My latest essay, on the slowed-down tempos of screw + its influence on contemporary bands, has been published in this month’s Frieze and is available online. It begins with DJ Screw and ends with interview observations from Romanian programmer Paul Nasca, responsible for the Bieber stretch algorithm.

Ten years ago this month, one of the great, lazy American geniuses died, at the age of 29, from drinking too much cough syrup. His name was Robert Earl Davis Jr., and I believe he stole the technique that made him famous from the Mexicans. . .


20 thoughts on “DJ SCREW’S SWAMP GOSPEL”

  1. Start with anything by DJ Screw. There are thousands of places to begin 😉

    Seriously, though: 3 in the mornin’ Part 2

  2. loved it.

    Homeboy had a link to the article on fb and half way through I was like damnnn I bet /rupture would love this… then I get to the end and see the Jace tag and feel stupid… I should have known better.

  3. oh and if you need screw tapes:

    Also, I recommend checking out Lil Boosie chopped n screwed- I think Nano did a c&s version of his last album- Since homeboys voice is just ridiculous to begin with it really does add some gravity….

  4. also check out DJ Michael Watts of Swishahouse for contemporary chopped+screwed visions. i love that so many of Screw’s tapes are called ‘Chapters’, like Chapter 234. its definitely an aesthetic of abundance.

  5. i will now spend the rest of the day contemplating the tension between earth-bound, chrome-bent anti-transcendence and god-audible bieber.

  6. do you have any evidence re: the claim that screw “stole” the c&s technique from mexicans other than slowed-tempo cumbia tracks had been prevalent since the 70s? that’s an awful strong word to use in that respect.

  7. @walkmasterflex

    Yea, I found that a bit jarring myself. Sure, it’s possible Screw heard their technique, considering his location. And mentioning that theory in the piece somewhere is valid.

    But to say it in the first two sentences and then only devote 28 words as an explanation, buried in the middle on a 1,200 word piece? Damn.

  8. Hard evidence like a statement by Davis? Nope. It’s not presented as a fact — to reiterate, Monterrey’s closeness to Texas (2 hours in car), as well as the large Mexican population in Houston make it highly probable. When I was last in Monterrey, at a tribal guarachero party, there was a kid walking around with a SWISHAHOUSE t-shirt. Whereas Mexican soundsystem culture might seem ‘far away’ from Houston rap culture, I found that the reverse is not true in contemporary Monterrey.

    That said, neither screw nor the sonideros of Monterrey *invented* slowing-down prerecorded music — what they did, and did differently, was custom-fit the process and popularize it. Phrased differently, if he indeed heard cumbias rebajadas, say, being played at a taco stand and got inspired, that in no way lessens his impact, innovation, or importance, from my point of view. Especially when dealing with DJ culture, which from its inception has paid attention to style — how you can take other people’s music and flip them so that they are played with your (recognizable) style — much more than traditional Modernist ideas of the Great Author or Genius Composer.

    All the other bands conspicuously referencing Screw point to his continued (possibly increasing) relevance these days, which makes it nice to expand the discussion about slow-down music packaged and sold and spoken over to include the cumbias rebajadas scene — nearby in space, preceding Screw in time, and still very active.

    Perhaps it is a happy coincidence! But I felt it warranted inclusion in the piece. I’d love to hear more info on what the Houston soundscape was like in the late 80s and early 90s…

  9. @jace

    All valid points, though none address the concern that’s been raised, namely (quoting your piece):

    His name was Robert Earl Davis Jr., and I believe he stole the technique that made him famous from the Mexicans.

    It’s one thing to draw on the parallels between cumbia music and Screw music, but something entirely different to level (seemingly) unfounded accusations you now seem to be shying away from.

    I’m not trying to argue semantics here, but even couching your accusation in an “imo” subjectivity, you fail to point to any factual evidence to support such a virulent verb (“stole”) beyond mere proximity. I mean, it’s one thing to draw on commonalities between genres, but I think it’s something else entirely to posthumously slander a musician.

    The off-handedness of the remark, and it’s lack of substantiation inside of a long-form piece, strikes me needlessly incendiary. Not trying to hate, just trying to get some clarity.

