffic by lining up and swerving through lanes simultaneously — a beautiful act that is only comparable to the art of synchronized swimming. If you don’t believe me, simply search “swangin houston
” on YouTube. You’re welcome.