DJ SCREW

Originally printed in NEONS #3 (split with Shocktilt)









''Screwed and Chopped'' is common knowledge, used all the time for every shitty slowed down songs. But like Scarface from the Geto Boys said ''Screw was a man, so how can anything be 'screwed' if he's no longer with us?''.
Born Robert Earl Davis in 1971 in Smithville, Texas. DJ Screw was found dead in his studio in Houston on November 16 2000, from an overdose of codeine mixed with Valium and PCP. But during his short life, he put out more mixtapes than any DJ, creating a whole new style of music that leads him to earn the nickname of ''The Originator''. To understand the creation of the myth, of his style, his attitude, his influence on the modern music, his influence in the Houston community and more, who could explain it better than people from Houston, especially the ones close to him at the time ? That's why you'll find a lot of quotes from guys who belongs to the Screwed Up Click, or old friends, they knew what was going on since day one.

About his technique to mix records, and his now famous 'screwed and chopped' style, Lance Scott Walker (Houston Rap Tapes' author) explained it well : ''Screw would have two copies of the same record spinning on the turntables, one playing just behind the other, and he’d “chop” back and forth between them with his crossfader at moments he wanted to bring out; scratching and running records back to repeat phrases and double up beats, sometimes dragging a finger alongside the wheel to give it a warble. He had his fader set to Hamster style, the reverse of most turntable setups, so that he could make quicker stabs between the discs. This would all be recorded live to tape, with Screw knowing exactly how long he could record for and still stretch it out to fill one side of a 100-minute Maxell gray cassette. Then, he’d run that recording back through the tape deck, slowing it down with the four-track’s pitch control and taking the tape down another generation.''

It would be a mistake to think that DJ Screw thought about everything by himself. In the late 70s-early 80s, deejays like Darryl Scott or Michael Prince were already playing slowed down music in Houston's clubs. Scott accidentally invented the double beat, first accidentally, then did it on purpose when he saw the audience liked it. He was also playing records on 331/2 instead of 45 to slow the music down. But it was still basic until Screw came in.

At 12-13, he started Djing in Smithville, with his homie Shorty Mac, He was making tapes with his mum's turntable playing on the inside of his jambox,, and he had another turntable plugged in with the RCA jack, no headphones and one little stereo speaker in the middle. And they were jammin till two or three in the morning. The first screw tape he ever did was in 1991, made with four turntables and started selling these clear tapes from the tunk of his car in parking lots.

Mike-D (Southside Playaz / Screwed Up Click): ''see... Screw didn't start the shit, you feel what I'm sayin'? It was Michael Price and Darryl Scott kicked it off and Michael Price screwed... Screw used to do his music FAST, you feel me? We been down since the Broadway days' cause Michael Price was like a brother to me. He was a DJ. Screw was a DJ. That's when dancin' and all that shit was in. Parties and shit. But what Michael Price would do, he would slow down the party. You feel what I'm sayin'? The whole party. Not doin' it for tapes and... you'd just come to the the house party and the music slow and you tryin' to figure what's goin' on, why you like this shit. And then they would be on the corner, one day the was on the corner and the batteries went dead. On Calumet. Muthafucka was playin' slow. When they heard that, e'redoby was just goin' crazy like, ''Man, we gotta get enough of it''. You know, Michael Price got killed at a dice game by a a mutual friend that he lost some money from. And since then, Screw just took it and ran with it, man. And we took it to the next level. I been there since day one. But the boldest... The boldest shit was screwed, you know? When it was just DJ Screw on a clear tape, no rappers, no nothin', you know? For real.
(…)
It wasn't the big record deal shit, you know what I'm sayin'? It was just, ''Let me make a tape for my car''. I go back into the 90's with the music shit like Lil Troy, when Scarface was doin' this shit...
(…)
But goin' to Screw house, it was just about gettin' your tape done. Some kinda ways... God has this way of workin' shit out that.. It just became a phenomenon. We still don't know how. It's still hellraisin'... (…) We walked in there... Screw doin' a beat, and just... start flowin' on the muthafucka (laughs) and before you know it, we listenin'... me and Clay listenin' to the tape all the way to the... when we get back tbe tape done made it all the way accross the city, all accross the country. One copy turn into 10, 10 copies turn into 20... Just like that.
(…)
Screw... this shit is gonna be forever. What I have seen, is that this shit changed the culture of Houston.

