The DJ Screw death is a very sad tale. He is deeply missed, but his music still hangs on, and resonates around the world.
As he worked inside the warehouse on November 15, 2000, DJ Screw did not feel as if anything was wrong. He drank from a double cup of codeine and put out a cigarette. He was still working. DJ Screw’s mix of highs had helped deliver a unique energy to the music he was creating and he liked it that way. He walked to the bathroom, he never came out.
His body was found in the early hours of November 16, just after midnight by Lumpkin. Much like Fat Pat’s death gutted the Houston rap community, the death of DJ Screw created a crater of emptiness. Police were the first to suspect foul play, suspecting that he had died of a codeine overdose while others thought it was a heart attack. DJ Screw did had an enlarged heart, brought on by his bad eating habits and lack of exercise.
“I got to the studio after they took him away,” Mack said in 2001, two months after DJ Screw died. “I stayed there for a few days. It was hard to believe that he would never be back there. This is the longest time we’ve been apart in years. At the studio, I just knew it wasn’t true that he was dead. Every day it would just sink in more and more, and it got harder and harder.”
A later toxicology report confirmed the worse. DJ Screw’s death was a “codeine overdose with mixed drug intoxication.” The levels of codeine in his bloodstream were deemed “toxic” as well as Valium & PCP. He was only 29 years old.
Lil Flip Says He Saw DJ Screw Sold Out 15,000 Tapes at Car Shows
Often referred to as the “Golden Age” of hip-hop, the 90s saw the rise of lyrical giants and helped usher in a new wave for the still fledgling genre. At the time, the West Coast was ripe with bangers, while cities like Atlanta and New Orleans were pumping out dance tempos that left you no option but to dance. Texas has always done things a little different though, producing familiar greats like the Geto Boyz and UGK, while staying true to its own sound, its own style.
Once known for being home to one of NASA’s crowning achievements and championships caliber sports teams, the 90s would also shift the focus to one of Houston’s greatest claims to fame, a unique sound of music affectionately referred to as “chopped and screwed.” Known for marching to its own beat, while the world sped up Houston slowed down, courtesy of an entirely new genre of music created by the prolific, and of course legendary, DJ Screw.
Out of the trenches of the funk and disco infused 70s and 80s emerged heavy hitters like Cameo, Freedom & The Gap Band and sounds that would become prevalent in Los Angeles’ G-Funk sound of the early 90s. From this, DJ Screw would begin experimenting with all of these elements, slowing down the pace of records as crowds wildly embraced it. Starting in 1991, DJ Screw would begin perfecting his sound, resulting in his wildly popular Screw Tapes. What started out as just personal mixes made for friends, would later transform into an entire movement, as fans throughout the city clamored for more.
Also referred to as “The Originator” of chopped and screwed music, through experimentation and a keen ear for music, DJ Screw honed his craft by slowing down the very tempo of the music, dropping it to 60-70 quarter note beats per minute in order to deliver a completely fresh new sound. Using techniques that included record scratching, skipping beats, stop-time and more, DJ Screw took a seemingly simple concept and transformed it into an entirely new strain of music, inspiring copy cats and admirers alike.
Despite being deeply rooted in hip-hop, no genre has been skipped when it comes to the deejaying technique that DJ Screw invented. Raised on legends like B.B. King, DJ Screw’s greatest gift laid in his ability to incorporate an array of genres in his music. Once sold exclusively out of his own apartment, the sound that DJ Screw created has since floated across the globe, putting Houston on the map as the true source for all that is screwed.
Though others have since followed in his steps, when it comes to chopped and screwed music all roads will forever lead to DJ Screw. While others have adapted a copy and paste method in order to emulate the slow, syrupy sound, it was DJ Screw who laid down the foundation. For many, especially in Houston, if it didn’t come from DJ Screw it isn’t “real.” And who could blame them? It’s a technique that takes true technical skill and dedication. Once panned as a “regional fad” in just 20 years it has since kicked the door down to mainstream America, as everyone from Biggie, to Jay Z, Aerosmith and even Justin Bieber have incorporated elements of Houston’s now signature sound into their own records. That smooth, slow banging sound has officially concreted its place in music history.
