DJ Screw: The Untold Story
Would you drive 500-plus miles just to get a mixtape? The late Houston innovator Robert Davis Jr., AKA DJ Screw’s career was based on it. In the early-to-mid ’90s his mixtape popularity grew to a phenomenon, causing fans to drive for miles from surrounding cities and states just to get the tapes. He invented the signature “screwed up and chopped” style, which consisted of slowing down the pitch of the song, which he used as the canvas for his legendary mixtapes.
Still, six years after his death, there’s a fierce debate as to what really killed him. DJ Screw, as the CD/DVD DJ Screw: The Untold Story compilation suggests, was the victim of his own fame. Close friends attribute his tragic downfall to his workaholic nature and heart ailment combined with a colossal love for his fans and fellow artists whom he relentlessly and selflessly promoted on his mixtapes. The other side of the story — not discussed until the final moments of the movie — is that DJ Screw was reportedly a user of codeine-infused cough syrup, which was popular during the rise of the “dirty south” sound and a likely key ingredient to the slowed-down trippy mood of his unique style. It’s often cited that a rival slipped an amphetamine into his “special syrup,” causing his fatal heart attack.
The DVD, at 90 minutes, is long, redundant and has an underground amateur production feel. Complete with interviews from the members of the Screw’s posse S.U.C. (Screwed Up Click), Lil Flip, Hawk and Lil Kekee, it recounts the origins of the Houston underground phenomenon.
If you’re a fan of underground rap and are curious about DJ Screw’s rise and fall the compilation is worth the time. The CD’s pretty much like walking into a room where everybody knows everybody else and you’re the only one doesn’t know anybody except for the person they’re talking about. So, for those not familiar with the Houston rap scene or the story, it would best to watch the DVD first then listen to the Making History CD so you can at least have an idea of who they’re eulogizing.
It’s not the kind of video eulogy I would choose but as the credits rolled, I had a little tug of unfortunate sadness, like those in the film, that things didn’t have to end the way they did. That is, DJ Screw was clearly an accident waiting to happen. “He had a bad heart and all the drugs and drinking didn’t help,” a former girlfriend notes, but the ride for him and his buddies was so fast and furious that no one wanted to hit the brakes and let their leader chill and recover. The DJ Screw story is a cliché that runs through all forms of music. It also solidly demonstrates a terrible music industry conundrum that will hopefully someday, find resolution: tortured artist has a drug problem, makes great music that fans can’t get enough of and because fans can get enough, the self-destructive nature of the artist perpetuates, resulting in the artist’s death and ultimately, fan heartache, and most tragically and ironically, the death of the art form.
DJ Screw: www.djscrewfest.com