Slow Ride

Two Decades After His Death, DJ Screw Lives On

Contemporary Arts Museum's “Slowed and Throwed: Records of the City Through Mutated Lenses” celebrates the DJ's legacy.

By Chris Gray March 2, 2020 Published in the March 2020 issue of Houstonia Magazine

DJ Screw in the mid '90s, photographed by Houston's Ben DeSoto

IT’S NO STRETCH TO SAY THAT “Slowed and Throwed: Records of the City Through Mutated Lenses”—Contemporary Arts Museum Houston’s multidisciplinary excavation of DJ Screw’s legacy—has been haunting Patricia Restrepo’s dreams.

“I wake up all the time and have to record whatever my thought is,” Restrepo, CAMH’s exhibitions manager and assistant curator, says, “because I’ve stressed so much about this show that it’s become a recurring theme.”

For the uninitiated, Screw revolutionized rap music and Southern culture writ large by slowing down existing records to a crawl in his mixes; he also hosted marathon freestyles for MCs across the city, sessions memorialized in the legendary “Gray Tapes.” Born Robert Earl Davis, he died from a codeine overdose at age 29 in 2000. Screw’s signature sound has long since gone global; his adopted hometown is now simply known as Screwston.

Slowed and Throwed began to take shape, Restrepo explains, as she noticed how many Houston-based visual artists translate Screw’s practices—layering and collaging, sampling and reclaiming, doubling and slowing time—into their own work. Needless to say, many are also huge “Screwheads.”

The 15 artists represented at the CAMH, all of whom have Houston ties, include Liss LaFleur, whose “Don’t Worry Baby” reshapes the ’60s Beach Boys hit in an LGBTQ-friendly direction; Whitney Biennial alum Tomashi Jackson, whose video collage “Forever 21” revisits the Supreme Court case that desegregated UT Law School; and Jimmy Castillo, whose “Northside Corrido” Photoshop-collage tour depicts his rapidly gentrifying Houston neighborhood.

“There are palpable experimental and innovative practices that are occurring in Houston and deserve to be recognized,” Restrepo says. “I hope this is only one voice in a larger contribution to that effort.”

The exhibition includes an array of multimedia items from DJ Screw’s personal archives—in a stroke of brilliance, housed in a replica of the original Screwed Up Records and Tapes store on Cullen Boulevard. Besides records and photos, including Ben DeSoto’s mid-’90s shots from Screw’s hallowed Wood Room, visitors can listen to digitized versions of the “Gray Tapes” and oral histories from the show’s co-curators: Screwed Up Records and Tapes owner Big Bubb and Houston rapper E.S.G. of the Screwed Up Click, who also curated a companion playlist Restrepo hopes will appeal to museum-goers regardless of their familiarity with Screw.

Watch for a roster of museum lectures, interviews, and live performances that further explore Screw’s legacy throughout the exhibition run, all designed to appeal to a diverse audience while never losing the crucial underlying thread of the exhibition. “Ultimately,” says Restrepo, “Screw music could be considered a love letter to the city of Houston.”

Slowed and Throwed. Mar 6–June 7. Free. 5216 Montrose Blvd. 713- 284-8250.

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