DJ Screw was born Robert Earl Davis, Jr. on July 20, 1971, and he began DJing and making mixtapes as a teenager while living on the Southside of Houston. By the early 1990s, Davis began to develop his innovative “chopped and screwed” technique of using recording technology to repeat phrases (a process known as chopping) and slow a song’s tempo (known as screwing). Davis became known as DJ Screw and distributed “screw tapes” featuring his technique.
As the popularity of the “chopped and screwed” technique grew, DJ Screw began to receive requests to make tapes tailored for friends and local rappers, often to celebrate an event such as a birthday. These tapes would include a selection of slowed down tracks, shoutouts by DJ Screw, and freestyles by rappers over the beats at the beginning and end of the tapes. To create the “chopped and screwed” effect on these tapes, DJ Screw simultaneously played two copies of the same record on a turntable and slowed each down using the turntable’s pitch control function. He then used the crossfader to switch between the records to repeat beats, words, and phrases. This process would create a master cassette. DJ Screw would then slow the tempo further by using a four-track’s pitch control function to manipulate the master cassettes and produce the final tape. He began selling copies of these “screw tapes” or “grey tapes” (so called because of their color) from his home.
The screw tapes helped to develop the careers of numerous local rappers, who would subsequently become known as the Screwed Up Click (S.U.C.). Prominent members of the S.U.C. included the Botany Boys, Fat Pat, HAWK, Lil’ Keke, E.S.G., Big Pokey, Big Moe, Lil’ O, Al-D, Yungstar, and Lil’ Flip. The music of the S.U.C. often addressed local culture, particularly the city’s custom car culture and the use of recreational drugs, especially marijuana and codeine.
DJ Screw achieved broader popularity in the mid-1990s, and he continued to sell tapes while releasing four studio albums on Bigtyme Recordz: “All Screwed Up,” “3 'N The Mornin' (Part One),” “3 'N The Mornin' (Part Two),” and “I Wanna Get High with Da Blanksta.” As a member of Dead End Alliance (D.E.A.) with Fat Pat, HAWK and Kay-K, he also appeared on the album “Screwed for Life.” In 1998, DJ Screw opened the store Screwed Up Records and Tapes in order to meet demand for his mixtapes.
On November 16, 2000, DJ Screw was found dead in his recording studio at the age of 29. His death was ruled an overdose of codeine and other drugs. The “chopped and screwed” genre that he created continues to influence recording artists, both locally and nationally, and his legacy is honored by fans around the world.
DJ Screw: The Untold Story. Double Platinum - Come Fly With Me, 2006. DVD.
DJ Screw Photographs & Memorabilia Digital Collection description. University of Houston Digital Library. 20 March 2013. http://digital.lib.uh.edu/collection/djscrew