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On DJ Screw

I don’t get DJ Screw. I mean, I greatly appreciate his music, but I’ll never fully understand it. How could I? When he passed away I had only just heard of him and his movement, having had a few cursory glimpses of his world by way of Napster downloads. The man had such a unique and immensely community driven impact that any outsider interpretation comes close to pure speculation. There was a time when dudes waited in lines around his block like fiends for his latest tape while we now just wait 60 seconds for a download ticket.

Today Screw is getting more press than ever thanks in part to interlopers who have affected his aesthetic (though rarely his emotionality). This turn of events would be frustrating if it wasn’t always his plan. As he told the Source, in what I believe was his first national press feature, he genuinely wanted to screw the world. The fact that white bisexual heroin addicted art students from the midwest, Sweedish chicks in bird masks and half Jewish Canadian ex-child actors are now biting/sweating/worshipping him only means that he’s succeeded in that mission.*

But focusing on influence alone almost seems like an affront to his talents. Screw wasn’t just a building block or a point on a timeline, the guy made great stand alone mixtapes that still sound as fresh as they ever did. Hundreds of them. We could talk about his slowing technique and I could use words like murky and hazy and invoke drug spirits but you have all heard that already. Instead let’s consider what I think was Screw’s greatest talent as a selector – selection. Where many DJs allow their hands to be tied by hits and “classics,” Screw was only ever beholden to own convictions. He built his own canon. I love, for example, that C-Bo was his favorite rapper. In his world Bay Area mob music and old school New York 808 work outs and the many twisted branches of the NWA family tree and Steel Pulse and Street Military were all interchangeable parts. He found their commonalities and then literally drew out an entirely new genre of music from them. Style is immaterial, it can be borrowed and repurposed and butchered. But honest and reliable taste is a true rarity. R.I.P. DJ Screw.

Related: Ten Screw Tapes

* This is also a nice example, to the date, of the Riley Theorem in action: “Ten years from now it’s gonna be some white kids making music that sounds like Lil Jon and black folks are gonna have moved on, but that music is going to be called the intelligent music.”


40 Responses to “On DJ Screw”

  1. BZ Says:

    “We could talk about his slowing technique and I could use words like murky and hazy and invoke drug spirits but you have all heard that already. Instead let’s consider what I think was Screw’s greatest talent as a selector – selection.”

    when are you going to write the encyclopedia of rap?

  2. Jesse Serwer Says:

    I agree 100 percent with what you’re saying in the last paragraph here, Noz. But my story absolutely does not focus on his influence alone. The lead and conclusion notwithstanding (You have to understand it was written to be published in a newspaper in a country where more people know who Karin Dreijer Andersson is than know where Houston is), it’s about his experience in Houston, and his role as his region’s central musical curator during his lifetime.

  3. noz Says:

    “But my story absolutely does not focus on his influence alone.”

    Sorry, it wasn’t my intent to suggest that it does.

  4. Chaz Says:

    Great read. Realniggatumblr upp’ed this great collection of DJ Screw C&S’ed 90s East Coast and West Coast two months ago. It’s great – http://realniggatumblr.tumblr.com/post/1249911140/realniggatumblr-presents-throwed-ass-jams-vol-1

  5. Michael Wash Says:

    I was born in Houston in 1990 and then moved to San Antonio shortly after. I remember when I first got into Dj Screw, and chopped & screwed music all around. when I was in seventh grade, 2 years after his death…I swear to god its the only music we would listen to..my crew and the rest of the school. Even at the young age of 12 and 13…you couldve asked anyone and they wouldve been able to name their favorite screw tape. It was special…and obviously still is. I am glad he is getting the respect he deserves, not as a rap dj or screw dj, but as an artist that went against the grain, and succeeded.

  6. douglas Says:

    In order to understand DJ Screw you must go way back, but it is possible. Just like it is possible to understand the Bealtes (even though most people cannot really explain why the LOOOOOOOVVVE the Beatles). Screw started back in 92′. Texas rap was not about biting etc, southern rap was/is more narrative based. Like Noz, said, Screw simply picked the songs he liked and put them on mix tapes. He slowed down the songs so we could hear the stories and listen, zone in and out, chop up good lines so we could hear them again, and then let the song “continue to roll.”(Z-RO). H-Town rap is like a puzzle and once you understand it, it totaly makea sense that screw music would come from Houston. It is reflective, cyclical, loyal, and genuine. No wonder it will only go “platinum in the ghetto.” (Lil Keke).

