UH Moment

UH Moment: “DJ Screw”

A city's story is told not only in textbooks and timelines.  Check out this week's UH Moment.  

A city’s unique artifacts hold its narrative in industry, art and music.

“I had this idea for a while, that if we were really telling Houston’s story, we needed to include Houston Hip Hop,” said Julie Grob, Coordinator for Digital Projects & Instruction in the UH Special Collections.  “Houston is really known as a leading city for hip hop.”

DJ Screw in the studio

DJ Screw and the Rise of Houston Hip Hop is an exhibit that tells part of thatstory through an innovative musical genre that is uniquely Houston.

“The rappers and friends of DJ Screw came from poor neighborhoods, rough neighborhoods, they were kind of tough guys, but if you watch the nightly news, it’s part of our history and its also part of the history of the neighborhoods,” she said.   

Robert Earl Davis, Jr., also known as DJ Screw, was a Sterling High School product. His home studio was a hangout for local rappers and the birthplace of the “chopped-n-screwed” mixtape.  

“He added a really unusual technique in using the pitch control on the turn table to slow down the records. He also used a technique called chopping where he would repeat part of a song, words of a song or phrase, for emphasis, and then he slowed the whole mix tape sound again, so it made this really kind of strange, almost underwater sound,” Grob said.  

A flyer for the Underground Kingz, a rap duo consisting of Chad 'Pimp C' Butler and Bernard 'Bun B' FreemanA flyer for the Underground Kingz, a rap duo consisting of Chad ‘Pimp C’ Butler and Bernard ‘Bun B’ Freeman

The UH exhibit includes mix tapes, photographs, flyers and selected items from his personal record collection—items and information donated by DJ Screw’s family, friends and fellow rappers, such at Paul Wall and Chamillionaire, both greatly influenced by DJ Screw.  

“Whether you love or hate rap or whatever your feelings are about the gangster lifestyle, it’s important to look at it and learn about it and to learn about people’s lives,” she said.

Grob says artifacts from Houston’s blues history are largely gone. She initiated this collection to preserve it before its artifacts also are lost.

“The more you learn about the lives and the experiences of Houston DJs and rappers, the less you can dismiss their stories and their craft.”

The UH Special Collections are part of what’s happening at the University of Houston.  I’m Marisa Ramirez.