Interview Julie Grob
A: How many records have you collected?
J: The DJ Screw Sound Recordings comprise approximately 1500 records. The vast majority of them are rap, and because the collector was a DJ, the most common format is 12” singles. The collection covers all kinds of rap music, with heavy emphases on Houston, Southern, and West Coast artists. But plenty of East Coast rappers and early groups like Sugarhill Gang are also included. DJ Screw was interested in all kinds of music, so there is a lot of R&B in the collection as well, and I was tickled to find a copy of Led Zeppelin's Coda.
A: Is there a particular piece of the collection that you treasure?
J: One special item is a notebook of handwritten raps written by HAWK of the Screwed Up Click. The notebook shows HAWK experimenting with verses and trying out different end rhymes. As scholars start studying the creative process behind rap music, this notebook will be a great resource. It's also a place where HAWK jotted down other things, like friend's phone numbers, so it gives you a picture of his daily life. But it's a sad piece because HAWK was a truly well-liked man who was murdered in 2006.
A: The Screwed Up Records & Tapes store is currently facing eviction. How do you feel about it?
J: It's sad to see the original location go. It has a special vibe, it was opened by DJ Screw himself, and it's been featured in a ton of rap videos. But I there are plans for the store to reopen in a new location.
A: Sadly, DJ Screw is also known for his use of the "purple drank" which led to his death. How did this affect the community?
J: Being an outsider, the subject of how drank has affected the community is not one I can speak knowledgably about. I believe that it's still heavily used in Houston. What I do see these days is a number of legal beverages being sold in convenience stores that are trying to mimic drank. They have names like Drank, Purple Stuff, Lean, and Sippin Syrup, and they contain herbal ingredients that provide relaxation, such as melatonin. The unfortunate thing is that these drinks are available for anyone to buy, so that normalizes drank in the eyes of kids.
A: Houston rap seems to be very self-centered, almost isolated, despite its mainstream breakthrough in 2005. How do you explain it?
J: I've noticed that, too. The Houston rap scene reminds me of traditional New Orleans music culture in the way that it constantly refers back to itself. I can only speculate on the reasons for that, but Houston has a tradition in which artists were able to become successful without kowtowing to outside labels due to the existence of Rap-A-Lot and the promotional power of the screw tapes. That being said, I do see a lot of interactions between Houston artists and other artists, such as the recent songs by Trae Tha Truth and Wiz Khalifa or Bun B. and Drake.
A: DJ Screw died without seeing how big the "chopped and screwed" style became. Did his family manage to benefit from his legacy?
J: While DJ Screw missed seeing some of the national impact of the style he created, he was extremely successful during his lifetime here in Houston, which is the fourth largest city in the United States. Through Napster and word of mouth in hip-hop circles, he became known in other parts of the country, too. He also released a handful of popular albums and opened up his store. DJ Screw's family continues to own and operate Screwed Up Records and Tapes ten years after his death.
A: What's your own personal history with Houston rap?
J: Prior to beginning this project, I knew almost nothing about Houston rap. My background was in underground rock music. I was aware that DJ Screw was a significant figure both musically and culturally in Houston, and I felt that this should be documented. With my limited knowledge, I knew that in order for the project to succeed I would have to approach it collaboratively and reach out to the artists themselves for guidance. Along the way I've became a real fan of DJ Screw and Houston hip-hop!
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