(…) He got a radio station right here. This is a fuckin' radio station right here : 97.9...The Box. Any time you drop a tape it's like a fuckin' Monday night, you feel me? On the radio. Friday night on the radio, man. There was no better way to promote than the way he had it. It was a broadcast. It's just like FM radio is now, or underground radio like that, that's how Screw shit was. I tell you that... You ask C-Note who showed him what to do.''



One thing you have to understand is that Screwed music fits so well with Houston's lifestyle that it couldn't have come from nowhere else but there. Car culture was huge in Houston, it's one of the biggest city in the USA, and you have to drive a lot to go to one place to the other cause public transportation was a mess. Everyone was driving. And they wanted cars to be as good as a new home, since they spend most of their time in it. 'Slabs', customized cars with candy paint was the shit, and then everyone was slowly driving in the streets, or stuck in the traffic jam under the heat, with Screw banging hard. At first, it was mostly a Southside thing, cause this is where DJ Screw had his house, in Greenstone, and then his shop Screwed Up Tapes And Records, on South Park. But it turned out to be huge everywhere in the city. Slabs and screw tapes were just a typical Houston thing. Something that could represent their lifestyle, and DJ Screw was giving people the soundtrack of their lives. A radio, to discover everything was being just released, from the West to the East Coast and of course Houston locals and the whole Dirty South. If your song was on a screw tape you could be sure it was a banger.

DJ Screw wanted through his tapes to make people listen to the songs in a new way. He was slowing down everything and repeating ('chopping') some lines or some verses for a better comprehension of what the rappers had to say. The storytelling had a big part to play in Screw's work. So, he was spending hours in his house working on tapes. Most of the times someone would come and give him a list of songs, then he would screw them, and it was going on for hours, day and night. At first, it was only songs screwed and chopped, then he added some freestyles on the screwed instrumentals. Screwtape regulars were rappers like Fat Pat, Lil' Keke, Big Hawk, E.S.G., Big Pokey or Big Moe. But he wasn't only screwing hip hop songs in his tapes, you could also find some funk, soul or R'n'b tunes. Whatever he liked was screwed and put on tapes. Hours of working in his house, surrounded by his close friends. You could see most of the time the Southside Playaz' Fat Mike, Mike D (aka Bosshog Corleone) or Mr. 3-2 (formerly of Convicts and Blac Monks).



3-2 : We'd stay all night. 'Til the break of dawn? Then sometimes up through' the mornin'.
Mike D : You keep a roll of quarters in your pocket. So you get locked in that house, you in that bitch. There ain't no goin' out... If you leave, he be lookin' at you like, ''Where you goin', muthafucka?'' You gotta be somebody. You gotta be a Clay Doe or a Mike D, 3-2. You gotta be somebody, that's somebody to run in and out this door. If you bullshittin', you fittin' to get out there... He fuck with street cats and he ain't want cats runnin' in and out his house. He was straight like that.
3-2 : Write your list down, all the songs you wantin'... and you kick it with Screw all night long 'til the break of dawn 'til the mornin' come. Get your tape made. Then you move around, go get you some breakfast and lay down... Make another tape next week, next month. Same ol' thang. Pretty much. To sum it up.

During the first year on Greenstone, Screw started leaning on Syrup. A recreational use of cough syrup mixed with codeine and Sprite. It ain't new, syrup was used by Houston bluesman decades earlier with beer, in the same neighborhoods the rapper would come out of. And even in some other parts of the country, I came accross people from Philly or Detroit that said older people were already sipping on syrup way before. But once it came on the hand of Screw and his friend, it was adapted to their lifestyle and then couldn't be separated from the screwtapes. Purple Drank and screwtapes, best combo for the Houston locals. But don't get me wrong, it always has been the music first though. The screwed sound quickly made it through the whole city, mostly due to gang bangs bouncing screwtapes in their slabs in the streets, or while hustlin' in the corners, people would frequently stop by and ask ''What are you listening to? It's dope!''. The word was spread out of the Southside and DJ Screw's notoriety grew fast, first locally then nationally.

DJ Screw finally released his first 'official' records in 1995 : 3 'N TheMornin' (Part One), 3 'N The Mornin' (Part Two) and Bigtyme Vol II All Screwed Up on Russell Washington's Bigtyme Recordz. It helped a lot to bring him international intention since Bigtyme were also working with renowned artists such as UGK, PSK-13 and Point Blank. On the first part of 3 'N The Morning, Screw mixed as an hommage an ultra-slowed version of Laid Back's ''White Horse'' song from 1983, that Darryl Scott slowed down on 331/2 back in the days.

