Cedric “ESG” Hill was the first rapper to give the Screw movement some national exposure. The hook for “Swangin & Bangin,’” his debut single, had a slowed-down Public Enemy vocal sample and lines like “Sip syrup, swang and bang, jam nothing but that Screw.” The video, meanwhile, offered an early glimpse of the custom car culture that would come to define Houston hip-hop’s aesthetic, and, just as notably, featured a taste of Screw’s slowed-down remix which, in another first, was featured on the accompanying album, Ocean of Funk. Here, the Everyday Street Gangsta offers a detailed breakdown (without much prompting, really—I kind of just let him talk) of both Screw’s and his own emergence.
JS: When did you first hear about Screw tapes?
ESG: Pretty much everybody met at Fat Pat’s house. We were in the 18-year-old range back then. All the D-boys in the neighborhood would go by. Screw had just started, but no one knew what it was yet. A core group of people in the hood from the South Side would go over to Screw’s to get personalized tapes. You’d have your favorite songs and everybody would say, “Go to Screw’s house, he’ll make your own tape for you.” Nobody was even rapping on the tapes at the time, it was just a personalized mixtape. I had just did“Swangin’ & Bangin,” and we went over there to put it on a tape. Instead of just making a personalized tape, we told him, “Let other niggas hear this shit too.” I got some wax singles made of “Swangin and Bangin,” so he could really do what he needed with it. At that time we had the Kappa Beach Party, which was sort of our own Houston version of Freaknik, and every car that was passing was playing “Swangin’” on their Screw tape. From then on, in our region, nobody wanted the real record.
It was like a cult classic, the way shit was going down here. I remember when “Murder Was the Case” was out, when Biggie came out…They didn’t want the Biggie record regular speed. Everybody wanted the Screw version, because Screw was going to chop it and repeat the best parts of the song. It just became a household way of living down here. When Fat Pat passed, I did a Fat Pat dedication freestyle and Screw sold 4,500 tapes the first week. He had invested in his own pressing machines. It was jumping. Screw was gonna get you the streets of H-Town and all the cities close to Houston. Screw controlled that. Now I can name another 30 artists that was on Screw tapes that you never heard of. So you had to have a little talent to go along with it but in general Screw pretty much got you the streets. Screw made you a household name if you were able to go over there and drop a great freestyle. To be a household name in the city of H-Town, you had to go through DJ Screw or on a major label already.
All different artists would come to Houston on a radio promo run, and they’d try to hook up with Screw. That’s pretty much how the Screwed Up Click was born. Guys like Hawk weren’t even thinking about rapping for real but I used to strive to be more than just a local artist heard on a Screw tape. I’d always be like, “Man, you need to do a real album or a real song.” A lot of people started following the trend. ESG, Fat Pat and Keke, we pretty much kicked all that off. Pokey did it, Hawk did it, all the way to your Z-Ros and Lil’ Os. That’s pretty much the beginning.
Everything wasn’t always real, real slow like people be thinking but we had our own sound, our own swag. We dressed different. We wasn’t just about Dickeys and having the black Raiders hat. We was more fly. At that time it was the Guess Jeans, Polo shirts, the colorful Air Max. The whole Screwed Up Click was just different… I see some of the comments on blogs and the first thing people think of when they hear Screw’s name or Screw music in general, is something real slow, and the syrup sipping. That’s just the culture down here and a way of life. It’s not that everyone who listened to Screw sipped syrup. Everybody listened to Screw down here. All the white kids, Hispanic kids. They weren’t always sipping. It was just a form of music down here that he made everybody love. Some people say Screw just slowed down stuff, he wasn’t a real DJ. They didn’t know about the history of Screw and how he won the Justo Mixtape of the Year award and did an actual DJ competition up there and won first place. Screw would go behind the back, take the shirt off—everything you seen the other great DJs do back then.
JS: But most of the guys in the Screwed Up Click were using drank pretty heavily during that time, no?
