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— by Joseph Patel, with additional reporting by Sway Calloway

There's nothing to distinguish Screwed Up Records & Tapes on Cullen Boulevard in south Houston from any other dilapidated building in this industrial neighborhood just off of the city's main highway. The beige exterior has peeled off in large patches, the blinds that shade the small store's windows don't work, and water leaks onto the worn-through linoleum floor during this sweltering city's frequent rainstorms.

And yet, this small, nondescript building is home to one of the most important — and surreal — musical movements to emerge in the last two decades: screwed and chopped (or chopped and screwed — either is correct).

As the success of Mike Jones, Paul Wall and Slim Thug's ubiquitous single, "Still Tippin'," has brought the spotlight to Houston, the city's indigenous sound has begun to creep out of the Southern shadows. Screwed and chopped music is the antithesis of the relentless, ballistic bounce of Atlanta's crunk: Hip-hop records are literally slowed down to a molasses-like pace, and beats and lyrics ooze lazily out of the speakers. The result is a heavy, drowsy groove that, over the last 14 years, has exerted a major influence on Southern hip-hop culture.

"It's the sound of Texas," boasts Jones. "People all over the world are starting to embrace it, and it's our time to shine."

Robert Earl Davis Jr., a.k.a. DJ Screw,
1970 - 2000
Screwed Up Records & Tapes is the store that keeps alive the memory of Robert Earl Davis Jr., a.k.a. DJ Screw, the local hip-hop DJ who was the inventor and namesake of screwed music. No one knows for sure how or exactly when Screw created the slowed-down sound, but members of his south Houston crew, the Screwed Up Click, say that Screw was playing around with his turntables in 1991 and serendipitously discovered that dramatically reducing the pitch of a record yielded a mellow, heavy sound that resonated with the slowed-down pace of H-Town.

"One day he picked up a Mantronix album — that's the first thing I heard [slowed down]," remembers Big Bub, Screw's cousin and the man who runs Screwed Up Records & Tapes, which sells many of DJ Screw's old cassettes. "He played it at a slow pitch and really liked the way it sounded. He kept messing with it, messing with it, and about a year later, he made a [whole] tape all slowed down."

Screwed Up Records & Tapes, south Houston
"He slowed it down so the bang would be a little harder and deeper," says longtime Houston rapper and songwriter Devin the Dude. "When the music was like that, you could just creep and ride around all night."

While the sound has a similar feel to West Coast hip-hop like Dr. Dre and DJ Quik (Screw's personal favorite was C-Bo), its pace is a unique reflection of the South. "In the South, we chill a little bit more," says Jackson, Mississippi-based rapper David Banner, who remembers first hearing Screw in 1994. "It ain't fast and loud and all that — it's laid-back riding music."

Screw soon made mixtapes broadcasting his new style to his south Houston neighborhood. "When you say, 'screwed music,' you have to realize that for years, it was what it was without getting labeled," explains Bun B, one half of the veteran Texas rap group UGK. "It wasn't called 'screwed and chopped' when he was doing it, it was just a 'Screw Tape' — and you always wanted to get that Screw Tape." "Screw Tapes was just like having a pair of bad Air Force Ones [sneakers] is today," says longtime Screw affiliate and Houston rapper E.S.G. "If you didn't have a Screw Tape in your deck, you wasn't hip to what was going on." DJ Screw's tapes (also referred to as "Gray Tapes" because of the gray cassettes they were recorded on) were often organized by themes — a mixtape featuring songs about cruising in cars, for example. Screw also made customized tapes for people in his 'hood. "You could get a tape for like $10," remembers Bun B. "Then, for $15, you could give him a list [of songs] you wanted and he'd shout you out on the tape. For a little more, you could actually come to Screw's house and shout out people yourself."


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