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Vinyl Collection of DJ Screw Now Cataloged at the University of Houston

Houston Hip Hop
“Don’t push me cause I’m close to the edge…” | Cover from Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five’s iconic “The Message” (1982), from the DJ Screw Sound Recordings

“Don’t push me cause I’m close to the edge…” | Cover of Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five’s iconic “The Message” (1982), from the DJ Screw Sound Recordings

The University of Houston Special Collections is proud to announce the completed inventory of over 1,500 vinyl records in the DJ Screw Sound Recordings.  The product of successful collaboration and hours of meticulous cataloging, this accessible online inventory marks another major step in providing future scholars intimate access to the birth of a hip hop sub-genre that is distinctly Houston.

In the early 1990s, in reaction to the East Coast/West Coast false dichotomy that had gripped hip hop, Southern hip hop grew in popularity as an alternative and cities like Memphis, Atlanta, and Miami became known for a unique sound marked alternately by intensity, bass, energy, speed, volume, and a rapid-fire lyric delivery.  However, hip hop proved to be dynamic in its evolution as a new branch of sound emerged in Houston.  DJ Screw (Robert Earl Davis, Jr.), the Screwed Up Click, and others gave birth to a style of hip hop that eschewed the lure of rapid beats-per-minute associated with the hyperactive, crunked-up Deep South and, instead, utilized the techniques of slowing a song’s tempo (screwing) while looping or repeating vocals or other elements (chopping) atop the new slow, surreal beat.

The result, chopped and screwed, reflected the more laid-back energy of H-Town, evoking the meandering bayous that trace the city’s sprawl and slow-moving slabs cruising the city streets.

Throughout the 1990s, as the music of DJ Screw and his collaborators rose in popularity, that unmistakable sound blaring at just a slow crawl spread quickly throughout the region, influencing the rest of Southern hip hop and diversifying the sound of the Third Coast.  The untimely death of DJ Screw in 2000 seems to have only cemented the link between the artist, genre, and the city known affectionately as Screwston.

DJ Screw mixtape

Mixtape made by DJ Screw for Lil’ Randy and Ron’O, 1999

This inventory of the vinyl records in the DJ Screw Sound Recordings, the tools of an artist who managed to carve out a new niche in hip hop, is now available online and reveals the wide range of palettes with which Screw worked.  The collection includes primarily Houston, Southern, and West Coast hip hop, but also holds a good amount of R&B as well as scattered recordings from genres like rock and jazz.  While the majority of recordings are the 12″ singles which were used by DJs, there are also a number of albums to be found.

We invite you to trace the origins of chopped and screwed by perusing the catalog (try sorting by recording artist, or, if you prefer a more chronological view, by the record’s release year, beginning with Marvin Gaye’s 1972 “Trouble Man,”).  Those interested in viewing the DJ Screw Sound Recordings may do so in our reading room, open to the general public during our normal research hours.  While our policies regarding preservation do not allow us to play these records for patrons, we invite you to visit us and view the vinyl that gave birth to those famous grey tapes.

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