DJ Screw Wins Prestigious Justo Mixtape Awards in New York

This Week in Texas Music History, New York City gets all screwed up.

In December 1999, the Fourth Annual Justo Mixtape Awards in New York City honored Houston’s DJ Screw, a symbolic moment when hip-hop’s Old School East Coast acknowledged the rising sounds of the South. The event was the first and only New York trip for the underground legend whose influence had been rippling far beyond the Bayou city. Born Robert Earl Davis in Smithville, Texas, in 1971, Screw had grown up between the small town and the big city, fascinated with both the new sounds of hip-hop and the audio technologies he tinkered with to make the music his own. That music soon carried his name—chopped and screwed—as a description of the distinctive sonics he crafted by slowing the tape to a syrupy crawl, making the music sound a lot like humid Houston feels. His home became his studio, attracting a coterie of talented rappers, the Screwed-up Click. And DJ Screw and the SUC did all of this on their own outside the record industry, with Screw as an independent entrepreneur recording the songs, making the tapes, and selling and distributing them from his front yard. He eventually opened a shop, Screwed Up Records and Tapes (still active), and the Screw tapes became the soundtrack of the city. 

Which is why the New York recognition was important. Screw’s was a grassroots, largely self-taught endeavor, and the huge diamond ring that was the Justo award was something he took great pride in, a symbol that Houston was on the path to paramount national influence. DJ Screw would not see it, though, tragically dying young in 2000. The low, slow rumble of Screw’s aesthetic echoes still, ubiquitous in popular music and resonant in the work of Travis Scott, Drake, Beyoncé, and many more.

Sources: Lance Scott Walker. DJ Screw: A Life in Slow Revolution. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2022.

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