Screw was recognized for his hundreds of mixtapes on only a regional level before his death. His work was discovered by a wider audience when Houston hip hop began to develop international attention in 2005. Screw has been cited as a considerable influence in the Houston scene, with his distinct musical stylings influencing countless hip hop musicians.
Early lifeEditRobert Earl Davis, Jr. was born on 20 July 1971 in Bastrop, Texas. His father, Robert Earl Davis, Sr., was a long-haul truck driver based in Houston. When Screw's parents' marriage dissolved, he moved with his mother, Ida Mae Deary-Davis, and his elder sister, Michelle Williams, to Houston and Los Angeles, before finally settling in Smithville in 1980.
When he was younger, Screw had wanted to become a truck driver like his father. However, when he saw the movie Breakin' in 1984, he instead wanted to become a DJ. Screw first began experimenting with his mother's blues records. He was able to wire a primitive fader between the stereo and a borrowed turntable. Screw and his cousin Trey "Shorty Mac" Adkins would set a cassette recorder in front of the speakers and lay on the floor talking into it while the records played, thus resulting in Screw's first mixtapes. It was Adkins that gave DJ Screw his nickname, after watching him use a screw to scratch through the grooves of songs he didn't like.
Screw was later sent to live with his father at the Quail Meadows apartment complex in Houston. Screw would work with his turntables while his dad worked nights driving trucks. He attended Sterling High School but dropped out during his sophomore year.
1988-1998: Rise to fame and establishment of Screwed Up ClickEdit
Screw received his first job as a DJ at Almeda Skating Rink when he was seventeen. While working a job at Rice Market, DJ Screw first began selling his mixtapes. He began getting requests for personal tapes and worked many hours making them. Screw's first slowed-down tapes appeared in 1990. Screw had begun to pick up new tools, such as 4-track recorders.With constant traffic to his apartment, Screw and his longtime girlfriend Nikki Williams were forced to move from the complex and into a one-story house further north on Greenstone Street in Golfcrest. It was here, in a room known as The Wood Room, that nearly all of Screw's mixes were recorded. It was around this time that rappers had begun to appear freestyling on Screw's tapes, who would later form the Screwed Up Click. A microphone would be passed around the room, while Screw stood at the turntables facing a wall of posters, running instrumentals all night long while the rappers freestyled over the beats. Screw would often lock the bars around his front door so people were unable to leave until he felt satisfied with his work.
Original Screwed Up Click members Fat Pat, Lil' Keke, Botany Boyz, Big Hawk, Big Pokey, and Big Moe were rappers that first began to find fame after having appeared on Screw's tapes. Louisiana rapper E.S.G. was inducted into the group after giving Screw a shoutout on his song "Swangin' and Bangin'", and Houston rap veterans Mr. 3-2 and Big Mello were also inducted into the group.
Screw sold tapes through his gate, with someone running inside to pull the tapes and people passing on handfuls of cash. He would make thousands of dollars in just a couple of hours, from 8 until 10 PM every night but Sundays. People would line up for hours, with cars stretching for blocks through the neighborhood. After a while, neighbors complained and the police became interested, searching Screw's house multiple times in search of drugs. Both major and independent record labels became interested in signing Screw, although he signed with local independent label Bigtyme Recordz.
In 1995, Screw released his first official albums: Volume II: All Screwed Up, and 3 'n the Mornin' (Part One) and (Part Two). The albums were Screw's first releases outside of his homemade mixtapes, and they helped to bring him wide attention. Labels began sending him boxes of records because a Screw tape was considered the best promotion for hip hop music in the tape. The release of a new tape, which was sometimes twice in a week, became an event.
DJ Screw eventually established his official store, Screwed Up Records & Tapes, which opened in South Park on 2 February 1998. The same week Screw opened up the store, Fat Pat was murdered on the eve of the release of his debut album, Ghetto Dreams. His murder had a huge effect on Screw, and most people who knew Screw say he never recovered from Pat's death.
DJ Screw moved from Greenstone to Missouri City to escape the noise that he had begun to attract. He continued making his mixtapes, but the releases became fewer. In the new environment, Screw kept up his insane work schedule, working around the clock on his mixes. Al-D said of Screw's lifestyle, “Me and Nikki ran Screw into the hospital at least six or seven times, man. He would just get stressed out on phone calls and shit... Stayin’ up late, workin’ all the time, eatin’ greasy ass goddamn food, no proper sleep, no exercise whatsoever – I mean, that was enough to kill you.”