WHEN ROBERT EARL DAVIS, JR., PASSED AWAY ON NOVEMBER 16, 2000, THE WORLD LOST DJ SCREW, BUT A FAMILY IN SMITHVILLE, TEXAS, LOST A COUSIN, BROTHER AND SON. IN THE YEARS SINCE HIS DEATH, SCREW’S MUSIC HAS PERSEVERED, AND HIS LEGEND HAS GROWN AROUND THE WORLD, BUT THERE IS MORE TO THE PERSON THAN HIS FANS COULD EVER KNOW.
Smithville native JASON CULBERSON set out to fix that in 2013, filming interviews with family members and people close to Screw who have been less visible than the rappers in The Screwed Up Click. The culmination of his work is the one-hour DVD Screwville, which Culberson, who is known as K.i.d, shot and edited, self-funded and self-released.
“I just felt it was a piece of history that needed to be spoken about,” he said. “There’s a lot of people that wasn’t a part of previous documentaries that were strong in Screw’s life, and real instrumental. Like Al-D, KAY-K – he was locked up. You never heard from Jut, you never heard from CHRIS COOLEY, you never heard from his sister. These were real critical people in his life. So it was more of me just really tryin’ to bring light to the legacy.”
Part of that work was in convincing Screw’s older sister RED to come out of the woodwork. Red was close to her brother but stayed outside of his career. When the scope of K.i.d’s project expanded to include a renovation of Screw’s gravesite, Red got involved. Together, they collaborated on a series of T-shirts with Houston artist DONKEE BOY and have now twice held an event at 8th Wonder Brewery in Houston to fund their efforts.
“Screw was a person that would give you his shirt off his back,” she said. “And as his sister, I just want to give back like he gave. I wanna give what I can, and just put my feet in his shoes. I can’t fill ’em, but I’ma do my best! Because there was only one Robert Earl Davis, Jr. There was only one DJ Screw. There’ll never be another, but I just wanna make sure that I live his world as a positive world.”
“These cats looked at him like a brother,” said K.i.d. “But a lot of them looked at him more as a father figure because he paid their rent money, he had their gas money, he helped them with clothes. I got interviews with people talkin’ about when they were in jail, how he took care of them. All these things is big, big qualities for one person to carry. You not just a creator of this genre of music, but you also a genuine person outside of that.”
One of Screw’s peers in the Screwed Up Click was the Houston rapper Trae tha Truth, a member of the groups ABN and Guerilla Maab, who ended up playing a major part in the restoration of the gravesite.
“I had ended up doin’ an interview with Trae,” Culberson said. “And he was like, ‘Oh, y’all tryin’ to fix up the grave? How much do y’all owe on it?’ And we told him how much we owed and he said, ‘Man, I’m fittin’ to go on tour, and when I get back from tour, I’ma give y’all the rest of the money to finish that grave.’ So I’m talkin’ about two or three days after he came back from tour, he had a show in Houston and then he had a show in Austin, so he invited us to the show in Austin. And we really had forgot about the money. We just thought he was just invitin’ us out to the show, and then at the end of the show, he ended up just comin’ up to us and givin’ us the money for the grave. He paid the rest of it. He got that heart like Screw had.”
In July, Kid and Red laid a fresh slab of granite over Screw’s gravesite in Smithville’s Cunningham Cemetery. The inscription reads: “If tears could build a stairway and memories a lane, I’d walk right up to heaven and bring you home again. His greatest love, Family.”
Later that month, Red made the most public appearance of her lifetime when she presented Trae with an award at Trae Day in Houston alongside Mayor Sylvester Turner.
“That was the first time that I had spoken in front of that many people,” she said. “I think Trae set me up for failure, but… [laughs] that was a tremendous amount of people, and to be able to give him his award and meet the mayor of Houston at the same time, that was a privilege. That was an honor to do. And to all of those people that were there, I made a joke. I introduced myself by my God-given name, which was Michelle, but I told everybody, ‘If you see me on the street, don’t call me Michelle because to everybody I’m known as Red, so if you call me Michelle, I’ma ignore you. You have to call me by Red.’ So when we were gettin’ ready to leave there was this group of women and their children, and it was so hilarious because they said, ‘Heyyy Red!’ And I was like, ‘Do I know these people?’ And the lady was like, ‘You told us don’t call you Michelle, call you Red!’”