Greatest Southern Artists of all Time
Words Matt Sonzala
DJ SCREW 5 ESSENTIAL DJ SCREW TAPES
DJ Screw 3 ‘N The Mornin’, Pt. 2 1995 This album introduced the rest of the world to the originator of the Houston rap sound. DJ Screw June 27th 1996 Features all the prime members of the Screwed Up Click doing what they do best: freestylin’ non-stop til the cows come home. DJ Screw Leanin’ on a Switch 1996 This one had the streets locked down for months. A true classic, Screw showed out on this one. DJ Screw It’s All Good 1997 Featured Fat Pat throughout and started off with the classic Biggie jam, “Kick In the Door,” one of the greatest jams ever Screwed. DJ Screw Mash for My Dreams 1998 Another tape chock full of some of Screw’s artists most classic freestyles.
ew DJs in the world of rap, or any other style of music, have left a legacy as important and revered as DJ Screw’s. The earliest progenitors of hip-hop, namely Kool Herc, Afrika Bambaataa, Grandwizard Theodore and the like may have one up on Screw, born Robert Earl Davis in Smithville, Texas in 1971, but that’s about it. Your favorite DJ from your region may have left his or her mark, and might have even brought the music to your town first, but no one has ever started a movement as strong as the late DJ Screw. Screw started out in the mid to late 80’s like any other hip-hop DJ, cutting and scratching and mixing records on his parent’s home stereo, borrowing and sharing equipment to play parties and clubs. Early on he would DJ for different MCs from his Southside neighborhood, and even contributed to the cuts on the demo that ended up getting the Odd Squad (Devin the Dude’s first group) signed to Rap-A-Lot Records. But it was when he stumbled upon a new style of making mixtapes, one that was all his own, that he began to take over Texas. Reports of how this actually came about are sketchy, but in the early 90’s Screw recorded a mixtape with the records pitched so far down that many people thought he was playing them on the wrong speed. For some reason, people from his hood loved it. Mixtapes were generally used to generate hype, so they were usually upbeat and featured the DJ chanting and yelling to get the audience excited. For, some this new sound was too crazy to accept. But for many, these slowed down tapes became the norm. Screw came from meager beginnings, having moved to Houston from Smithville to stay with his father and enter the city’s burgeoning rap scene. Upon arrival, Screw would extend his hand to almost anyone involved in the music, and in doing that formed the strongest group of rappers to ever reside in Texas, the Screwed Up Click. Early on, DJ Screw would sell his tapes directly from his house. Many times his tapes were made personally for
one person who would come over and select records for him to slow down and mix onto a single Maxell “Gray” cassette tape. These tapes would then be dubbed and sold or traded in the streets, and everyone from Screw’s neighborhood soon had to have a “personal.” As more and more people would come to Screw’s house, he’d let certain artists freestyle on their own personals, and later used the artists he liked the most to appear on tapes he began to circulate in wide release. Screw was a relentless workaholic. He released tapes weekly, if not more, and when word of a new tape began to circulate in the streets, cars full of people would line up around his block in hopes of getting their hands on the newest, freshest mix. Outsiders found his sound a bit hard to swallow, but as he released more and more tapes and his sound began to spread to other cities like Austin and Dallas, Screw music became the norm. It was born in Houston, so the South finally had something to call its own. Screw had mixing skills that could equal or eclipse any of the top DJ’s of his time, but his signature sound, open ear to new music and support for the artists around him was what really got him over. As Screw’s legacy progressed, people in the South began to check for artists in his clique like the late Fat Pat, Lil Keke, Hawk, Grace, Z-Ro, ESG and others. It got to a point where many hip-hop heads around the state of Texas didn’t want to hear anything else. If it wasn’t Screw, it didn’t exist. Young folks had to hear their rap music screwed, or they just didn’t want to hear it. Screw was also a bit of an introvert who liked to keep to himself. He rarely sold his tapes to stores, and if you didn’t get the tape from Screw himself, you probably caught a dub or a bootleg from someone else. This prompted a handful of DJs to try their own hand at making Screw mixes, though only a few (Michael Watts of the Swishahouse, DJ D, PaulWall, OG Ron C, Big Chance) were successful. After a while, when he finally recognized the size of the demand for his tapes, Screw opened
his own store, Screwed Up Records and Tapes. The store was opened specifically to sell his mixtapes, and nothing else. Walking into the shop was like walking into a dope spot. A nondescript storefront led to an empty room with nothing but a few posters hanging on the wall next to a dry erase board that listed the titles of the tapes available for sale that day. The cash register and inventory was kept behind a bulletproof glass window, with a hole at the bottom to slide money into and grab tapes out of. Well into the CD era, Screw only sold tapes, until the day he died. Screw was the man. He launched careers, forged a new sound and brought a certain unity to the Texas rap market that is since unrivaled. It could be argued that Texas rap fans support their own so religiously because DJ Screw gave them something that they could claim ownership of. DJ Screw gave the world artists who truly represented the Houston streets, artists who took the language of the South and made it marketable, artists who spoke directly to their peers. He set a trend that soon became a movement, one that lives on today - four years after the passing of one of the most important men in Texas rap history. DJ Screw died in November of 2000. He was found dead on the bathroom floor of his studio. Some say he died from a heart attack (his mother claims it was his fifth), some say he died from a drug overdose, and some say he may have been poisoned and robbed. It’s yet another mystery left unsolved in the music history books, but regardless, his music lives on and just might be stronger than ever. Now that he’s gone, major labels are releasing “Screwed and Chopped” versions of their albums, radio stations are programming “Screw” mixes and young kids from all the way from Texas to Finland are using computers to pitch down their MP3s and jam “Screw” music. Some argue that Screw was a man, not a genre. Screw was an inspiration and a legend to always be respected. Rest In Peace, Robert Earl Davis. OZONE APR 2005
Ozone Mag #33 - Apr 2005