DJ Screw, Robert Earl Davis Jr., was an American hip-hop DJ, who is best remembered as the creator of the famous “chopped and screwed” DJ technique. He was born into a lower-middle-class family in Texas. His father was a truck driver in Houston, while his mother was a housewife. A few years after he was born, his parents divorced. Following this, he lived his mother. As a kid, Robert had no big aspirations regarding his career and expected that he would end up being a truck driver like his father. He soon became interested in making music and invented new techniques of spinning the disc to produce a unique sound effect. He began professional DJ-ing when he was 12 years old and sold his first record during his early 20s. He eventually formed Houston’s famous hip-hop group ‘Screwed Up Click’ and then released more than 200 mixtapes. He died from a codeine overdose in 2000, at the age of 29. His work, however, began getting discovered in the mid-2000s. Since then, his music has influenced many DJs and hip-hop artists all over the world.
Childhood & Early Life
DJ Screw was born Robert Earl Davis Jr., on July 20, 1971, in Smithville, Texas, to Robert Earl Davis Sr. and Ida May Deary. It was his mother’s second marriage. He had a step-sister from his mother’s first marriage. Robert grew up amidst humble conditions, as his father was a truck driver and his mother was a housewife.
However, poverty was not the only thing that troubled him while he was growing up. His parents never quite got along well and separated soon after Robert’s birth. Shortly after his birth, his mother returned to Houston. Later, she moved to Los Angeles with him for a short time. They moved back to Houston a couple of years later. When Robert was 9 years old, the family shifted back to Smithville, where he spent the rest of his adolescent years.
When he grew up, he wanted to become a truck driver like his father. However, when he became acquainted with his mother’s music collection, his mind changed drastically. He also came across a film called ‘Breakin’,’ based on the hip-hop scene of America. Soon, Robert decided that he wanted to make music for the rest of his life.
Robert enrolled at ‘Sterling High School’ and dropped out in his sophomore year. He did that because he was unable to focus on his academics. At that time, all he wanted was to make music. He also took piano lessons. However, when he discovered the disc-scratching technique on the music player, he was determined that he wanted to do just this.
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His father noticed that Robert was serious about making music. Knowing all well that Smithville had next to zero opportunities for young black kids, he took Robert to Houston. Houston had an ever-thriving music scene, and at the age of 17, Robert earned his first job as a DJ at the ‘Almeda Skating Rink.’
He slowly became famous as he juggled two music tracks into one and began scratching the disc to produce a unique effect. Back in his apartment, he listened to rappers such as Ice Cube and sat on his system, churning out mixtape after mixtape.
Charles Washington became his first-ever manager. One night, when he was partying with his friends at his apartment, Robert accidentally slowed the music down and loved how it sounded. It became another one of his signature styles later in his career.
One of his friends offered him $10 to make him a tape like that. This further encouraged Robert to start selling tapes to his family members and friends.
Slowly, more people began coming to him to make their own records in Robert’s unique style. At one point, his home owner thought Screw was a drug dealer. Following this, he set a fixed time to sell the tapes. His fame reached big cities such as Dallas, and he began taking orders from fans from all over Texas.
Until 1995, he liked working as an underground artist. In 1995, he released his debut mixtape, ‘All Screwed Up, Vol. II,’ under the label ‘BigTyme Records.’
However, Screw did not have a great understanding of business. Many people sold fake tapes by his name. People also began copying his style, while Screw focused on making music in his apartment.
Finally, in January 1998, sense prevailed and he launched his own store. He named the store ‘Screwed Up Records’ and only sold tapes made by him. It was a small store with a glass window.
However, he also ruined most of his potential fan base when he refused to try something bigger. Soon, his fans began purchasing from bootleggers. Another fact that worked against him was that he worked on a vinyl while others had shifted to working on computers.
He also founded a hip-hop crew named ‘Screwed Up Click’ and introduced many new rappers such as Big Hawk and Fat Pat.
In 1998 alone, Screw released more than 100 tapes, such as ‘Screwed for Life’ and ‘All Work No Play.’ However, he slowed down in 1999 and released only a dozen tapes. Later, people claimed it was because he had fallen into the trap of drugs.
He opened another store in Beaumont and expressed his desire to have one store in every city in the country. However, he met his untimely demise before he achieved his dreams.
Death & Personal life
DJ Screw’s body was recovered from his recording studio at ‘Commerce Park Drive’ on November 16, 2000.
It was later confirmed that a codeine overdose was the main cause of his death, along with the intoxication caused by mixed drugs. Valium, an anti-anxiety medicine, was also found in his blood.
DJ Screw has inspired many artists over the years. However, he was mostly an underappreciated avant-garde musician. His influence on the hip-hop culture of Houston is evident to date.
He has a group of hardcore fans of his work, who call themselves “screwheads.”