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.”