Screw music is a hip-hop subgenre that originated in Houston, Texas by DJ Screw. It’s strange, devil-voiced sound has emanated out of trunks for decades and is pretty commonplace to us local Houstonians, but the last few years its influence has been far reaching, expanding into mainstream pop music all around the country, and perhaps the world. That’s right, anytime you hear a devil-voiced hook on a song, or a super slow tempo on a hip-hop track, you best believe that that influence came from the syrupy sound of Houston screw music.


Screw music has been around since as far back as 1992, when Robert Earl Davis, Jr. aka DJ Screw started mixing and selling tapes of his slowed-down funk on Houston’s south side. He slowed it down so you can feel the beat and take in everything the rapper is saying. Immediately the sound took off, and became the preferred sound of hi-powered, trunk rattling systems everywhere. The sound itself, slow and relaxing, embodied and enhanced the feeling of being ‘dranked up and dripped out’, or under the influence of codeine promethazine. The act of sipping codeine, usually mixing it with a sweet soda, has been a Houston drug favorite since as early as the 60’s.


DJ Screw’s tapes grew in popularity in the 90’s, especially among the local hip-hop and rap scene.  Local rappers sought him out and they all eventually collaborated, forming The Screwed-Up Click, and freestyled over DJ Screw’s tapes. History was made, and a legacy was established. With such popularity of these Screw tapes other DJs began to follow suit as it was an excellent way for local rappers to blow up. In fact, if you were a local rapper at the time it was poor planning to NOT include some kind of “screwed” version of you song or album. While The Screwed-Up Click represented the south side of Houston, DJ Michael “5000” Watts and OG Ron C formed the Swishahouse and represented the north side of Houston. During this time there was tension in the city as the south was pitted against the north, and DJ Screw revoked any rights for anybody else to call their slowed-down mixes “Screw tapes”, explicitly stating “If DJ Screw didn’t do it it’s not a Screw tape. You have a Jeff or a Bob, or whatever the fuck yo’ name is.”

You’ll notice Lee Lawson tapes are referred to as “Leened and Chopped.”


November 16, 2000 is a date that lives in infamy in Houston; the date that DJ Screw passed away. Toxicology reports say it was a codeine overdose that killed him, although some close friends speculate he may have been poisoned, that is, someone sabotaged his drank. He was known to carry large amounts of cash on hand, and different people were always stopping by at the Screw house for mix sessions and what not so it’s completely possible. But I guess we’ll never know for sure. It’s tragic that he wasn’t around to see Houston blow up like it did in 2004-2005, and how his signature sound started moving its influence to regions outside of the south. People have even talked about a “Screw Curse”, a sort of tragic dying off of some of the members of the Screwed-Up Click, such as Big H.A.W.K. and Big Moe. We’ve lost quite a few important rappers to codeine overdoses; it’s what I describe as “The Drank Paradox.”

 


DJ Screw’s legacy lives on to this day as he continues to influence DJs, remixers, and producers all around the country and the world. Almost every mainstream album that’s released these days gets the “Screwed and Chopped” treatment, a version of the album that’s slowed down. Just browse any sound, music and mixtape forum and you’re sure to find a “Chopped and Screwed” category, followed by a sea of purple album covers and what not. Sure, any bedroom DJ with a music program or app can screw and chop a song and release it, especially these days, but what more does Jeff or Bob bring to the listening experience? When does the music transcend its original status and become something else, something new?


This is a short history according to me, encountering the Houston culture I grew up and currently live in. You don’t have to take my word for it, and I don’t claim to know it all. If you would like to know more just search it out, you’re on the internet right now anyway.

 

 

 

 

As I’ve been following the Houston hip-hop culture since the mid-90’s I’ve seen the ups and downs, the trends, and the effect on the culture of people here as a whole. While other major cities do their own thing, innovating and originating trends, Houston is no different, cultivating a hip-hop culture that stands out from the rest. Here, it’s Jordans and bald fades all day. It’s easy to “ride slab” because gas is relatively cheap and there’s plenty of parking. In fact, Houston has a very celebrated car culture, like Mr. 3-2 says, it’s like a vehicle fashion show. Might as well, since you need a car to get around this damn city anyway. As I said, Screw music has been a norm for all the locals since the 90’s. Here in the hood, you hear it every day booming in cars and slabs as they pass, rounding the corner of your block. With this music, however, you do hear much praise for the drugs codeine and marijuana. The first part of the paradox is: if the music you listen to on a daily basis encourages drug use (a lot of hip-hop does anyway), and the style of music you listen to is enhanced by using codeine and marijuana, therefore making you more likely to use, does this music then encourage and maintain a drugged out society or sect of people? Does it make drug use more acceptable to ourselves or society? Does it down play drug dependence?
The second part of The Drank Paradox comes down to the praise of codeine itself. Considering how many important rappers have passed away due to an overdosing of codeine (not to mention fans of these rappers), at what point do rappers stop rapping about its use and even call for an end to its use? If not for respect for these rappers who overdosed then for the health of the community at large?  Do we love a drug tradition so much that to consider this is blasphemous? It becomes a paradox when you try to pinpoint where the problem comes from. On one hand, you might blame rappers and rap culture for the encouragement of this drug usage. But on the other hand, rappers rap about it because it is what they witnessed first-hand coming up. So who created who?
When you start to realize that American culture itself has a love affair with prescription as well as street drugs (look at all the drug commercials and what’s happening in Mexico) then maybe it’s not so alarming to consider a nation or sect of people zonked out of their minds 24/7, which is why we rap about and tolerate rap about drugs in the first place.

This little piece has been written not as a praise o

This little piece has been written not as a praise or a bash to Houston rap culture, but rather, as a starting point of a conversation. Take a look around you and what’s happening, not only to your local community but the nation at large. Ask yourself these questions, ask your friends, homies and partners.

And if this is thinking a little too deep for you then, fuck it, just enjoy the music!

 

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r a bash to Houston rap culture, but rather, as a starting point of a conversation. Take a look around you and what’s happening,