Fifteen years ago today hip-hop lost one of its last innovators. Robert Earl Davis, Jr, aka DJ Screw, spent his all too brief 29 years on this earth becoming a pillar of the Houston hip-hop scene. He was the creator of the famous chopped and screwed DJ technique, where he took popular songs and played them at a sedated, syrupy tempo to match the effects of sipping on codeine laced promethazine, aka “purple drank” or “Texas tea.” More than just playing a record at a slow RPM, Screw would slow down one record on one turntable and then have the same record on another turntable at a delay to create a repetition. As founder of the Screwed Up Click– (an expansive collective of artist that included, but was not limited to, Big Hawk, Trae The Truth, Lil Flip and Z-Ro) Screw helped popularize the sound and its influence can still be felt in all corners of the hip-hop music scene today.
Two of Houston’s native sons, Paul Wall and Slim Thug, were teens when Screw passed, but watchLOUD asked them to share how much the fallen pioneer meant to their city as artists and citizens of “Screwston.”
“TV was mostly east coast videos, we never would hear or see anybody from Texas on radio or TV,” says Paul Wall, who just released his latest project Slab God. “So the Screw tapes were how we’d hear our local rappers…He gave an avenue to everyone in Texas to feed our hunger for hip-hop.”
Sadly, Screw was found dead in his Houston recording studio on November 16, 2000. While there is still speculation among his fans and peers about his exact cause of death, the coroner’s report stated that Davis died of a codeine overdose. The consumption of syrup or “drank” has gone on to contribute to other deaths in hip-hop, but the possible dangers of the drug are something that few artists like to discuss openly or on record. While Slim Thug does have a song called “Drank” on his new project Hogg Life, Vol 2., where he sings “I need to stop it but it tastes so good,” he insists that it is not a problem for him.
“It’s a classic feeling. It’s tough to get away from,” says Thug of syrup sipping. “I don’t drink everyday all day. I’m working out trying to get right. It’s just an occasional party thing for me.”
One only needs to look at titles like Future’s Dirty Sprite to understand how far reaching the practice of sipping “lean” has become. What was once viewed as an oddity outside of Houston is now fairly ubiquitous.
“Years ago I remember coming to NY and they’d say ‘Y’all sipping cough syrup? Y’all drinking Nyquil?’ Nobody really understood it,” adds Thug. “But now everybody is talking about it and doing it. Nowadays in Houston a lot of these younger guys don’t do that and are on some different stuff. But that ten years that we experienced from from the late 90s to the 2000s were classic times.”
Those classic times are still kept alive with artists like Slim Thug and Paul Wall, as well as by DJs like Michael “5000” Watts and OG Ron C who still continue the tradition of chopping and screwing current hits like Drake’s, If You’re Reading This Its Too Late. But whether you enjoy the sounds with a clear head or under the influence, remember the man responsible for it all, DJ Screw.