grey-tape

Every day without fail, I wonder about the current legacy of screw music.

It creeps up on me like one of those terrible slasher flicks you used to sneak and watch as a teen, knowing the plot well before you even got halfway through the film, turning moments of what should be perceived as horror as uncontrollable humor. You know the kill is coming, you just hate you get sucked into it.

As soon as Justin Timberlake returned with “Suit & Tie”, most Houston rap heads nodded in unison and ran to their friends about the beat flip using that style that DJ Screw had pioneered. “Screw lives!” they proclaimed, almost like a deity that had re-risen again and again. Only that he never really left and we’re only marveling at it because Timberlake and producer Timbaland once more found it fitting to slow down their vocal progression and add a few chops.

Trust, it’s not pandering to a crowd but it only ups the effect if you were wondering. It might be if McDonalds remixed their “Fish McBites” jingle for the screwheads the same way Taco Bell has bastardized The Notorious B.I.G.’s “Big Poppa” to meet their target audience but I digress.

The constant question that revolved around All-Star Weekend from most out-of-towners regarding music in Houston wasn’t the new creations by its newer guard but rather what its older class was still up to. Try as they might, the newbies only got in where they fit in during choice spots on MTV personality Sway’s “Sway In The Morning” radio show on Shade 45 and local concerts. There were hints of screw, not full blown elements of it. Almost as if they were purposely avoiding it.

What screw as a culture means to the new class of rappers in Houston is a model for success without the need of a national voice or co-sign behind it. As a sound however it’s almost natural that Lil Keke or ESG will find one of their numerous freestyles from yesteryear reworked into a song today. That standard begets a new question, would the new class of today make screw music? Do they even need screw to survive? Or do they just add to its legacy by carrying the flag wherever they may roam as Kirko Bangz has for the past year or so to keep reminding people he’s from Houston?

A large chunk of Houston’s rap class of the last decade or so got their start on Screw tapes whether touched by Michael Watts, OG Ron C or Screw himself. The idea in an MP3 world may seem archaic and for the most part there hasn’t been a full blown compilation of local freestyles made exclusively for one DJs’ tape. The newer class, those who by extension of the lull of Houston rap on a national level following the balloon of 2005-07 figured that the world wanted to hear them as rappers not torch bearers of a culture.

og-ron-c-fader-mix-coverIt’s not that we as listeners in a microwavable music world don’t appreciate screw music, it’s possible that our time with the genre has moved to bigger moments and looks. Within a week, you’re going to hear screw continue worming its way into trap music when a chopped version of Baauer’s “Harlem Shake” drops. The more sought after tapes slowed to a crawl and timely spliced around come from DJs remixing already noted tracks and albums nationally. OG Ron C’s recent FADER mix is a clear example of such practice, adding freewheeling hazy fun behind Drake’s “Started From The Bottom” and Joe Ski Love’s “Peewee’s Dance” from the Pee Wee Herman Show.

Nationally, screw is almost second nature.

Locally it’s a slight afterthought.

The conversation raged on Twitter, home of banter and arguments that seemingly go nowhere outside of general ego stroking and humor. Houston’s new class doesn’t need screw to finally break through the clutches of radio – they simply want to rap and create the sort of rider music that lasts more than six months. Radio might ask them to write and push tracks incorporating the sound, which would be basically asking for six different Kirko Bangz tracks to come around as opposed to say six individual tracks from six different rappers. Imitation might be a bigger slap in the face than the actual homage paying.

Quite possibly, we’re in a realm of Houston rap where the outliers outweigh the traditionalists. Where RiFF RaFF can gain top billing and be known nationally but almost be an oft-missed trivia question locally as opposed to say a DeLorean or Killa Kyleon who are far bigger local homegrown talent but break through nationally with shows once every blue moon in New York.

Screw music does have a place in the history of Houston rap, much like boom bap or synthsized rider music does in the genealogy and growth of New York & Los Angeles. But like those waves before, it’s not a necessary instrument in making it big. It may funnel the conversation but the conversations of yesteryear about hearing a group of guys on one tape are close to buried and gone.

The ghost of Screw still lingers around but its touching much more than Houston these days.

Note: This article originally published in the Houston Press.