Chopped and Screwed: TV Edition

All Screwed Up and the Current State of Houston Rap

Tobe Nwigwe and Isaac “Chill” Yowman discuss DJ Screw’s impact 20 years later.

By Carlos Brandon February 7, 2020

Louisiana actor Rosha Washington as Houston hip-hop pioneer DJ Screw in the upcoming biopic series All Screwed Up.

When asked to weigh in on the ubiquitous impact of DJ Screw, breakout rap sensation Tobe Nwigwe offered a simple, yet poignant answer: “I think he just has a thumbprint on everything.” 

The Alief native isn't the only one who feels this way; he is one of many Houston rappers who continue to draw inspiration from the late producer.

In the two decades since his death, Robert Earl Davis Jr.’s legacy has thrived in the Bayou City, his impact on the music and culture of Houston seemingly ever-present. From his homemade “Screw Tapes” to the lasting impact of Screwed Up Click (S.U.C.), his legendary collective which laid the foundation for Houston’s defining sound, his fingerprints are all over hip-hop. Grammy-winning, multi-platinum artists like Drake, T-Pain and H-Town’s own Beyoncé have borrowed from his signature chopped and screwed aesthetic. Composer Nicholas Britell even incorporated the style into his score for the Oscar-winning film Moonlight. And yet, Screw’s cult status has largely been limited to Texas and Louisiana.

That might be about to change. 

All Screwed Up, an upcoming biopic series on Screw’s life, aims to push his legacy to a national audience. Directed by multi-platinum producer-turned-cinematographer Isaac “Chill” Yowman and produced by rapper Lil Keke, Wreckshop Records founder D-Wreck, and Screw’s sister Michelle Wheeler, the show promises an intimate look into the hip-hop pioneer’s formative moments and those fleeting years of fame before his untimely death in 2000. The series also arrives in the midst of a national renaissance for the H-Town rap scene, providing a moment to highlight the man whose influence has touched every facet of Houston rap for a quarter of a century.

“I think the biopic is going to shine a light on an already booming culture, on an already booming city,” says Nwigwe, who gave a shout out to the hometown hero during his NPR Tiny Desk Concert last year. “It’s going to shine a light on the history, the past, and the foundation of it all.”

Behind the momentum of superstars like Travis Scott, as well as recent luminaries like Lizzo, Maxo Kream, and Megan Thee Stallion, Houston artists wield more clout over the national hip-hop community than perhaps ever before. While this iteration of Houston rap stars is a sonic departure from the chopped and screwed lean tapes the series will depict, Screw’s legacy still permeates the city’s music scene.

“I honestly don’t think it’s possible to grow up in Houston or be around the culture for a substantial amount of time and not be influenced by DJ Screw,” Yowman says. “Because those tapes, especially at that time, were the prerequisite to how we talked, how we dressed, how we cut our hair, what we ate, how we rolled, and what we aspired to have.”

Even as his music slips into the realm of classic hip-hop and as Houston’s definitive artists sound less like the S.U.C. with each passing year, Screw’s hold over the culture makes his life story an enduring narrative for the city. More importantly, it’s why the show may hit a nerve with a national audience already acquainted with H-town’s current roster of chart-topping talent.

The series "will hopefully be able to introduce all elements of what Houston looks, sounds and feels like,” adds Yowman, “not just during that time period but in totality.”

For an industry at its national peak, the time is ripe for a project that shines a bright light on its singular elder statesman. All Screwed Up, in that regard, is about more than one lifeit is the origin story of a culture.

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