In 1996, DJ Screw had already assembled a massive super crew of Southside rappers who had picked up the Screwed Up Click banner and wore it like a letterman jacket on Friday nights. Screw tapes weren’t perfect, but they centered around one man and his own opiated universe, where even the most silly of moments were recorded on wax for the world to enjoy.
June 27, much like a legendary rock album on the surface is a one-song tape. Beyond it, its a clever mix of obscure reggae contorted into a slow jam groove and Screw sticking to a bevy of tough guy raps from some of D-Mo’s personal favorites. Big Moe sways and sings, “It’s that Big Moe in here with that boy D-Mo on his b-day…” and ultimately sets off the preamble to what is arguably the most memorable freestyle in Houston rap history. What results on the first track from the B-side of June 27 is magic. Kinetic energy where most who were shouted-out during the roll call from Big Moe, D-Mo, Haircut Joe, Key-C, Big Pokey, Yungstar, Mike D, Clay Doe, Pooh & others don’t care about who is going to ultimately be the star of the tape. It was a personal tape for D-Mo, as it was his birthday after all.
Moe plays grand host on “June 27th” which in reality is one huge volley for Big Pokey & Yungstar to test their distinct styles against one another. Pokey raps with such an authoritative husk that everything around him pulls inward like a black hole. Its his verse that would lead as the cradle for Paul Wall’s “Sittin Sidewayz” track some nine years later. His verse details some rather vivid drug references, which he admits only amplified the moment he graduated high school; minimum wage could kiss his ass, and even at 330 pounds he was still gonna sleep with all kinds of women. Yungstar on the other hand is far more playful, coming through with insane boasts and twisted requests (“baked potato with chives”) and an inability to properly speak in custom Islamic greetings. In a matter of thirty-eight minutes, almost the bulk of side B, Big Pokey, Yungstar & Big Moe turned into neighborhood legends.
Want to know a fun trivia answer? Steel Pulse’s “Roller Skates” is the song that follows the massive husk that is “June 27th”. True to Screw’s origins, most of the songs picked out on June 27 were from D-Mo himself, tacking together the molasses like ethereal hum of Bone Thugs N Harmony’s original “Crossroads” and the fatalist yet braggadocios “High Til I Die” from 2Pac amongst cuts from Botany Boys in “Survivin’ The Game” (a perfect mix of cutthroat Street Military like realness that Screw specialized in playing surgeon with) and Pac’s around the world groupie tale of “All Bout U”. June 27 captures the summer of 1996 in one two-hour combination of how omnipresent 2Pac was and how determined neighborhood tough guys wanted to be legends on Screw’s tapes.
Between 1994 and 1999, DJ Screw had released five official albums. Four of them, starting with 1994’s Volume 1: Still Afloat through 1996’s 3 ’n The Mornin’, Pt. 2 were released through Russel Washington’s Bigtyme Recordz imprint. The last, 1999’s All Work No Play was released through Reliant Entertainment. It was re-released as part of the Diary Of The Originator series as Chapter 142. What separates All Work No Play from those earlier tapes is how it mostly centers around a chunk of records from Lil’ Keke’s first two albums, Don’t Mess Wit Texas & The Commission.
A normal Screw tape would feature either him weaving between shoutouts or letting someone else narrate the proceedings of the tape while records were hand controlled on the needle. Screw’s voice does appear here, on the intro and prominently mentioning how All Work No Play is another compilation announcing to the world what Houston, Texas was bringing as a rap community.
All Work No Play is essentially Screw taking a large gut of Keke records, sprinkle features from Fat Pat, the Herschelwood Hardheadz, 3-2 and ta couple records from the Mobb Figgaz’ 1999 album Wise Guyz On Tha Rise and let the mix sell itself. A casual scan of the tracklist would have you believe that Screw immediately pointed out “Southside”, Keke’s regional breakthrough from 1997 and added it to the tape. However, track 11 of All Work No Play cleverly hides “Southside” until nearly two minutes in as Screw mixes in soul samples while audibly attempting to find the right groove. It’s immediately bleeds into the tape’s final track, “Screw Mix” where Screw just rumbles and slides into whatever mass of G-Funk available at his fingertips. Another common feature from All Work No Play that would infiltrate Houston rap releases for decades on is Mobb Figgaz flipping The Whisper’s “Rock Steady” for a elbows and vogues trip through Braeswood and the Southside for “Steady Ballin”. Ever since there’s been at least one or two Houston rap records appropriating old 1970 R&B records to fit the city’s aesthetic. Nobody would do this better than Z-Ro and Big Moe but it started on Screw tapes.
