DJ Screw’s 3 ‘N the Mornin’ (Part Two) burnt itself into rap mythology, manipulating time itself
Original release date: 27 August 1996
Label: Bigtyme Recordz
“Time is a flat circle. Everything we have done or will do, we will do over and over and over again, forever.”
Leave it to Ruste Cohl to succinctly summarise the relentless, inevitable grind of time. But even True Detective’s nihilistic Texan philosopher might have questioned the linearity of the clock if he’d popped a DJ Screw cassette into his car’s tape deck. The rules of time might be inescapable but that doesn’t mean we can’t bend our brains to manipulate them. We can take photographs to capture and revisit one unique moment. We can take drugs to either slow down or speed up our sense of chronology. In essence, we can screw time, contorting what seem like unbendable straight lines into something beyond recognition.
Decades before True Detective aired, DJ Screw (née Robert Earl Davis Jr) found he could manipulate the fabric of time by pitch-shifting rap songs to a slow, intoxicating crawl. Sounds simple enough, but the Houston-based producer had a magic touch for the form. Adding in record scratches, digital edits and decelerated vocals, he pioneered a sludgy, mono brand of hip-hop to rush the senses. It would become known as chopped ‘n’ screwed, or, more concisely, Screw music, burning the innovator’s name into rap mythology before his untimely death in 2000, aged 29. It’s impossible to summarise the influence of Screw in a satisfactory manner. Let’s just say he helped lay the core pillars of Southern hip-hop music forever more.
Screw started experimenting with slowed-down cuts sometime around the beginning of the 90s. After nailing down his aesthetic, the burgeoning entrepreneur distributed mixtapes on grey Maxell cassettes, selling his products out of his house in south-east Houston before levelling up to his own independently-run store. Sometimes he’d remix other artists’ tracks or pepper the tapes with old R&B cuts. Other times he’d invite his Screwed Up Clique – rappers like Lil’ Keke, Z-Ro, Big Pokey, Big Moe and Fat Pat – to freestyle over the mixes. Whatever the case, each tape was a gloriously fashioned portal in Screw’s outlandish realm. And they were only 10 bucks a piece.
Released in 1995, 3 ‘N the Mornin’ (Part Two) is an opus of Screw’s methodology. He might have had limited interest in the tactics of traditional distribution, but this record – one of a small number of official albums he released between prolifically cutting his tapes – found Screw seizing the moment, proving himself the untouchable deity of music that’s chopped and screwed, slowed and throwed.
Opening cut Watch Yo Screw sees rapper E.S.G. deliver a slurred spoken-word seminar that acts as the precursor: “This just ain’t no in-the-house-flowing-Screw-thang,” he explains, referring to the tapes stacked in the DJ’s house. “Me and Screw trying to expand this shit, ‘naw what I’m sayin’.”
The grooves are deep and hypnotic, huge snares and claps power the mesmerising orchestration. On Servin a Duce, 20-2-Life’s jaunty celebration of getting out of the joint is slowed to a desperate crawl. The once vivacious beat now wails and cries, while the rapper’s crooned hook is transformed into a sweaty, mournful refrain. It’s a prime example of DJ Screw’s Southern rap-defining opus manipulates time itself how Screw’s manipulations can form something entirely different, something entirely other.
Mack 10’s Foe Life is spliced into a 118-second slow pour. Its presence confirms that while Screw was a Texas monarch, the West Coast’s G-funk kingdom was his natural ally.
Tracks like Smokin’ and Leanin’ and Sippin Codine solidify Screw’s association with a favourite drug of his: lean. The man himself might have claimed that it was weed that evoked the same slowed-down perceptions of his music but that didn’t stop listeners insisting that a Screw record was the perfect soundtrack to a lean-induced haze. 3 ‘N the Mornin’ (Part Two) sounds like the purple liquid swirling in a Styrofoam cup – the soothing intoxication of the syrup seeping through your brain. When lean claimed Screw’s life, it tethered his name to the drug permanently, and stole him from the world right as his influence was about to hit new levels.
The last two songs capture the album’s surly brilliance. Pimp the Pen sees Lil’ Keke freestyling over UGK’s Southern scripture Pocket Full of Stones, building a world of “Jackers and hustlers, players and macks/ Foreign doors and Cadillacs”. Album closer South Side (Three in the Morning) slows Roy Ayers’ Everybody Loves the Sunshine into a dimly-lit, post-twilight drive around South Houston. To play the track is to feel suspended in a moment. Time might be a flat circle but Screw harnessed that whacked and wonderful feeling of 3am on repeat. He was the man who unlocked the secret of manipulating chronology, whose own time came far too soon.