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DJ Screw & Houston Hip Hop Materials Now Online

Digitization, Events, Exhibits, Houston Hip Hop
DJ Screw snapshot

DJ Screw at Samplified Digital Recording Studio, 1996

Get a sneak peak and the upcoming DJ Screw and the Rise of Houston Hip Hop exhibit in the new DJ Screw Photographs & Memorabilia digital collection!

DJ Screw was born Robert Earl Davis, Jr. in 1971. As a teenager on the South side of Houston, he began DJ-ing and making mixtapes of his favorite rap songs for friends. By the early nineties, he had begun slowing down the music on his tapes to a hypnotic crawl and emphasizing certain words and phrases by repeating them manually. Screw sold these “chopped and screwed” mixtapes directly to eager fans.

DJ Screw mixtape

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

Friends and local rappers began ordering personal tapes from Screw, and he invited the rappers to freestyle, or improvise, over beats at the beginning and end of the tapes. This group became known as the Screwed Up Click, and over time, the rappers themselves developed followings and many released successful independent solo albums.  in 1998 DJ Screw opened up Screwed Up Records and Tapes, a shop that sold only his mixtapes. It is estimated that DJ screw sold hundreds of thousands of mixtapes, in addition to releasing four studio albums.

On November 16, 2000, DJ Screw was found dead in his recording studio at the age of 29, his death ruled an overdose of codeine and other drugs.

HAWK notebook page 10

A page from a notebook belonging to SUC member HAWK

Among the items in this collection are photos of DJ Screw and the Screwed Up Click and funeral programs for DJ Screw and other SUC members. The collection also includes a “screw tape” and the notebook of rapper HAWK. In the notebook,  you can see HAWK’s creative process as he works out rhymes for his raps. You can also see  how well he played dominoes, since he kept score in the same notebook.

These materials are a part of the larger exhibit that will be on view at the M.D. Anderson Library from March 19 through September 21. At the conclusion of the exhibit, selected materials will be added to this digital collection.

Also in March, the University of Houston and Rice University will host Awready!: The Houston Hip Hop Conference. To learn more about the conference and related events, and to register, check out the conference web site.

Watch this blog for more information about the exhibit, conference, and future digital collection additions.


Guest Post: Intern Applies Insights to Houston Hip Hop

Exhibits, Guest Posts, Houston Hip Hop

Janai Smith, today’s guest writer, was the first Special Collections intern in a new partnership with African American Studies. Throughout the Fall semester she worked on the exhibit DJ Screw and the Rise of Houston Hip Hop as well as contributing to other projects related to Houston Hip Hop. Janai will graduate from the University of Houston in 2012. 

For the past four months I have spent at least one day a week in the Special Collections department of the library. It has been an experience to say the least.  This internship is not a mere paper pushing job, as some may assume, but a chance to be a part of the process of collecting and disseminating the beauty of history and all it has to offer.  In the world of online searches and “remote controlled research”, the importance of the tangible parts of history often get overlooked and sometimes lost.

African American Studies intern Janai Smith spent the fall semester working on the upcoming exhibit, DJ Screw and the Rise of Houston Hip Hop.

One may read this and say to themselves that I am being “dramatic” or even just nostalgic but the truth is that DJ Screw was a major contributor to the hip hop culture of Houston, Texas. Historically, the contributions of African Americans to the “American” culture have been minimized to increases in crime rates, dangerous drug usage fads (i.e. sipping syrup), and other negative aspects that have been unfoundedly correlated with the hip hop culture. But this internship has allowed me to examine the hip hop culture, not only from the stand point of a fan but from an academic view.

As a psychology major I have learned that what appears on the outside is not necessarily a reflection of what is being felt on the inside and that a person’s life is affected by environment as much as it is by innate factors. Through this internship I have gotten a chance to get a more in-depth view of the lives of people who have influenced my life and the lives of my friends through their musical and lyrical expressions and will continue to do so for years to come; not just the commercialized part of their life that was formatted to be on display but also some of the private aspects that made them human.

This has been an enjoyable experience working with the staff of Special Collections as well as being able to be a contributing party to the preservation of a piece of my own culture and in a way being a part of the telling of my culture’s story.

Hip Hop Conference Site Now Live

Department News, Events, Exhibits, Houston Hip Hop

According to Urban Dictionary, awready is “slang for agreeing with something or an affirmation.”

This seems like a great name for the upcoming conference on Houston hip hop, since it’s easy to agree that AWREADY! The Houston Hip Hop Conference is going to be a great event! The conference will include an exhibit of Special Collections materials related to DJ Screw and Houston hip hop, along with panels and presentations about Houston hip hop.  Take a look at the web site for dates and details, and visit the site often as the conference dates approach and more information becomes available.

The conference is presented by the University of Houston Libraries, Rice University’s HERE Project, UH’s Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts, and African American Studies in UH’s College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences. For more information about the exhibit and conference, contact librarian Julie Grob at For updates about the exhibit and the Houston hip hop collection, follow Julie on Twitter.

Julie Grob and DJ Screw Collection Featured in the Houston Press

Collections, Houston Hip Hop, In the News

Today’s Houston Press features an article about Julie Grob, Coordinator for Digital Projects and Instruction, and the DJ Screw Sound Recordings Collection. The article offers some insight into the collection and DJ Screw‘s music:

“I think it [Screw’s music] does an amazing job of documenting,” explains Grob, who has a Masters in Library Science from the University of North Texas.

“The neighborhoods where a lot of guys [like Screw] come from are places that are not documented the way historically African-American neighborhoods like Fifth Ward or Third Ward are,” she says, “because it’s marginalized people and reveals a lot around or about street culture and drug culture.

“They didn’t have a more mainstream platform to put forward what they felt or were experiencing,” Grob continues. “The Screw Tapes really captured that. It didn’t come out of how record executives wanted to portray a sound. They were making the tapes for each other, about each other.

“It’s just this really genuine communication, and I came to realize that this music is so important to people because it really feels like it represents them.”

Be sure to read the rest for more details about the collection, including information about specific items and about the March exhibit, “DJ Screw and the Rise of Houston Hip-Hop.” Check it out online or pick up your own copy of the Press.

To inquire about donations, please contact Julie at For updates about the exhibit and the Houston hip hop collection, follow Julie on Twitter.

Take a look at previous Coverage of the DJ Screw collection and exhibit:

DJ Screw Collection Coverage Keeps Coming
Rapper Paul Wall Visits Special Collections
Rap Icon Z-Ro Visits Special Collections

DJ Screw Collection Coverage Keeps Coming

Collections, Houston Hip Hop, In the News

Two Houston publications ran stories last week about the DJ Screw Sound Recordings Collection, and we thought you might like to take a look!

DJ Screw Vinyl to be Archived at University of Houston Library (29-95/Houston Chronicle)

University of Houston Libraries Acquires DJ Screw Sound Recordings (Houston Style Magazine)

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