According to conventional rap wisdom, New York's dead, Atlanta crunk is played, and Bay Area hyphy is poised to become the next phenomenon that dominates the mainstream. But for the moment, anyway, Houston hip-hop still holds the heavyweight belt; the woozy "screwed" style -- first explored by legendary syrup-sippin' DJ Screw, who passed away in 2000 -- spent years in subterranean development but broke wide last year thanks to the likes of Paul Wall, Mike Jones, and Slim Thug. Houston can also thank Lil' Flip, a Screw protégé who first showed off his agile gangsta flow and freestyle prowess over grinding beats and pitched-down grooves on 2000's independently released The Leprechaun, and has since taken his sound to the majors (Sony just put out I Need Mine last month) while continuing to release mix tapes in the underground. Flip's got about 37 bazillion of them to his credit, but fellow Houstonian Chamillionaire might have him beat -- they don't call him the "Mixtape Messiah" for nothing. Cham finally dropped his own The Sound of Revenge late last year -- like Flip, his rhymes are thuggish and his textures effectively sluggish, but he distinguishes himself by his ability to shift quite effortlessly from rapping to Nate Dogg-ishly smooth singing.