By now any fan of hip hop can recognize the common remixing technique known as “chopped and screwed”, but few have ever actually listened to the works of the late DJ Screw, who died extremely young at the age of 29. A cult sensation in his hometown of Houston, Texas, Screw undoubtedly pioneered the chopped and screwed remixing style, hence the genre’s name stemming from Screw himself. But one listen to Screw’s prolific, yet overlooked, career during the 1990s, and one will notice that DJ Screw’s approach to remixing is radically different from the chopped and screwed attempts made today by modern disc jockeys. Not only this, but Screw’s skills at remixing were more along the lines of a visionary at work, crafting his own magic on his own time, untethered from any trend in the hip hop scene (or the entire music scene at the time, arguably). Chopping and Screwing involves slowing down the tempo of a track, and then “chopping” up segments and replanting them in ways that reenforce a certain fragmented quality. Many argue that the chopped and screwed technique is ridiculous, being very basic and adolescent, but in the hands of DJ Screw, it was made into an undeniably powerful entity.
What makes Dj Screw’s work during his short time on this earth so special is the sheer otherworldy atmosphere he radically created through reinventing the tracks he selected (Many of the songs Screw “screwed with” were ones by his friends, the members of the so- called Screwed-Up Click). These songs were enhanced through a meticulous integration of new, eerie samples, mixed in a heady, hallucinatory fashion. Screw was a big fan of the purple drank, the fusion of codeine with grape soda and sometimes other sodas like sprite, and he obviously attempted to recreate his cough syrup trips through his music, which makes sense proven that his mixes were often thick, soupy messes of sound, ones that conjured up late nights driving to fast food chains illuminated by neon lights, accompanied by the malevolent spirits of thugs gone down the wrong path. Beats were manipulated to produce a harder-hitting sound, often bearing a physical weight that evoked something quite astray from “normal” hip hop, and closer towards the realm of some tripped out doom metal. The bass always plays a big part in Screw’s work, as it’s tone is pitched down, allowing lower frequencies to resonate through the murky soundscapes. Any music aficionado should recognize the similarities of Screw’s methods to the dub reggae of the 1970s and 80s, a significant jamaican reggae sub-genre utilized by the great producers Lee “Scratch” Perry, King Tubby, Augustus Pablo, Keith Hudson, and Herman Chin Loy.
“All Screwed Up” is one of Screw’s most popular and celebrated albums/mixes, and for good reason. But it is also undoubtedly one of his darkest, often crossing over into feverish nightmare territory, if his music wasn’t already surreal enough. Almost every track features Dirty South rappers spitting out remorseful, depressive, and paranoid lyrics. But these lyrics drip down even deeper in the hands of Screw, and the results give the music a profoundly vulnerable side to the world of thugs and hip hop. “After I Die” is arguably the album’s centerpiece, as it’s 9 minute runtime boasts an unrelentingly pulsating atmosphere that is absolutely chilling, with distant trumpet riffs and a woozy, serpentine bass line accompanying the featured rapper’s existentially mournful reflections on his destructive lifestyle. Every track on this album is extremely vivid, capturing the film noir world that is all too real for thugs, lowlifes, and hustlers. Dj Screw’s vision is one only lit by neon lights, ones that entrap the thugs illuminated by them, warping their minds and disorienting their sense of direction in life. “All Screwed Up”, like most of Screw’s output, ultimately transcends hip-hop, and exists in a multi-dimensional river of cough syrup teeming with as much psychedelia, electronic music, dub reggae, industrial, funk, and soul as it does hip-hop.