Despite his relatively short life, from his classic mixtapes to the countless artists that he both inspired and helped bring to the forefront, the legacy of DJ Screw lives on.
RIP DJ Screw. Rest in peace.
There’s a reason that Robert Earl Davis Jr., better known as DJ Screw, was once crowned “The Originator.” Arguably one of the most prolific DJ’s that ever lived, he was the guiding hand in bringing Houston to the forefront, thanks to an innovative style that the world would later come to know as “chopped and screwed.”
In Houston, paying homage is just as important as breathing. And despite being hijacked by a number of other artists and regions, when discussing the art of perfectly chopping and slowing a track, all roads lead to Screw.
All of them.
There’s a reason why the city is affectionately known as “Screwston.” While the rest of the industry hopped from trend to trend, Texas remained one of the few to keep marching to its own beat. It was a new era for Southern hip-hop, and at the helm of it all was Screw. Cut short in his prime, in just 29 years he accomplished what few have managed to do, creating an entirely new lane that would take others years to follow.
Considering the caliber of artists the city lost entirely too soon, honoring those legacies is deeply ingrained in Houston culture. First came the death of Screwed Up Click member Fat Pat. Just two years later Screw himself would be gone, due in part to the very drink he helped popularize. For some it was a reality check, for others it was simply another legend gone too soon. Several years later Big Moe and H.A.W.K. would follow, their deaths resonating loudly as the city was left to pick up the pieces.
15 years later, the city that made and raised DJ Screw still asks, what if? Arguably one of the best DJs to rise out of Texas, now we can only wonder what might have been. Would he still be serving up new editions of his renowned grey tapes if still alive? If you think about how far his legacy has traveled posthumously, the idea is something to marvel at.
People get connected to good music. It’s the reason why the death of a beloved artist leaves such a large hole. Gone but certainly not forgotten, following Screw’s death, his movement began working in overdrive. By 2005, five years after his passing, his unique sound was finally gaining traction on a national stage. Soon after, the Screwfest would become an annual celebration in honor of his legacy and contributions to the city of Houston.
Aside from creating and spreading the use of chopped and screwed music, most importantly to many, his dedication to helping fellow hometown artists has not been forgotten. He believed in lending a hand, using his legendary “Screw Tapes” to help launch members of his Screwed Up Click including Z-Ro, Lil Keke, Trae, Big Moe, Fat Pat, H.A.W.K. and even associated acts like UGK. He believed that Houston held the most power when working together. It’s what he felt made the city unstoppable. So when he passed, the entire city grieved.
You can thank DJ Screw for catapulting Houston’s laid back, organically southern sound to new heights and even in death, his vision has continued to bring life to the city. Now that vision is global, as traces of Screw can be traced everywhere, from Electro-pop music in London, to soul singers in Johannesburg, to rappers in Canberra. And of course, in a basement freestyle that’s going on somewhere in Houston, right now.
Perhaps he said it best, “I want to Screw the whole world.” And that’s exactly what he did.
RIP DJ Screw.
Considering the countless hours of music created by DJ Screw, trying to identify his greatest tracks is quite a task. But for true Screwheads that have taken the time to comb through his impressive catalogue, there are a few that should automatically be on the list. Here’s a proper introduction, or a reminder of, the slowed down greatness of Screw.
June 27th Freestyle – Arguably one of the greatest freestyles to come out of Texas, “June 27th” has morphed into one of Houston’s unofficial anthems. To clear things up, it’s the birthdate of D-Mo, a frequent SUC collaborator. Using a Kriss Kross sample called “Da Streets Ain’t Right,” DJ Screw put together a hard-hitting lineup that included Yungstar, Big Pokey and Big Moe. Easily one of Screw’s most recognizable songs, it’s since made its way around the globe. Not to mention, it’s the track that Drake used for his own birthday homage, “November 18th.”
Pimp Tha Pen – If you’re in a Texas club and hear “I’m draped up and dripped out. Know what I’m talkin bout…” just know that it’s about to go down. Instantly recognizable, it’s a line that anyone who knows or loves Houston music can finish. Though DJ Screw and Lil Keke created plenty of bangers together, this is easily one of their most famous freestyles. Pairing Too $hort’s “Cocktales” with UGK’s “Pocket Full of Stones,” Keke’s oh-so-southern drawl makes for an unforgettable, genuine H-Town, screwed up experience.
