Letters From the Past | 1992: Pop-trunk

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It was ’89 when I got to college, we’re still in the MTV Era, BET is gaining popularity, music is all over the place, Hip Hop is still young, into its Golden Era, but that was really East Coast dominated at the time. When I got to Houston I was living in the 3rd Ward where the universities— University of Houston, Texas Southern University and to an extent the outskirts of the medical center, Rice University— are all located. Now the area is referred to as the museum district and there were certain things that people from that area did, culturally speaking. Things like going to King’s Flea Market, eating at Timmy Chan’s, or drinking Olde English or Thunderbird Wine with Kool Aid in it or drinking Mad Dog…college stuff, you know?

No one else was wholesaling them because he didn’t have a distribution deal. Screw just did this whole thing out of his house, people would just come to buy tapes or people would pay to come and get personal tapes made. Once they had a personal tape made, that then became the next tape available for mass consumption.

No one else was wholesaling them because he didn’t have a distribution deal. Screw just did this whole thing out of his house, people would just come to buy tapes or people would pay to come and get personal tapes made. Once they had a personal tape made, that then became the next tape available for mass consumption.
 
You would hear this music coming out of the cars, this was back in the whole Pop-trunk Era, and everyone would just ride around with their trunks popped up and the music blaring out of their cars. Everyone had their cars on Swangers, 30-spoked wheels on Vogue tires, and this was the music blasting out of the trunks. Friends of mine who were closer to Screw, they were getting Grey Tapes, going to the record store around the corner and asking for the latest tapes and all that. We were right in the middle of it when it was taking off. I had been around DJ Screw on a few occasions but I didn’t run with him so I don’t want to speak to things that closely pertain to Screw but I can speak to the era because I was in Houston when Screw took off
 
So if you were from around the Houston area and asked, “what the hell is that?” people would say, “Oh that’s Screw, that’s Screw.” And it just took off like wildfire

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Since we were students we never really ventured to the other side of the town to see how it all had taken effect in other parts of the city. But around that Southside of Houston, I mean that was it. If you weren’t playing Screw, nobody wanted to hear what you had in your car. And so that whole culture took off and you started seeing— and I’m not saying Screw caused this because I’ve spoken to a lot of those guys and they talked about how syrup was around way before Screw became popular— but you started noticing the white cups and everyone sippin’. You know, in college everybody smokes weed but then you’re seeing everyone hanging out at the park smoking blunts and sippin’ syrup. And everyone wanted to have the newest Screw tape and the loudest system because the thing about that Screw, if you slow the beat down, it really bangs in your trunk. That’s why in the first verse of that one Z-Ro freestyle, “Mo City Don,” he goes, “Slow, loud and bangin’, all in my trunk.” So it was really taking off, and before you know it, it became mainstream.

When Screw really started moving tapes, it was upwards of a 1,000 plus tapes a week and at $10 piece. The tapes weren’t commercially duplicated tapes, they were regular grey tapes you could just get from the store so that’s why everybody called them, “The Grey Tapes.” People would line up and he was the only person you could get it from. No one else was wholesaling them because he didn’t have a distribution deal. Screw just did this whole thing out of his house, people would just come to buy tapes or people would pay to come and get personal tapes made. Once they had a personal tape made, that then became the next tape available for mass consumption. And you had all these young guys who were rappers, who would come and freestyle over the records. Once that started taking off, it was really crazy, it dwarfed everything else. So there were a lot of tapes that were made by people who were just saying, “I want to do a Screw tape for my birthday” or, “I want to do one for this event or that event” and if you have a personal tape, with Screw talking on it, with his unique voice…that drawl…and the slowed music, then you have something special. There are people out there today, who will post pictures of a Screw tape on Instagram or Facebook and that’s a keepsake, a real piece of memorabilia to have. No matter how many were sold or were playing in the streets, for you to have one even today is a big deal. They have a catalog of them at the Screw shop but it’s not the same, and that’s not everything, they are replicas of the original mixes duplicated on CD.

When I was working on the film so many people from the era, including friends and family of Screw, said, “I think Toe was the first person,” so I thought it was only right to include him in the DVD because I think he’s the one who actually encouraged Screw by having the first tape. That’s important, if Screw didn’t make that tape for Toe, who knows what would have happened. If that tape didn’t get the response it got and people didn’t go crazy for it, you may not have ever heard of DJ Screw.