    this is an excerpt I wrote on screw a while back–>

    Robert Earl Davis, Jr. also known as DJ Screw was a music pioneer from Houston, Texas and legendary founder of the Screwed Up Click. DJ Screw is known for chopping and screwing popular and underground rap songs and putting the songs on mix tapes. Chopping and screwing music consists of substantially slowing down the tempo of a song and scratching parts of the song (bringing back a good line a few times). Take this classic (please click hyperlink). Intellectual property experts and music critics would say DJ Screw was simply taking other artist’s music, altering it minimally, and then re-releasing it for a profit. These “experts” do not understand the “rap game.” Mix tapes are how rap artists promote their music. The punk rock world similarly has “compilations” and “splits.” Further, if DJ Screw screwed and chopped a song, it was the highest compliment a rapper could receive. Put another way, it would be as if I Tweeted a joke, Jerry Seinfeld read it, and then re-Tweeted it. DJ Screw has profoundly influenced mainstream rap culture in a variety of ways. He still gets respect in current mainstream songs (see time 1:24). Drake adopted DJ Screw’s chopped and screwed style in the November 18 song. T Pain and Ludacris even adopted a new meaning for chopped and screwed, with their song called Chopped N Screwed.

  7. barney Says:

    Nice! So true, consider the B side to the “Screwed Up Texas” tape, one of the last ones (now D.O.T.O. #81):

    Comrads – That There
    DJ Quik – Don’t Wanna Party With You
    Eminem – Drug Ballad
    Big Moe, Z-Ro, Tyte Eyez – City of Syrup
    Ice Cube – Waitin to Hate
    Icey Hott & Klondike Kat – Ghetto Love
    Daz Dillinger – Baccstabbers

    I guess it’s harder to talk about than his sonic imagination, but Screw was just as brilliant with his selections on any given tape.

  8. nico Says:


  9. noz Says:

    I love you too, nico.

  10. benjy Says:

    “Style is immaterial, it can be borrowed and repurposed and butchered. But honest and reliable taste is a true rarity.”

    maybe im just drunk and its 5am but this is the realest shit u ever wrote man

  11. mitchell Says:

    i’m late, but goddamn i never read that riley theory post. that’s some real shit dude.

  12. DR.NO Says:

    Yeah he had his own cannon he played from, there’s a good number of songs that I considered skippable in the context of the albums they appeared on, but given the right placement on a screw tape and a 2-3 minute instrumental interlude getting cut up, I’d hear them in a whole new light.

    That’s always the mark of a good dj btw, but few manage to pull it off regularly, much less develop a whole new form in the process.

  13. Fool Says:

    You are a gift to the world, Noz, even though I disagree with some of the things you say. No homo.

  14. noz Says:

    “Yeah he had his own cannon he played from, there’s a good number of songs that I considered skippable in the context of the albums they appeared on, but given the right placement on a screw tape and a 2-3 minute instrumental interlude getting cut up, I’d hear them in a whole new light.”

    This is a great point.

  15. bk Says:

    ‘“Style is immaterial, it can be borrowed and repurposed and butchered. But honest and reliable taste is a true rarity.”

    maybe im just drunk and its 5am but this is the realest shit u ever wrote man’

    Nah, you’re not just drunk. That is some real shit. The most interesting artists create their own world. Just like Screw. R.I.P.

  16. MF Says:

    Never knew that C-Bo was his favourite rapper, but it makes sense since most of the Screw tapes I’ve heard have a song by him on them.

    Prefer the Screwed version of ‘Bo’s Autopsy to the real version.

  17. Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche Says:

    white bisexual heroin addicted art students from the midwest: ?

    Swedish chicks in bird masks:?

    Half Jewish Canadian ex-child actors: Drake

    Who is the bisexual and the Swedish chick?

  18. MLKshake Says:

    Midwest H= Salem
    Swede= Karin Dreijer Andersson of The Knife/Fever Ray

    I was under the impression from that Screw doc that a lot of tapes were based on homies requests… that doesn’t invalidate saying he’s a G-selector, but it just doesn’t seem that far away from the critiques you’re placing on others superficial works…

  19. nico Says:

    i have a bunch of screw tape rips but i am no expert on the man…

    did he ever chop and screw anything that couldn’t be considered hip hop or r&b? are there any single songs out there in any of his mixes outside of these genres? and complete non hip hop mixes?

  20. ri067953 Says:

    Listen to some Led Zeppelin right now and I think if Screw got his hands on some of their albums it would sound pretty good.

  21. hardköre Says:

    Screw could Screw anything, mayne. I get how you can put new/better dimensions to a rap song, cause Screw understood the songs better than the people who made it, sometimes, just like people pointed out. But when I heard him do it to a Bob MArley song many years ago, I understood that he was a musical genius, period.

    On the “swedish chick” , I figure the lil’ brother’s the one who got it from Screw, even though I’m sure he could mention quite a few other inspirations as well for that vocal landscape.

  22. baz Says:

    what the hell is going on with bands like Salem, White Ring and Oneotrix Point Never. There is a huge movement of these art house kids co-opting the screw sound and even adding their own raps and gunshots. Is it meant to be a big ironic joke?

