MeFi gon' drip candy an be all screwed up
June 7, 2010 6:53 AM   Subscribe

Robert Earl Davis Jr., better known by his stage name DJ Screw, died almost ten years ago, on the 16th of November, 2000. He is widely credited as the originator of one of Texan hip-hop's unique stylistic quirks - the slowing of a track to create a blurry, psychedelic take on the original. So profound is the association between DJ Screw and this style that it is usually named after him. An 11-part documentary on YT explores Screw's life and music. Part 1, with the rest below the fold.

2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11. Take care, the volume levels are a little low for some of the interviewees, so you may need to turn up your speakers.

Some additional odds and sods:

A short 1995 interview with Screw.
Rap blog Government Names, quite well versed in Houston rap history, discusses their personal screwtape pantheon.
Screw's own label and shop, SUR, is still going (autoplaying music).

(More) MLYT:

DJ Screw + Lil Keke - Don't Mess Wit Texas
DJ Screw + Fat Pat - CDs & LPs
June 27 freestyle Pts. 1, 2, 3, 4.
DJ Screw + Lil Keke - Pimp Tha Pen.
posted by Dim Siawns (10 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Metafilter: a blurry, psychedelic take on the original
posted by Chipmazing at 7:11 AM on June 7, 2010

It's made by cough syrup addicts, not psychedelic users.

Hey, now.
posted by Sys Rq at 7:20 AM on June 7, 2010

I gotta say, I didn't get this stuff at all when I first encountered it--hanging out with a bunch of "syrup" sipping rehab-bound teenagers I somehow fell in with during some time off from college in rural/suburban Maryland. Just this week I got ahold of Bun B's "No Mixtape," though, and I get it--been tearing through UGK/Paul Wall back catalogues. Thanks for this. Kinda eye-opening that so many from that scene died from that shit.


And idiots still pump that lazy shit here in SE Texas like it's worth losing your hearing over. It's some of the most aesthetically terrible music to emerge in the last 40 years.
posted by Burhanistan

Let me be the first to drop "Haters gonna hate" in here...
posted by johnnybeggs at 7:23 AM on June 7, 2010 [2 favorites]

Blue 22 is one of my favorite albums. DJ Screw is a really interesting DJ, with a lot going on, but the whole crew is worth digging into. The Screwtape thing is much more than a mixtape or an album, really. When I listen to these songs, usually either obscure Houston rappers or classic rap, like Biggie, Tupac, P. Diddy, Ice Cube (got to check out Today was a Good Day), sure, the music is great, and the freestyles from the guys hanging out at Screw's house are great, but there's also this whole level of commentary on the track that isn't freestyle or strictly music; just guys on the mic, talking about their lives, their thoughts on the songs, telling stories. I think of it like marginalia, or like theological commentary; it really puts the tapes together for me into coherent wholes.

Also, the stories of this whole group of people are really compelling to me; Fat Pat, Chickenhawk, Big Pokey, Z-ro, Big Moe, you've got to look into the events in their lives and their friendships, there's a lot going on there. You can hear it in the music too. Like how Z-ro on a recent album covered a song by Fat Pat from like 1998 (Fat Pat died in 1998). You can also hear lyrics on the freestyles which later become lyrics or hooks on albums these guys release. This is really a scene where a bunch of unknown kids were hanging out, listening to music they liked, listening to Dj Screw spin, practicing freestyling and encouraging their friends to (like, Chickenhawk would never have become a rapper if not for the influence of this group, you can hear these dynamics on the tapes), and now, those of them still living pretty much run Houston rap.

Another thing I think, especially when listening to Pimp C rap about steak and shrimp, or Z-ro with "I Can't Leave Drank Alone" about is how DJ Screw died while on codeine syrup and Pimp C died of sleep apnea. Sure, some of the SUC died in acts of violence, but many of them died from just poor lifestyle choices. When you think of everything Pimp C went through, you definitely don't think he's going to die of sleep apnea. It's a shame, even if you just like them for the music. DJ Screw could still be doing really interesting things, and no one, even in Houston, is producing albums like Pimp C was.

On preview: Burhanistan, don't be a hater. Using the word "aesthetically" doesn't make your perspective God's truth. I think there's a lot going on in the music, I've listened to it constantly for years, I get a lot out of it. If you don't like it, it means it's not for you. So fine, don't listen to it, more for me.
posted by doteatop at 7:26 AM on June 7, 2010 [2 favorites]

Dim Siawns: An 11-part documentary on YT explores Screw's life and music.

