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.