    You have a dedicated and respectful following of listeners and contemporaries (and I count myself among the former), but, like, words are powerful, especially those that are published, and judging by some of the comments on here, your readers are not that familiar with Screw, so casting him as a cumbia thief is a rather biased introduction to his influence.

    Interested in your thoughts.

  10. hey Soft Money — “slander”? I have to admit that sounds rather heavyhanded to me! Especially to readers of my blog — I’ve been heaping praise on Screw here for 5 years or so. My piece was, if anything, a Screw homage. I’m sorry that wasn’t more apparent in your reading of it. Remember, I’m the guy whose 1st mixtape was called Gold Teeth Thief; I’ve been riffing that ideas of theft & stealing acquire proud new meanings in DJ culture for a long time now… So no, I don’t see my use of ‘stole’ in the essay as negative anymore then calling myself a thief in my most popular release was self-slander! I do see how it can be read a a cavalier usage though.

    DJ culture is not originary culture, nor is it a culture of ownership; arguing whether or not Screw (or his mentor that Quam references!) heard cumbias rebajadas is missing the point of my piece. In examining Screw’s lasting impact 10 years on, I opted to note that a strikingly similar manifestation of Screw slowdown culture was already happening nearby — rather than mention any of the many instances of slow music experimentation that Philip Sherburne and Dave Quam have pointed out. What’s most interesting to me is the moments when there is an entire subculture of it (screw, rebajadas, drag).

    Aside: technically, Davis *did* steal and bootleg countless musicians, swiping their commercially released music and selling it for profit without their knowledge or consent. This theft is an accepted part of rap (and cumbia) mixtape/mix CD culture. But I think we all recognize that that don’t lessen his artistry. Davis doesn’t become a thief if he was inspired by Mexican slowdowns; Screw took slowdown culture to fantastic (and lethal) new heights and it’s him that we’re talking about now, 10 years on.

  11. @jace

    Yeah, I mean, I don’t know if I’d go as far as calling it an “homage,” but your piece was clearly thoughtful and culled from experience. Which is why I found that particular line to be so out of the blue.

    Regardless, you raise important points about Screw, cumbia rebajadas, and DJ culture in general (which is a worthy endeavor in itself), and I guess I only wish more of your thoughts/beliefs we are discussing came across in your piece rather than in the comments section of your website (though, admittedly, that was not your goal).

    And I also agree that arguing over whether Screw (or his mentors) heard cumbias rebajadas misses the point, but in that case, I can’t help but find myself circling back and questioning why this notion was injected in the first place (or I guess, why you were so cavalier about your belief), as, at least to me, it read more as an accusation than some kind of “exploration” of precedent.

    No matter, I think music ultimately wins when people can have meaningful discussion about it’s creators, antecedents, influences, etc., so I think this is for the best.

    Thanks for taking the time to respond.


    2nd youtube commenter, go ask him

    2 years ago 8

    Here’s what ppl dont understand. We were raise in Texas, so screw music is what we know. But our parents raised us with traditional music like cumbias, etc. This is our music, a mix of what we know and what we grew up hearing.

  13. I’ve lived in Houston almost my whole life, and I knew DJ Screw and some of the other SUC guys. (I’m typing this in my bed, which is less than a mile from his old house.)

    In the early-mid 90’s, here is the Latin music that was ubiquitous in Houston: Tejano and Selena.

    I used to play bass in Mexican bands, and frequent the (all-Spanish-speaking) flea markets in town, and I never once heard any slow Cumbia. I attended quite a few quinceaneras in Houston, and never once heard a slow Cumbia. The old-timer Mexicans were (way) into Elvis and Norteno ballads, not Cumbia.

    It wasn’t until 2000 or so that I heard Cumbia screwed, and then it was on the Choppaholix (not Screwed Up Click) mix show on 97.9. I think a couple of their guys were Hispanic.

    I can see the geographic angle, but Tex-Mex culture is quite different from Mexican culture. Even the Mexican culture in Houston is way different from the one in San Antonio or Dallas, for instance.

    If I had to guess what the strongest influences were, they were probably Majic 102 (iconic Houston R&B station known for slow, old-school jams), Isley Brothers records, and stuff like Portishead, Massive Attack, etc. Sorry, I know that’s not nearly as sexy.


  14. I love hearing what cities’ soundscapes sounded like. Bring it on!!!


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