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DJ Screw, Personalized Tapes & The Decline Of Hip-hop’s Tangibility

“So when you get this Screw right her’, I want you to hold on to this motherfucke’. Cause we gon’ come up in ’94, you best believe that!”

– E.S.G, Rapper

On the intro to DJ Screw’s 3 In Da Morning Part Two, rapper E.S.G warned that you should never – under any circumstance – take your eyes off your screw. The significance of that statement was rooted in a time that has long been forgotten in the sea of mainstream hip-hop and immediate media accessibility. It also leads us to the origins of a young DJ Screw, and the grassroots nature of 90’s hip-hop that ingrained itself into our hearts. Simply put, it’s why we treasure the era so much.

In the early days of Screw, around the time that his signatures slowed down and chopped up style was taking over the Houston streets, he made a hefty living making personalized tapes. It may be hard for a 90’s born millennial to imagine the world where you couldn’t just burn a compact disc, but if you wanted to have the newest and/or rarest new music, and you wanted t to have that Screw stank on it, you had to go to the man himself. Unfortunately – he’s was one man. And as you may remember, dubbing a tape is an extremely manual process. So, to create order, clients were asked to pony up the cash, and provide a list with your contact and requests/shout outs, etc. That list found its way into a shoebox, and then you had to wait until Screw got around to it. Hopefully, that makes the “watch your screw” sentiment a bit more contextual for you. Of course, today these tapes are priceless to their owners.

Have you ever had to search for music. I’m talking manual search. Vinyl heads and 90’s collectors will agree that the experience of opening a package, and popping in a new album/single while taking in the packing and album credits is an unparalleled experience. It’s an experience that’s been all but lost at the hands of MP3s and the immediacy of digital media in today’s landscape. The glimmer of resurgence is beginning to take hold as a new generation become infatuated with owning any and everything on vinyl, and visionaries like RZA, and Boombotix, who are working to bring a sense of tangibility back to the music industry.

This week, as we celebrate the anniversary of DJ Screw’s passing, we should remember his influence and his carefree innovation that’s been loosely imitated by countless DJs – and artists – in popular culture. He’s a symbol of originality that is sorely lacking in the game – and, as well, a sad reminder that overindulgence in illicit substances can be fatal. Let’s all give a salute to the father of New “Screwston”, and the capo of the infamous Screwed Up Click.

Watch Yo Screw!

Riley About Author

Riley here — father, artist, videographer, professional writer and SERIOUS hip-hop head. I'm a member of the Universal Zulu Nation, and I think everything is better on vinyl. Add me on Twitter! @specialdesigns