25 Lighters Freestyle – The term “25 Lighters” has come to be a staple in Houston lingo. Yes sir. In 1996 Lil Keke and Big Pokey teamed up with DJ Screw for the “25 Lighters Freestyle,” perfectly embodying Houston’s slow drippin’ culture. There’s no mistaking the influence that early Screw tapes carried, this being one of the best examples. Whether “Coming dine, coming through, know what I’m sayin,” there’s nothing quite like a Houston freestyle. This freestyle serves as an introduction to everything Screwston and with a sample from Keith Sweat, what’s not to like?
Peepin’ In My Window Freestyle – Aside from how ridiculously good this beat sounds screwed up, Lil Keke showcased his freestyle skills, all up and down this track. The back and forth between Keke and Big Pokey when he falls off the beat is something to marvel at, as fun as it is competitive. It’s hard to keep track of how many times its been sampled, but it’s reach can be heard across the globe. Simply put, it’s one of those tracks that makes you want to find the nearest mic and freestyle your damn self.
City of Syrup – Alternately titled “Bang Screw,” this is easily one of the most enjoyable songs to ever come out of Houston. The beat feels good, the music feels good and with Big Moe singing on the track, you can’t help but feel it. All we want to do, is bang screw; and nothing and nobody will stop that. Z-Ro even breaks his usual standoffish demeanor to celebrate the greatness that is Screw music. If you’re ever having a bad day, turn this track on and watch life get better instantly – specifically Moe’s verse, followed by the hook.
Known as a cornerstone of Houston’s culture and worldwide mixtape king, DJ Screw created an upwards of 300 projects during his short 29 years. Some were released posthumously and included never before heard verses from Houston’s hottest rappers.
With a catalogue that includes classics like Wineberry Over Gold, Codeine Fiend and Southside Still Holdin’, for true Screw fans it’s damn near impossible to single out just one. Yet when discussing the Texas legend, there are some that simply can’t be ignored.For those new to the man responsible with introducing the world to Houston’s slow bangin’ sound, here’s a proper introduction. Take notes.
Tapes like June 27 will forever hold a spot in hip-hop history, partially due to the title track, an iconic 38-minute freestyle that brought together Texas greats including Big Pokey, Yungstar, Big Moe, D-Mo and more. A two disc tape, the project seamlessly bridges the West Coast with Third Coast music, featuring everyone from the Botany Boyz to Tupac. Putting his versatility and raw skill on full display, June 27th will forever set the bar for changing the art of deejaying.
3 ‘n the Mornin
Filled with slow, southern greatness; the second installment of DJ Screw’s 3 ‘n the Mornin’ (Part 2) series includes classic cuts like Lil Keke’s “Pimp tha Pen.” Using a sample from UGK, Keke’s first verse quickly became synonymous with Screw music, to a certain degree. Also featured are fellow S.U.C. (Screwed Up Click) members E.S.G., Botany Boyz, Al-D as well as Big Moe. It’s a must hear for anyone interested in hearing the true origins of Screw.
As The World Turns Slow
Though it doesn’t always get mentioned when discussing some of DJ Screw’s best work, it should be. This 11-track mixtape features the best of the best in Houston rap lore; reminding Screwheads why they fell in love and persuading new listeners that Screw is indeed the truth. Paying homage to fellow Houstonians with classic tracks including Fat Pat’s “Tops Drop” and Big Moe’s “City of Syrup,” the project also boasts epic tracks from E.S.G., Guerilla Maab, H.A.W.K., Dead End Alliance and more. Don’t sleep on it.
Leanin’ On A Switch
Featuring one of the most iconic freestyles to Peepin’ In My Window by Big Pokey and Lil Keke, DJ Screw’s Leanin’ On A Switch album is not only one of his most well-known, it’s also one of his best. Packed full of great freestyles, the album stands as a testament to the greatness of Screw, in part because of his impeccable screwed up version of D’Angelo’s “Brown Sugar.”
