The “chopped and screwed” sound has become such a staple of hip-hop that most fans probably don’t even wonder where the slowed-down, stop-start sonic approach came from — and thus, the late DJ Screw, a.k.a. Houston native Robert Earl Davis Jr., is one of the truly unsung heroes of the genre.
During the 1990s, he developed the revolutionary mixing technique from his Houston home, adding new rhythms to instrumental tracks, slowing them down and bringing in local rappers to freestyle over the tracks. Before long, he was selling thousands of tapes — most of his work was documented on cassettes — in a matter of days, and his sound became the soundtrack for Houston hip-hop and was often associated with “lean,” a.k.a. sizzurp or purple drank, the dangerous, codeine-laced drink that played a major role in Screw’s death in November of 2000.
But he’s finally receiving his due in the form of “DJ Screw: A Life in Slow Revolution,” a biography written by Lance Scott Walker that arrives on May 17 from the University of Texas Press, as well as several months ago in a fantastic animated short called “All Screwed Up” that arrived in an eye-popping giant cassette-shaped box that is available for sale, with a portion of the proceeds going to Screw’s family (the package was shipped in the middle of the pandemic and did not find its way to Variety until months later).
Walker has interviewed dozens of people who knew Screw, from childhood friends to collaborators to fans, as well as the industry figures who honored him. Walker has also written the book “Houston Rap Tapes” and collaborated on the companion photo book “Houston Rap.” Head here for more info on the book and to order.
According to the website, “All Screwed Up | Visual Tribute” is a “passion project” directed by Isaac “Chill” Yowman and produced by IYO Visuals in association with DJ Screw’s family. You can watch the excellent, partially animated story of Screw’s life and art here and below, and purchase the limited-edition “Screw Box,” which includes collectors’ items such as an analog 20 Year Tribute cassette tape & player, poster, collectors cards and more.
Both projects are welcome testaments to the legacy of a pioneering producer who is finally receiving his due.