The next year, he released a 35 minutes long freestyle over a Kriss Kross beat produced by Jermaine Dupri, featuring the Screwed Up Click : DeMo, Bird, Big Pokey, Big Moe, K-Luv, Key-C, Haircut Joe and Yungstar. Called June 27th, it's a birthday tape for his good friend DeMo Sherman who met Screw in 1994. It became the best selling screwtape of all time, and is a testament of the magic that happened around Screw.




Unfortunately, all the come and go in his house caught the eye of the government, and the feds were sure it was a huge drug dealing place. So, they decided to act.

Shorty Mac : Well, they kicked his door in 'cause they thought he was sellin' drugs. And he was just sellin' music. But that's the only – I mean, as far as police coming in and harassing him or whaterver, that was the only main time. We was in a lot of situations where they would pull up and take pictures of us and all kind of shit like that, but just... when they kicked his door in, that's the only time they really came in there trippin' like that. That I SEEN. Or was closer to. You know, you may have had people leave his house and get pulled over. Or something like that. 'Cause they tryin' to figure out what he doing.
Lance Scott Walker : Papa Screw told me that happened at least two or three times, that someone kicked the door in, and that each time, they'd search the house and they wouldn't find anything and then they'd just leave. They just thought something was going on.
Shorty Mac : I only know about the one time. That was when he was on Greenstone, but as far as I know, I remember the one time because of the way they done the house. They tore the front gate off, the front gate – I don't know if the house is still the same – they had a gate like, by the front door, like burglar bar gates. They tore that gate off, and they knocked the front door down and came on in. And then they messed up a couple of his tapes too. They crushed maybe about 40 or 50 tapes. Because they was pissed off. Wasn't no drugs in there. It was records and tapes.
(..) All these tapes (he was selling) they come to get. So they was like... people used to tell me all the time, man, ''If the law pass by here, they think you sellin' drugs, anytime there's slabs over here''. I came from Houston one night, and I walked up to my door and there was a cell phone in a box sittin' at my door. And I picked it up, too it in the house, plugged it in and it was ON. So I put it back in the box and put it outside because it scared me at that time. Because O know – it was right... it may have been right before Screw got his door kicked in or right after, so it just scared me, and I called him and I told him, I said ''Man there's a cell phone at my door, and it's already on. I ain't order no cell phones''. And he said, ''Man, it might be them people''. At that time, me and my sister was stayin' together, with her kid, and she said – when I had went to Houston and came back and she said some agents came by the house askin' questions and they went to all the neighbors askin' questions. But all the neighbors knew I wasn't doin' nothing but sellin' music, so, I mean, that never got OUR door kicked in or nothin'. They was just tryin' to figure out, I guess, what was goin' on because of all the activity that was goin' on in the neighborhood.


Screw wasn't in it for money. Around 97-98 a lot of major labels tried to make him sign contracts but he was like ''nah'', he wanted the whole click in.
Shorty Mac : ''I'm listenin' to a dude saying ''Man, I got a check for you right now, you can go buy you a Benz and take your girl out to a nice restaurant.'' and he tell the dude ''Man, I'm already takin' my girl to a nice restaurant. I want EVERYBODY to be comfortable''. That's just the type of dude he was? (…) I mean, even before he got the shop he was helpin' people pay the rent, pay they light bill, you know...
Some people who freestyled and rapped over his tapes really became huge after that. He took them to another level, making them stars in Houston and in the country. Careers were born out of his tapes. And listening to the Screw tapes, people went to shops buying the albums of the artists screwed on tapes, He helped a lot of people like that, it was kind of a radio at the time. Bouncing in cars and apartments and in the streets. And a lot of rappers got love for Screw and his work, from the Outlaws to Ice Cube to Ice T or Master P. He got so much love for this Bay Area rapper C-Bo but never had the chance to meet him. ''He never got to meet C-Bo, but he came to his house one day. Screw was asleep, and his cousin didn't wake him up. I think he was mad for about a week behind that''.






One of DJ Screw's oldest friends, Shorty Mac is the one who gave to Screw his name, after seeing him scratching records he hated with a screwdriver. He's an emblematic of the juggernaut that was the Screwed Up Click. He move on from hustling to become Screw's tape distributor in Austin – A seconde home to the Screwed Up Click starting in the mid-90's and remaining so today.

