DJ Screw is a name etched in Houston hip-hop folklore, but he was known by many names to many people during his brief life. To some, he was The Originator, to others he was Screw, and to his family, he was simply Robert Earl Davis Jr. In addition to his many aliases, DJ Screw had a prolific career, filled with music, love, laughs, and no small measure of struggle.
While many never had the opportunity to experience DJ Screw’s music when he was alive (he died of a codeine overdose in 2000 at the age of 29), Lance Scott Walker’s new book, DJ Screw: A Life in Slow Revolution gives readers an opportunity to explore the Houston music legend’s life and work in rich detail.
“The idea [to write a book on DJ Screw] came around 2006 when I was working on Houston Rap Tapes,” Walker said. “So my study of DJ Screw was concurrent with everything else I was working on.”
DJ Screw was revered for his innovative “chopped and screwed” deejaying style, a new kind of approach to remixing music that slowed down the tempo of a song and then used techniques such as skipping beats, scratching records, and stopping time to create a “chopped up” version of the song. And while Screw was a groundbreaking hip-hop artist, he was also a skilled pianist who could play Chopin by ear.
A Life in Slow Revolution is an amalgam of firsthand accounts from the people closest to DJ Screw, from family and close friends to members of Screwed Up Click (the popular hip hop collective he founded).
Sixteen years in the making, A Life in Slow Revolution is Walker’s life’s work. At 49, Walker spent more time on building the story of DJ Screw than anything else he’s ever worked on. Partly because, as Walker says, he often encountered resistance from family and friends who were still experiencing pain from Screw’s passing in November of 2000.
“Some people didn’t want to talk or had reservations, all of which I completely understood,” Walker explains. “This is a very personal story for a lot of people who knew Screw and loved him very much. For some, it was tough to open up; others had just never been asked. Those were the people I wanted to interview the most.”
While the book’s narrative ultimately ends in tragedy, readers are also exposed to the beauty, brotherhood, generosity, and passion for music that dominated DJ Screw’s life.
But perhaps what distinguished Screw most, according to Walker, was his sense of duty and responsibility to take care of the people around him.
“I wanted to underscore how special he was to people because that’s what made me want to write the book,” Walker said. “What really attracted me to the story of DJ Screw is that you have somebody who’s incredibly good at what he did, and everybody who was around him reinforces that idea. But really, for me, it was about the kind of person he was, and how people still talk about how he made them feel all these years later. That’s a really rare quality.”
Despite such an early death, his legacy remains intact. Told in detailed and intimate language, each person Walker interviews helps personify the kind of man and artist DJ Screw was, no matter what name you might have known him by.