A Legacy

In Loving Memory of DJ Screw

After more than 20 years since his untimely passing, multiple projects addressing his legacy go mainstream.

By Camilo Hannibal Smith December 29, 2021 Published in the Winter 2021 issue of Houstonia Magazine

Image: Amy Kinkead

Up to this point the history of DJ Screw, and his impact on music culture, hasn’t been told as fully as it should have. It’s been more than 20 years since his untimely passing at age 29. Now, multiple projects in the mainstream are properly addressing his legacy. He created one of the defining sounds of Houston, and the South.

The collective memory of the remaining members of the S.U.C has been enough to keep the world informed, as well as a growing recognition of Robert E. Davis, and his contributions to hip-hop and mixtape culture. It’s important to put the proper respect on his legacy with the big name projects and biographies that other famous creators in hip-hop history get.

Ever since teenage TikTokers discovered Screw, it’s been clear the DJ from the Dead End connects with new generations. The 2001 documentary, Soldiers United for Cash, was one of the first widely available full-length treatments of Screw’s legacy. The documentary came out shortly after his death and included interviews with members of the Screwed Up Click, and DJ Screw himself. What the movie lacked in production value, it more than made up for with recorded oral histories of the Screwed Up Click, something The Donnie Houston Podcast does today. About a year after that documentary dropped, a public radio program called Studio 360 did a seven minute audio story, “DJ Screw Plays with Time,” about the life of DJ Screw. It was probably the first time a wider audience even heard the name DJ Screw. The audio feature has what University of Houston librarian and Houston Hip Hop Research Collection coordinator Julie Grob considers the only time Mama Screw was recorded talking about her son.

So why now, after almost 20 years, are there a slew of projects about DJ Screw coming to life? “There have been high class conversations about Houston hip-hop, blending high-class art and street arts,” says Rue Rob, whose late father was S.U.C member Big Rue. “You’re able to have conversations about DJ Screw and the Screwed Up Click that have not happened in the past.” One of those conversations happened through the extensive Slowed and Throwed exhibit at the Contemporary Art Museum of Houston earlier this year. And it doesn’t stop there. In April, the University of Texas Press will release a history of the chopped and screwed creator, called “DJ Screw: A Life in Slow Revolution”. The book by Lance Scott Walker is a follow-up to his widely acclaimed Houston Rap Tapes: An Oral History of Bayou City Hip-Hop.

There are also a number of Screw-related projects that have been completed (this summer saw Spotify release a Screw podcast) or are still in the works. Specifically, the Sony-produced All Screwed Up biopic, and another full-length DJ Screw documentary by Isaac “Chill Vibes” Yowman who released a short that screened during last year’s Houston Cinema Arts Festival.

As to why now is the time to remember Screw, maybe it’s a confluence of things, such as big stars like Travis Scott always paying homage, and younger generations re-discovering Screw’s oeuvre. It took this long to realize the importance of documenting Screw’s history for a wider audience, something no one thought of decades ago when Screw was still on his turntables. “These hoodstars didn’t know what they were sitting on,” says Rue Rob.

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