More than 1,000 albums owned and used by Robert Earl Davis, better known as DJ Screw, have been acquired by the University of Houston Libraries. Davis, who died in November 2000 at the age of 29 was a pioneering figure in hip-hop, a rare innovator in a genre susceptible to homogeneous production. By slowing down records Screw created a singular style in Southern hip-hop, a unique sound that carried his name as recordings were and continue to be “chopped and screwed.”
“Who would’ve guessed slowed down music of all damned things would become a national phenomenon?” said Michael “5000” Watts, a DJ, producer and co-founder of the Swishahouse label said earlier this year. “But there was always more to it than just slowing down a record. One thing that destroyed a lot of the Southern stuff is people looking at the bottom line. ‘What can I do to make a profit?’ They weren’t looking at it as art. . . . It’s very rare when a man goes out of the box to do something.
“I’m not gonna lie. I think I did my best work when Screw was alive. We were competitors, and things weren’t always smooth between us and them, but that made it more fun to have something or someone driving you to be better.”
Screw’s LPs, which were donated by his father Robert Earl Davis Sr. and the John and Rebecca Moores Endowed Library Fund, became the basis of his famed productions, which represented this region uniquely. The vinyl is currently being cataloged and will be available for research in 2013. Some of the recordings will be part of an exhibit called DJ Screw and the Rise of Houston Hip-Hop which opens March 19, 2012 at the M.D. Anderson Library. There will also be a conference about the city’s hip-hop culture on March 27-28, presented by the U of H Libraries, as well as the school’s African American Studies department and Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the arts and the HERE Project at Rice University.