It’s All Good
Not only is it the first time the world got to hear the legendary Fat Pat alongside Houston heavy hitter Lil Keke, It’s All Good also became known for Pat wishing himself “Happy Birthday” along with plenty of feel good music from artists including Biggie, 8-Ball and MJG, Mariah Carey, Master P, Da Brat and Mase. Highlighting Screw’s impeccable ear for great music and skill on the boards, this is one screwtape that fans and new listeners alike can enjoy from front to back.
There’s a solid duality with The Legend, a DJ Screw tape released in 2001 that was one of the first posthumous Screw tapes. For one, it operates as a regular Screw tape filled with Screw’s shoutouts, his rather particular beat selection and chop on the spot techniques. In another, it pretty much resonates as a legacy tape from everybody who Screw had ever impacted from his early tapes in the mid-‘90s to his zenith in the late ‘90s.
It feels like Screw’s presence, his languid, slowed down drawl are ethereal on The Legend. Just from the tape’s cover, a fading image of him right next to a blue Chevy and people can instantly pick up on the main ethos of The Legend. Screw is eternal and this collection, a twisting endeavor that bridges so many gaps and artists of Screw’s choosing is proof of it.
Two Lil’ Keke records, 1995’s “Pimp The Pen” & 1997’s “It’s Going Down” show up on the first half of The Legend. The center of the Screwed Up Click in Fat Pat sadly doesn’t appear. Slim Thug, a Northside rapper who by all means could have heard his first Screw tape via a bootlegger because Southside Houston was its own universe at the time, appears on “The Legend”. E.S.G. happens to introduce Thug on the tape, acting as the same conduit that made Screw beam when he heard “Swangin’ N Bangin” back in 1995. Amongst all of Screw’s favorites to splice into his mixes, he never could let go of E.S.G.’s classic. That was his baby and it was what made E.S.G an instant member of the Screwed Up Click.
The variety of acts that exist on The Legend is massive. K-Rino’s one of the few who has an entire track to himself, a burly knock around called “Why You Wanna Hate” where he admits to giving a middle finger to mainstream rap, choosing “knowledge over nonsense” in his words. Big Chance, one of the few to be part of the eight Screw tapes in 2000 gets to joyride around a mashup of Richard Pryor standup, Eminem’s “The Real Slim Shady” and Eazy-E’s “Boyz N The Hood” for a Southside flip. What was firmly established by The Legend was that Screwed Up Click members were going to morph select R&B or rap records and set it to a Southside template. “The 3rd Coast” from Big Chance, Big T, Big Tho & Lil’ Flex clearly lifts Too Short’s “The Ghetto” and to an extent the Donny Hathaway version too. They were shameless remixes, lean addled goof off sessions turned serious.
What The Legend attempts to accomplish in its massive two disc length is capture everything about Screw. His penchant for mixing on the fly, his disdain for other DJs bootlegging his tapes and saying they were Screw. On a skit featuring a stuttering bootlegger whose flummoxed by the fact he’s in Screw’s presence, the DJ’s crew retorts, “I promise, they just gon’ do a tape. A n*gga named Jeff or a n*gga named Bob do a tape and say, ‘I got a Screw tape.’ You ain’t go no Screw tape, man. You got a Bob or a Jeff tape or whatever the f*ck your name is, that’s what you got. Know’m sayin’?.”
Another man backdoors, “If DJ Screw didn’t do it, it’s not a Screw tape.” It’s the lasting ideal left from any of Screw’s mixes, but especially on The Legend.
Once Ronnie Spencer & Miss Asiah croon their own version of a eulogy for Screw, a chapter is effectively gone. No more street odes from UGK and PSK-13 on 1997’s “Like Yesterday” where PSK-13 can bridge his criminal history with childhood memories of Schoolhouse Rock. No more rare Ice-T sightings on “I Ain’t Hating”, all of the newness to a Screw tape will fade into the ether. What watershed moment 3 ’n The Mornin’ Pt. 2 created for Screw on a music level and what the creation of Screwed Up Records & Tapes did for Screw’s legitimacy in business, The Legend adds to it by effectively showing Screw’s reach. The Legend only flexed for six years and those six years effectively created the sound of Houston and to an extent, the sound of now.