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New DJ Screw Book Attempts to Tell True Story of Rap Icon that Defined a City

Courtesy of DeMo Sherman and University of Houston Libraries Special 
Hardcore hip-hop fans, especially those with any affinity, connection, or affection for Houston’s eclectic rap scene, are getting an early gift this year.

Brooklyn-based writer Lance Scott Walker’s long-anticipated book on legendary Texas' music fixture DJ Screw, “DJ Screw: A Life in Slow Revolution,” dropped today, and according to early reviews, it is a winner.

"Weaving flashes of his own voice into an oral history featuring over 130 of Screw’s friends, family, heroes, students, and more, Walker stitches together a full picture of the iconic DJ’s legacy," Rolling Stone’s Mankaprr Conteh said of the tome, which is the culmination of 16 years of research by the author.

The book meticulously documents the life of the late innovator, born Robert Earl Davis Jr., who created a signature “chopped and screwed” sound that would come to define the city of Houston by spinning two copies of a record to “chop” in new rhythms and having local rappers freestyle over the tracks and slow down the recordings of the session on tape.

Walker may be based in New York, but he is no stranger to the subject matter. A Galveston, Texas, native — he got his big break writing about music and nightlife for Houston Press and Houston Chronicle in the early 2000s and has written several other books on Houston rap.

For his latest work, he interviewed everyone from Screw’s childhood friend to collaborators and fans who helped popularize his tape and the hip-hop moguls that drew inspiration from and honored his work.

“Screw slowed down the music because he wanted to hear what the rappers were saying. He wanted you to hear what they were saying,” Walker told Houston Matters Michael Hagerty in a recent interview. 

“Sometimes there would be a message in there that he wanted to repeat so you would hear him wind it back, and sometimes he’s not just winding back a couple of words but an entire phrase or an entire 16 bars. Whatever it is he wants to run back, he’s running it back because he wants you to hear it.”

Walker added that the sound, like its hot and seemingly endless summers, is something that is Houston, but the narrative on the Screw tapes cemented his legacy and its importance to the city.

“You heard local rappers talking about local neighborhoods, local streets, local record labels, local places where they went… that sort of thing, so it sounds like Houston. It’s got that hot sort of slow sound.”

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