It was originally only 6 parts, but then they slowed it all down to half speed, and well…

(I don't really care for Screw music, personally, but I kid in good fun.)

posted by paisley henosis at 7:56 AM on June 7, 2010 [2 favorites]

One of the few things I *dislike* about Houston. First time I heard this stuff I thought "Sounds like someone's playing a 45rpm record at 33 1/3rd..."
posted by mrbill at 8:13 AM on June 7, 2010

As they say in Texas,

"If you like me you gon' smile, if you hate me you gon' frown"
posted by fuq at 8:33 AM on June 7, 2010 [2 favorites]

To add a bit of detail about the music for people who aren't familiar with it, there's a lot more going on in DJ Screw's production style than just playing individual songs slow. He's not doing remixes, he's a real DJ. There's conventional turntablist stuff, like scratching, mixing different songs, and common effects you can do with the mixer with two of the same record playing offset from each other, but there's also a lot of creative rhythmic interpolation and cutting that you don't hear from other DJs. He's not just playing music slowly to create a drugged-out effect, he's using the various speeds of different records to create additional space for rhythmic and melodic improvisation, and specific exploration of the lyrical rhythms present in rap.

The slowed-down speed is significant to the music too, I'm not trying to say it's not. Interesting things are happening when DJ Screw slows down music on his turntables (things that don't happen when contemporary producers shoot for the same effect using digital equipment). The analog media, when played slow, exposes harmonics which, at normal speed, would be too high-pitched to be audible. It introduces a whole new harmonic sensibility to the songs in question (not to mention the harmonic effects of slowing down songs with various kinds of distortion), which is cool because a lot of this music, especially in the lower registers, may as well be mixolydian as major or minor; like a lot of popular music, there's not a lot of harmonic complexity in the original songs.

Even now, no one is really that creative. A lot of people are imitating the style, to various degrees of success, and I buy and enjoy many of the albums, but no one is coming close to the quality of the real thing. If you're complaining about people playing loud, slowed-down music in your neighborhood, and you don't think it's any good, you're probably right, but they're probably not listening to DJ Screw. Widely ripped-off and becoming a cliche, but nothing does the original credit like it deserves.

Even ESG's recent album, Screwed-Up Movement, which has a second disc which is a slowed-down remix of the first, and is totally listenable, doesn't do DJ Screw justice. For one thing, it has the common flaw that the production value is being subordinated to the rapper and the album. DJ Screw didn't use records to glorify the artists in question, even when they were his friends, he was digging deep into them to isolate and experiment with what interested him. ESG's remixed album is okay, but not creative; the vocals are privileged over the music, and the remix is pretty much just restating, musically, the original content. You can't do DJ Screw's style without the pastiche of music from a lot of different areas and with a lot of different orchestrations and rhythms.

It's telling that of the SUC rappers still recording, they're all primarily exploring their own styles, which are largely at normal speed. In general, people who hung out with DJ Screw are too aware of what he was doing to try to imitate it. Even at the time, with the exception of Lil Keke, who DJ Screw produced some album tracks for (which are great), the SUC rappers were releasing albums more influenced by contemporary rap, Southern jazz, and funk than DJ Screw's creative but difficult-to-derive-from style. They let him be him and did their own music (which I enjoy a lot).

Short version of this is to give the real DJ Screw mixtapes, such as Blue 22, a chance before disregarding them based on the derivative stuff being produced today. There's a lot to appreciate about it.
posted by doteatop at 8:49 AM on June 7, 2010 [8 favorites]

Also check out Vice's Screwed in Houston (2, 3, 4, 5) which is an overview of the whole scene, leany szzr-drank, and so on.

Additionally, this is not chopped or screwed but is totally endearing nonetheless.

I've got a pretty messed up friend who listens to nothing but hip hop and for a while a few years ago he'd always ask me to burn him chopped and screwed albums, like with the assumption that every album had a screwed-up counterpart somewhere. I probably told him half a dozen times there is no chopped and screwed 50 Cent (though I'm sure there's plenty of amateurish stuff around now). Anyway speaking of Dextromethorphan, he very frequently abused over the counter cough syrup, and so I was never sure if he knew the rappers were talking about the prescription codeine-based kind. Not that he had any trouble finding opioidals, which is a whole other sad story, but I like to think that millions of suburban teenagers are sipping on Robitussin because they think it's what's in Lil Wayne's doublecup.
posted by palidor at 9:28 AM on June 7, 2010

Because of this post I copped a bunch of DJ Screw mixtapes and I'm really digging them. Right now I'm really digging "Facin' Time" from 1998. There's actually a lot of clever tuntable trickery that's impressive in it's creativity and that it's sort of a long form of turntablism, with an emphasis on long term effects and a different, slow and elegant form of beat juggling.

An good comparison for chopped & screwed music is like dub reggae, but for underground hip-hop. Also, the speed change really turns it in to bass music. "Facin' time" is really good y'all!
posted by fuq at 12:11 PM on June 12, 2010

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