The main star of All Work No Play’s syrupy milieu is Lil’ Keke, because it was meant to be a star studded affair for Keke. Keke and Fat Pat to this day remain one of the greater duos Houston rap has ever seen. Although the two went bar for bar on numerous screw tapes, they only get to trade rhymes for old times sake on “CD & LPs” with the Herschelwood Hardheadz & “Pimps, Playas, Hustlers” from The Commission. “CD & LPs” features a brief moment of Pat from the song’s opening verse, his baritone always stalking the beat with every word. His customary “living lavish is a habit” set-up punchline is here and on “Pimps, Playas, Hustlers,” the bass and recording is so thick, you expect the record to snap in half. But Pat doesn’t as he jumps in offering one-hitter quitters for all who dare order them. He was Coogi down to the floor with matching Gators. His mind was still inventing new ways to be fresher than the rest and in 1998, it would be the last time he and Keke’s voices would be paired together in a fresh manner.
As much as All Work No Play wants to play up to the same themes of a common Screw tape, its populism from Screw at its lowest level, huddling together everyone Keke was close with for one massive comp tape. It’s almost a greatest hits album but that’s impossible since All Work No Play doesn’t even feature any of Keke’s grimiest freestyles or “Pimpin Da Pen”.
When most people refer to 3 ’n The Mornin’, they’re usually referring to the second version that arrived in 1996. That tape is affectionately referred to as the blue version of 3 ’n The Mornin’. The original version, the one that was the first of Screw’s distribution deal with Bigtyme Recordz came in 1994 with the only Houston flavor on it from the likes of Street Military. Screw had already been a huge fan of chopping and slowing down West Coast rap records by then but the first 3 ’n The Mornin’ was saturated by names of the time. Dr. Dre’s “Hi Power” from The Chronic, Compton Most Wanted’s “Compton Thang”, Yo-Yo’s “So Funky”, three G-Funk laden records spread out with small drops of East Coast flavor (LL Cool J’s “Rock The Bells”, Schooly D’s “Big Dick”). If that was a compilation tape that paid homage to what the world was on before the East Coast’s full resurgence in 1994, the sequel to 3 ’n The Mornin’ set the blueprint for Houston rap records not made by UGK. Which is a very, very big deal.
E.S.G., the solo rapper of the time in 1995 opens 3 ’n The Mornin’ arguing for the security of Screw tapes. He then flat out describes in short, emphatic words about how this tape, this tape is unlike any other Screw tape that had come before it. There wasn’t anyone freestyling at Screw’s house, this was Screw in a zone, combining the G-Funk he’d come to appreciate and love so well and play it underneath Houston rap records. These records weren’t specifically made for 3 ’n The Mornin’ as E.S.G.’s “Sailin Da South” appeared on the 1995 album of the same name. Botany Boyz’ “Cloverland” appears on Thoughts Of Many Ways. So like a Screw tape, it’s a compilation. And in some ways, its not.
When Big Moe croaks and sings the high praises of codeine on “Sippin Codeine”, everything stops. The tape immediately splits into “Everything Before Moe” and “Everything After Moe”. The vocals have been placed on multiple tracks as time has progressed but still. There’s nothing subtle about putting Big Moe on top of a break beat singing about the pleasure of sipping and being sedated. It’s he who prominently stated the Screwed Up Click run things, on the middle of a tape where a motley crew of individuals were about themselves. Big Moe, large unifier of the world decided with this one moment, things were going to orbit around him.
The first record that comes after Moe’s declaration? .380’s “Elbows Swang” which, as undercooked as it is happens to play a stronger role not on this tape but UGK’s “Diamonds & Wood”. .380 as a duo were always simplified street guys who kept people engaged without being wizards about it. Their legacy got shifted into UGK’s greatest album and Pimp C’s favorite UGK song, ever.
Sure, Mack 10’s debut single “Foe Life” made its way onto the album and Screw decided to morph 2Pac’s “So Many Tears” as the bed under 20-2-Life’s “Servin A Deuce” but 3 ’n The Mornin’ does two things that will forever resonate with Houston rap. It made Big Moe a star with one of the shortest verses in history and Lil’ Keke’s revolutionary “Pimp The Pen” flow became the prelude to what he’d do as a solo star in his own right. E.S.G. had it right and it became gospel soon after what people did with Screw’s tapes. Sip syrup. Swang and bang. Jam nothing but that screw, fool.