Shorty Mac ''Me and Screw grew up together in Smithville. He moved to Houston, and then after I got out of school, I moved to Austin, and then I moved to Houston with Screw, maybe two, three years before he died. Probably like a year after he died I moved back to Austin. (I appear) in a few of them tapes. I was on 'Austin 2 Part II', 'The Final Chapter', 'Off The Head', 'Playaz Night', 'G Love', 'Only The Real'. Some I'm on, I don't even know the name of them. I never heard them after I rapped on them. (…) I just stayed there (Screw's house in Greenstone) and then after I got there I started workin' in the shop Helpim him. 'til maybe 2001, and then I moved back to Austin. All the Screw tapes we ever done was in Houston, and the majority of them was done on Greenstone.''

DJ Screw opened his own store Screwed Up Records & Tapes on Cullen Boulevard in South Park in 1998, but the first week, his close friend Fat Pat was killed. Lance Scott Walker reminisces ''It was on the eve of the release of his first album, Ghetto Dreams, and almost certain stardom. Pat was the younger brother of Big Hawk and the star of the Screwed Up Click – its voice, its swagger, its soul and its style, all together in one big, boastful rapper from South Park’s Dead End. Fat Pat was bigger than the Screwed Up Click, bigger than the city. His murder sucked the wind out Screw. Right after that, Corey Blount, the father of Houston car culture whose own swagger and style had people calling him “The Slab King” and was the blueprint for the Screwed Up Click, was sent to prison. Fat Pat and his best friend were gone. Most people who knew Screw say he never recovered from Pat’s death''.

Shorty Mac : (when I came down hanging out in Houston) it seemed like there wasn't nothin' but love everywhere. I guess it's just... I wanna say it's the way... the type of person Screw was, because he had different neighborhoods hangin' out with each other that didn't like each other, and I just thought, I said ''This is cool''. I really thought it was cool.
LSW: What I understand is that a lot of times people would get around him and he would affect the way that people would act. Like people would be really, really cool around him, people maybe who might have had some beef with each other... dudes like that would get around Screw and all of the sudden they were really coolShorty Mac : That's true! I mean, there was just something about him that had – he had that in him, to do that. And I think... I wanna say he... Dont know if I'm right? But like when he really just jumped in the mix, the crime rate in Houston dropped like 20 percent. That was kind of big. He didn't have no problems with people. If they didn't like each other, they didn't act like they didn't like each other. They was cool with each other that night.LSW : I was talking to Al-D about this. I said 'So nobody ever messed with Screw, huh?' And he said 'Man, if you did, where would you go? Do you think you could ever actually get around Houston? So many people had that guy's back, where would go afterwards if you messed with Screw?''





His death was a tragedy for Houston rap scene, Fifth Ward, Southside and the whole community, the whole city, the whole country. From grandmas to gangstas, everyone was crying his heart out. No one could believe the news. He had such a huge influence on the scene, all the gangsters made a truth, everyone could drive in any area without the fear of getting shot down. The crime rates in Houston even fell down of 20% during Screw's haydays. He helped friends or neighbors paying their rents, showing love to everyone, Screw did so much for his people without asking anything back.

Shorty Mac : ''He was serious, man. That dude had power like... I don't know. I can't even put a name on it, but I just start seein' different stuff, how the reaction of people... the people and different people comin' around. And I mean, you seein' gangstas cry and I say, ''Man, this dude was very effective on people lives, man!'' And not even that – this dude CHANGED a lot of people's lives. By listenin' to his tapes. I mean, I done seen dudes come up there that's been hustlin' and they goin' ''Man, I'm fittin' to go to college...'' and like ''Man, I'm listenin' to this tape, man, Screw got me thinkin'...''. He was a respectful dude, so he ain't never disrepect nobody. He was a humble dude, he showed a lot of love, so I mean, you know that's what he really got back.''

He left behind him a legacy of more than 300 tapes, some official records, a lot of compilations that are released officially or on bootlegs now and then, and these last years the 'screwed and chopped' technique has been used so much that some Djs claim to be strongly influenced by DJ Screw when they're not just ripping him off, and a lot of people are digitally doing screwed and chopped versions of whatever kind of songs they like all over the world. You can type any name along with screwed and chopped on youtube and witness this enthusiasm, sometimes well done, but most of the time a sloppy work. Anyway, bang Screw real loud, bass boosted and share the good sound of the street.

Also, speaking of the street, learn this lesson from Mike D : ''You can't learn that shit in reverse. There's muthafuckas tryin' to be gangstas AFTER they became rappers. You can't do shit like that! If you's a gangsta, you can turn a rapper but you can't be a rapper, and turn a gangsta. Because if you dig, muthafuckas gonna be touchin' your ass on the street like a bunch of these rappers be gettin' dunked.''


 

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