It’s been 18 years since the passing of DJ Screw.
“Rest in peace to Screw, tonight we take it slowly.” Today, we celebrate the life and legacy of the late DJ Screw who has been away from us for 18 years now.
Travis Scott belted that line at the top of his refrain for “R.I.P SCREW” from latest album Astroworld, paying homage to his fellow Houston native. DJ Screw, real name Robert Earl Davis Jr., is credited for innovating and popularizing the chopped and screwed sound and culture within music. Trav’s love for Screw is well-documented, shouting out his iconic Screwtape mixtape series on 2017 cut “Best Man” from collab tape Huncho Jack, Jack Huncho with Quavo. He previously sampled Screw’s voice on 2013’s “Drive” featuring James Fauntleroy from mixtape Owl Pharoah.
Trav and guest star Swae Lee show love on “R.I.P SCREW” by literally slowing the track and their flows down. Their lifestyles, however, inclusive of the drank, don’t miss a beat. Cactus Jack isn’t the only person that has Screw to thank for being able to make the music he makes and the special attention that comes with being an artist from Houston. Paul Wall, Bun B, Slim Thug and OG Ron C all recognize the path he paved for them.
When thinking of DJ Screw, most people’s first comment is the Screwtapes. This was a set of 336 mixtapes made by the DJ between 1993 and 2000, sold from out of his house or while he was traveling. Prior to this though, he got his start in music playing the piano before taking a serious interest in DJing in 1983. He started at the age of 12, and got his name by his friend and rapper, Trey Adkins. Anytime Screw didn’t like a record, he’d destroy with a screw. Adkins one day questioned if he thought he was DJ Screw, and the rest was history.
He developed his abilities for 7 years before discovering the chopped and screwed sound in 1990. He perfected it for some years before making the Screwtapes as special compilations for his friends upon request.. Soon enough, he’d give beats out to his rapper friends to spit over and that gave birth to the Screwed Up Click. Members included the likes of Big Hawk, Big Moe, and Fat Pat before later adding Trae The Truth, Z-Ro and Lil Flip. From there he started to sell more and more tapes and ultimately opened his own shop in Houston called Screwed Up Records and Tapes, which still exists today in various locations throughout Texas.
The chopped and screwed sound stood out because it was different. Back when the East Coast and West Coast were in a heated battle, the South stood back as they armed themselves to burst onto the scene. Where the East and West brought a lot of uptempo energy, the South stayed true to their overall aura and slowed things down.
Their general demeanors and affinity for concoctions made of cough syrup or codeine simply made sense in conjunction with the chopped and screwed sound. And while codeine overdose was the unfortunate cause of Screw’s passing, it is undoubtedly a strong element of Houston culture so it’s only natural it played a part in their music. Screw denounced the necessity of “purple drank” consumption in order to enjoy it and actually credited his discovery to being high off marijuana.
While people’s thoughts always go to Atlanta first when discussing Southern Hip-Hop, due to the numerous talents within the city and those from outside the city who adopted elements of the ATL culture, Houston has been influential as well. Drake, Juicy J, A$AP Rocky, and Justin Bieber are just a few of the big artists who recognized the power of the H Town’s sound and brought it into their own.
Former Texas governor Rick Perry named him a Texas Music Pioneer and the music and car festival DJ Screwfest was made created in his honor. A full episode of the five-part documentary series Screwed in Houston is dedicated to his life and legacy, and there is a large number of historical gems of his held at the University of Houston’s libraries in the Hip Hop Research Collection.
It’s been 18 years, but Screw hasn’t gone anywhere. As long as Houston makes the music it is loved for, Screw will always have a presence in our culture. We hope he’s resting easy and peacefully in a better place. Run back Travis Scott‘s eulogistic track for the one time below.