Multi-platinum music producer Isaac "Chill" Yowman has had November 16, 2020 marked on his calendar for several years now.
The date, recognizable to almost all Houston hip-hop fans, marks the 20th anniversary of the passing of Robert Earl Davis Jr., the originator of the popular and influential "chopped and screwed" style that has served as a lifeline for Bayou City-based rap and hip-hop for decades. As DJ Screw, Davis shines bright as a spark of creativity and self-expression that continues to fuel the music of his peers, his community, and his city as a whole.
Screw’s continued influence on music speaks to why Yowman—who has worked with everyone from Trae Tha Truth to Snoop Dog and even Beyoncé—set out to celebrate the DJ’s legacy. And after receiving a blessing from DJ Screw's family, Yowman assembled his team at management agency IYO Visuals to provide the world with what he's calling "A Visual Tribute” to the Houston music icon.
On November 15, the eve of the anniversary of Screw's death, a theater full of family, friends, and fans gathered at the AMC 8 in Downtown Houston to watch the premiere of this tribute, titled All Screwed Up. Special guests included DJ Screw's sister Michelle Wheeler, legendary Houston rapper Lil Keke of the Screwed Up Click, and up-and-coming actor Rosha Washington, who portrays Davis in the approximately 50-minute tribute.
As the lights dimmed and the projector lit up the screen, the anticipation in the room was electric. Lil Keke was the first up on screen to provide this warning: "Don't look for this to be perfect or imperfect, just enjoy it for what it is: A Visual Tribute."
After watching the screening, I can understand why such a warning was warranted. This wasn't exactly a full-length feature film, or even a pilot for a series. Could it be expanded to be either of those things? Yes, most definitely, but as it stands, it was certainly extraordinary.
With a combination of scripted drama and animated cut scenes (think animated 2D slides, not Pixar), which are used as both transitions and mood enhancers that establish the world around him, the word "tribute" is the perfect description to this project.
All Screwed Up’s story begins in 1984 Smithville, Texas, where a young Robert Earl Davis, Jr. watches South Bronx hip-hopper Afrika Bambaataa on TV and is inspired to start DJing. He later moves to Houston with his father, trades his flat top for a Southside fade, and continues to pursue music even when those close to him discourage his dreams. Eventually, he begins to "fool around" with slowing down his mixes, which eventually earn him the moniker of DJ Screw—there’s even a short nod to his now legendary "June 27th" freestyle.
Despite his successes within hip-hop, the reality of living in the hood caused stress and uncertainty throughout Davis’s life. All Screwed Up also doesn’t shy away from depicting the harsh reality of Houston during the mid-90s, including elements of the infamous Northside vs Southside beef, the legacy of Lean (the popular drug concoction that Screw eventually overdosed on), and the Houston Police Department's racial profiling at the time, all of which gives this tribute extra poignancy right now.
The final scene shows the HPD raiding Davis's house on suspicion of drug activity before ending with the question: "Who the hell is DJ Screw?"
All the featured elements of Screw's life are meticulously researched with an attention to detail that will elicit praise from even the most hardcore fan of DJ Screw. The project even includes a re-creation of the infamous "Screw Room" where Davis worked and recorded most of his tapes (stunningly brought back to life using photographs from legendary photographer Ben DeSoto), his candy blue 1996 Chevy Impala, and his Screwed Up Click pendant.
Combined with classic and new Houston music, All Screwed Up stays on beat the whole way through and will appeal to fans of DJ Screw of all generations. But the greatest stamp of approval came after the premiere and subsequent candlelight vigil at Jones Plata, where Screw’s name was lit up onstage in big, bright letters, surrounded by photos and flowers.
Moved to tears by the tribute, Davis’s sister, Michelle, could be seen thanking Yowman with a big hug. It’ll be hard to find higher praise than that.
All Screwed Up: The Visual Tribute will be available to those who pre-ordered the limited- edition “Screw Box” Nov 16 at 11:16 p.m. The project will be available for free to the general public at a later date. More info at iyo.agency.