  23. hypo Says:

    I’m just sayin if u ain’t from TEXAS u not suppose 2 understand how we do things. Tired of fools gettin on here wit there lil internet storys talkin down like they know Whut we bout fools thank drank just came out and shit I remember hearin storys bout how my moms and pops use 2 SIP when u from here sippin is just the way of life down here. Me myself I remember when alot of these rappers can out they wouldn’t even get no play down here unless that man slowed it down. I hate my nigga is known 4 the wrong shit all I can say is my nigga u did it u SCREWED THE WORLD now everybody know who DJ SCREW is. Got everybody tryin 2 b like us there will never b another SCREW. TEXAS IN THA DOOR GET WIT OR GET ROLLED OVER.
    RIP my nigga.

  24. nico Says:

    ya’ll ever notice that Bobby Hill kinda looks like DJ Screw.

  25. nico Says:

    I also happen to think screw is up there with the best of them. i ain’t from texas and I don’t know what those dudes are thinkin but I love these screw tapes… legendary.

  26. Zirov Says:

    I feel his muzik is pretty on point for the modern fast world… everyone needs to slow down

    shit it just sounds so fuckin smooth, best shit to get high to, best shit to fuck to, its ethereal

  27. nico Says:

    i like fuckin to dj screw’s mix of the westside connect’s THE WORLD IS MINE. yea.

  28. air max Says:

    it’s amazing to see people from all walks of life appreciate and intepret screw’s music in their own way. but i think C&S music really highlights something important – sometimes there is no totally accurate way to analyze or describe something with words. the music gives you feelings, and thoughts come from those feelings. not the other way around. that may sound like an analytical cop-out. but really you could write 100000000 words on screw and never convey his awesomeness properly. or you could take your audience on a blunt ride through some backroads while they have some personal shit on their mind, put on a dj screw CD, and watch it just click.

  29. The Popular Kids Says:

    From Houston and we still have Screwed Up Sundays. He’s remembered through every and any rapper from or who knows about Houston. We still sip that lean and still jam to them screw tapes. It ain’t an everyday thing but it’s still part of the lifestyle, culture. People are bastardizing Screws legacy in their own way but that happens to everything you just accept it and move on. I don’t know no white bisexuals or Swedish chicks though.

    He did his thing, he started a movement, he’ll be remembered for that and through that. Appreciate it, RIP my nig.

  30. Blogospheric Conditions: More November Links | The T.R.O.Y. Blog Says:

    […] On DJ Screw – Noz pays tribute to DJ Screw for his abilities as a selector and consequently, a canon builder. […]

  31. kåre Says:

    @hypo , if you feel screw represent texas, be happy people like him.

    2. If you think texas is the only place you can get proper high you wrong

  32. mr shiggity Says:

    if you gopt screw tapes you better hold on to them because i guarantee you in the near future there going to worth some bread. shit i’d give somebody $20 for that after da kappa and that mike watts shit.

  33. barney Says:

    @mr shiggity: hold up are you serious? i have been dreaming of the day post-Screw screwtapes become valuable…

  34. barney Says:

    also is it just me or does none of this witch house stuff actually sound like Screw or the Houston stuff surrounding Screw? all I hear is SCARY GOTH stuff, somewhat reminiscent of SCARY TRIPLE-SIX Memphis beats (which is dope, don’t get me wrong) but that’s about it. are any of the bisexual Swedish broads dropping straight up FUNKY ASS SHIT for your system? because that’s what they should go for if they really want to evoke the Screwdup Syrup Spirits or whatever.



  36. creg Says:

    the last few sentences of this piece are really special. this is one of the best things i’ve ever read of yours

  37. Rap Music Guide Says:

    On rare occasions I come across DJ Screw cassette tapes that date back to his first attempts at choppin & screwin. Its not the easiest music to listed to, unless you got some syrup in ya. lol

    Never knew C-Bo was his favorite west coast rapper, thanks for the knowledge!

  38. LaLiga Says:

    Screwston Texas represent!


  39. CPLAYA Says:

    Screw was only ever beholden to own convictions

    While this is true its also false what isnt understood in this logic is; Screw was truly and embodiment of his environment our culture our beliefs. Texas or houston music was more connected to the west people could get fucked up for listen to biggie or have an opinion other than what you were hearing on those screw tapes IN our society and in that time the underground was the mainstream

  40. JP Says:

    I couldn’t have said it better myself.

    What so unfortunate about DJ Screw is that most don’t understand what it was that he doing. Most just hear “slowed down” rap. They don’t get that he was spinning two records, and it was SELECTION and mixing that made him famous. Dude had mad turn-table skills too. I never would have known who Mac Mall, Mac Dre, C-Bo, Conscious Daughters, etc were if Screw hadn’t exposed me to Bay Area rap. When Screw finally got some real studio time, the stuff he dropped was SICK. I remember listening one of his CD’s with headphones on, and I seriously discovered another layer of music that I hadn’t heard before. Screw would take H-Town rap songs that were pretty good; and remix them (not just slow them down) and turn them into CLASSICS. These are good examples: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-SNDoLXYtpc&playnext=1&list=PL7503473145DF1F73 The guy was fucken GENIUS.

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