Robert Earl Davis, Jr., known as DJ Screw, was an innovative hip hop DJ from Houston, Texas. He was born July 20, 1971, and died November 16, 2000 at the age of 29. He is best known for creating the "chopped and screwed" style which is the hallmark of southern hip-hop, particularly for the Texas hip-hop scene.
Chopped and Screwed Music Edit
"Chopped and screwed" is a musical styling characterized by slowed-down samples. DJs incorporate a high degree of scratching, double-backed stanzas, high flange and filter, and completing structural segments by slowing playback down to a full stop. The slowed tracks allowed for a heavy emphasis on loops and choruses, and the introduction of a narrative lyrical format. While a chopped and screwed sample may include manual manipulation, the lyrics may copy the double-backed and looped nature of the sample by revisiting similar lyrical structures to precede new lyrical bars during what may be traditionally considered the verse.
The music gained popularity in Houston in the '90s due to its association with the the use of narcotics. Codeine in syrup form, also known as sizzurp or lean had an effect of slowing a subject's response time. The slowed music became a fitting accompaniment to the opiate-influenced lifestyle.
As much of the musical themes of chopped and screwed music are grim, gritty, and occasionally ethereal, so, too, are the lyrical themes. When not painting visual imagery specific to the sprawling urban landscape of Houston, Texas, and its peculiar hip hop car culture (sippin' lean, switchin' lanes, poppin' trunk, candy paint and wood grain), the narratives lean towards social alienation, death, and poverty. Much of this can be attributed to DJ Screw's own treatment of existing songs. One example is his treatment of the novelty song, "This is for the Convicts", from the group The Convicts. A light-hearted musical introduction, punctuated by laughter, is transformed into a slow-paced, painful rumination on incarceration.
The same themes can be observed with another DJ Screw classic, "My Mind Went Blank". A remix of the more upbeat version from Houston group Point Blank, Screw's rendition explores the graphic lyrics by accompanying it with a heavier and bleaker musical backdrop.
Musical Output Edit
DJ Screw is known for his vast musical output. His independently released mixtapes, known popularly as "screw tapes", number to nearly 250. These include remixes of UGK, the Notorious BIG, Ice Cube, Tupac, and Bone Thugz and Harmony, just to name a few. These were all created between 1994 and 1999. A number of studio albums were also released through Big Tyme Records.
DJ Screw died from a drug overdose in November of 2000. Coroner reports confirmed a combination of codeine, valium, and PCP in his blood stream. Conspiracy theories among devoted fans suggest that his death may have been an act of foul play, since his habitual drug use suggests he would know his limits. PCP has allegedly been used in foul play in hip hop before. For instance, Texas rapper Big Lurch claims that he was intentionally overdosed on PCP by his friends in the hours leading up to a murder for which he was convicted.
After Davis' death, the chopped and screwed mantle was assumed by DJ Michael "5000" Watts, and his Swishahouse label. This record label released artists such as Trae tha Truth, Paul Wall, and Mike Jones -- all of whom heavily referenced DJ Screw. The mainstream popularity of Houston rap in the mid '00s led to a DJ Screw revival, with much of his independently released work finding new distribution outlets. Chopped and screwed continues to play an important role in the musical output of southern hip hop artists, and most artists, regardless of their origins, will generally receive a chopped and screwed mixtape treatment.