People would list what they wanted on their personal tape and put that list in the shoebox at Screw’s house. It may take somebody a couple of months to get a tape made because they had so many song requests and actually what that did was, as a DJ, Screw was going out and finding songs that people wanted. And this was in the pre-digital days. If you go in Screw’s father’s garage there are thousands, man, thousands of records in that garage that belong to Screw. So, Screw broke a lot of artists here in Texas. There are a lot of artists who started getting play in Houston because they started getting play on Screw tapes and that’s because somebody may have known about MC Breeze and said, “OK I want MC Breeze on my tape.” Or a student from California or DC or Florida requested whoever they wanted. And that was really important because different people’s tastes introduced different music, and then, so many people just started to collect the tapes because they were simply fans of his style of DJing. A lot of people were introduced to music from other regions that they normally wouldn’t have been introduced to, or that they wouldn’t have sought out because this was early in the Mixtape Era. This was pre-internet, you know what I’m saying?

Everyone talks about mixtapes and I think Screw doesn’t get enough credit for being an early pioneer in the Mixtape Era. If you think about it, there are a lot of DJs who are popular now, that aren’t the first at what they’re doing. Screw was ahead of a lot of these guys in breaking music and introducing artists to different regions. He had a great ear and you know, across the board Screw is widely recognized as a respected DJ. Not just as a DJ of his style of music, what I mean is, he was widely respected in the sense that people say, “Screw was a dope DJ, period.”

But you know, the city is so big, and from where we were, like I said, we rarely got around to the other sides of the city. It’s easy for one side of town to be a completely different culture from another side. So when you start hearing about how the guys from the South side starched their pants and got a South side hair cut and dressed a certain way, or when you heard that the guys on the North side were more country— those stereotypes were true!— and once the South side started gaining popularity with Screw, the North side had to do something different and that’s where the whole Michael Watts thing on the North side comes in. 

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That North side, South side civil war was real. One side had red tricked-out old school Cadillacs or Rivieras or Regals, any of those four door cars, Buicks…you know. And the other side had blue ones. There was another group that had green ones. Then people said the South side guys were coming up to the North side and were stealing cars. When you started hearing and seeing that happen, then you started hearing people talking about shooting slugs at each other on the Screw tapes. In a sense, the Screw tapes made that beef last longer than it probably would have. And Screw was just a DJ, he wasn’t out in the streets doing any of that stuff, he was in his house for hours a day making tapes…

When I was at BET, I had met all of those guys from the S.U.C. so when I started working on the DVD, it was when music videos really started taking off, and one of my good friends at the time, Dr. Teeth, had been directing a lot of videos out of Houston. As a matter of fact, he’s responsible for introducing Houston into the mainstream. Not partially, but directly responsible. Teeth was a producer at Rap City, so when you started seeing all these Houston guys on BET, that was John T. We went to Texas Southern together and he was very adamant about presenting where we were from and what we were doing down here so he started bringing those guys in. I had been doing a lot of clips and was always on these music video sets and had access to these guys so I was lucky because these guys aren’t easy to keep up with, especially if they don’t know you. They are not talkative if they don’t know you. They are not big on just running their mouths, maybe now they are more comfortable with it because they understand they have to market and promote themselves.

Today, I do feel good saying that I had solid interviews with the likes of KeKe or Big Moe, who passed away the following year. I interviewed Hawk on a Thursday…and I think he was gone the next Monday…I think I did his last interview…he was a great guy…and I’m trying to think if any of them gave me a hard time…and nah…all of them were cool.

I had directed “Get Throwed” with Bun B, Pimp C and Z-Ro. And by this time ‘Ro and I had kind of developed a friendship. One time I had just stepped outside after interviewing Mr. 3-2 at a barbershop and Z-Ro was just standing there, but he wanted to do the interview at this strip club he hung out at. It was the strip club where Tre got shot. So we’re outside in the parking lot and I thought it would look cool— we can see your car, we’re in the streets, this is your flavor, let’s go with this. And I’ve got so much material from ‘Ro over the years that I can’t put out because people would just be mad…at him…but it’s because he’s that comfortable in his environment when we’re talking. I think all of these guys respected that I was researching and wasn’t just asking some surface level questions. And that’s part of why I have maintained a positive relationship with all of them to this day.

You know, the film I worked on wasn’t based off a personal relationship I had with DJ Screw. Bird was the guy who was running around with the camera when they were younger, when everyone was just getting into camcorders. Bird had exclusive footage of Screw but he and others didn’t know what to do with it. I knew how to shoot and produce, but not edit— I taught myself how to edit working on that DVD— and when I look at that video years later, I cringe man! So that’s how I got involved, but here’s the thing, and the more you research this— I don’t think I would have a problem saying this in front of anybody— and I think if you ask anyone else close to the situation they would probably say the same thing: a lot of people benefitted more from Screw when Screw was gone than when he was here. A lot of people jumped on board and used their affiliation, loose or tight, to put themselves in positions that they could…well…eat from.