ESG: When people talk about sipping, the first thing they say now is, “Screw died from that.” But Screw had already had two strokes. Screw was sick anyway. Just because that might have been one thing in his system, everybody wants to attribute his death to that. Big Moe passed from being overweight. Moe was 600 pounds when he passed. He passed the same way Big Pun passed, but because Big Moe was affiliated with S.U.C., they say Moe died from sippin’. But Big Pun didn’t die from sipping. Pimp C had sleep apnea. If someone dies in our area, you could have 10 different drugs in your system but if you have codeine in your system, that’s the main thing they want to point out. That’s the only bad rap the Screwed Up Click gets. But we’re still here making music and it feels great when you have an artist like Drake re-do “June 27th” and pay homage.
JS: So you were already making music before you knew about Screw?
ESG: That’s one of the differences between me and a lot of other S.U.C. artists. I was a child of hip-hop I’m talking about [being] 10 or 11, I was buying single records so I could record my own demos over the instrumentals. I had a cousin from Brooklyn who’d send me tapes of WBLS. I had other cousins in L.A, and they used to send me mixtapes from different stations. So I knew about all the Treacherous 3s, the Schooly Ds. I got the real knowledge of hip-hop from both coasts. When I was 13, I was doing citywide talent shows. Man, I never had a rap wrote down, I would just go on stage and go off with the band. When I got to 18, I was really trying to make me an album. I had been to a college for a year-and-a-half majoring in communications but that was just something on the side to me. Music was my first love. When I went to Screw, I already had 20 songs done. “Swangin’” was just the first song I gave to him because it really signified our culture, how people was riding down here with the candy paint and the swangas— the elbow of the rims that poke out. People wasn’t really doing songs about it. It’s pretty much giving you a tour of the way that we live down here.
JS: How did you end up on Priority Records for your first album, Ocean of Funk?
ESG: That deal came because we were already selling so many albums independently. We sold over 100,000 copies, independent. Now, there’s not as many fans as there used to be. Every D-boy with a little money goes and gets them a little record label incorporated. At that time, people were able to pay attention more to the music. Unfortunately I was into other things at the time and I got incarcerated. And that’s when Priority picked up the album.
JS: What did you go to prison for?
ESG: I had a murder charge that got dismissed because it was actually self-defense. Some jackers had broken into our house and me and the guy fought over the gun he had, and while we’re fighting over the gun, I managed to take the gun from him and I shot and killed him. When the police come they found an AK under the bed. So they immediately said y’all must have been selling drugs out the house for these dudes to come and rob. We weren’t even hustling out the house but they’re seeing all the candy cars, they figure we got a bunch of money in the house. By this time we was corporate Gs. We was actually selling a bunch of records. This was music money. So I had to do two and a half years. I got out at the end of ‘97.
JS: “Swangin & Bangin’” had a hook that was slowed down. Were your producers heavily influenced by Screw?
ESG: The producer Shawn Solo, he definitely wasn’t into Screw music. He was in college at the time. For the sample to be on time, we had to slow Chuck D’s voice. That’s all that was. But then I let Screw mix it up and we did an actual real Screw version of it on the album. By the time Screw got it and slowed it down, it was almost like an ultimate Screw sound. No one had ever put a Screw song on a real album that could be purchased in stores. Screw before could only be heard off the tapes. Now, somebody could go in a real record store and buy a real album with a song they like that’s chopped and screwed up.
JS: Now, you hear a lot of original production where producers are slowing the sample deliberately to give it that Screw feel. When did that start to seep in, in Houston?
ESG: Every artist who would do songs would immediately try to get to Screw’s house to let Screw do a version of it. To let Screw chop it up and slow it down so they could put the version on their album or their tapes with the song on there. They didn’t do the Screw part in the hook songs, they actually would take the songs to Screw. When I got out in ‘97, it was such a big influence that every other unknown DJ was trying to talk like Screw. Like, the way Screw would say, “Knowhatimtalkingbooouuut.” It was almost one word the way Screw would say it. At that time, the Screwed Up Click was so deep. There are so many people affiliated with S.U.C, that are not rappers, just hood cats. They would literally go out and find these DJs emulating Screw, and be out to whoop they asses. I know one DJ, I won’t even say his name, and Screw must have chased him three, four different times. Around ‘98, ‘99, people weren’t even tripping on tapes as much. Everybody wanted CDs. And that’s when Michael Watts hit the scene with Swisha House. A lot of the major labels weren’t sending out wax. Everybody was switching to CD. I used to tell Screw, “Man, the dude Michael Watts is getting newer instrumentals than we getting because he’s getting CD singles.” That’s when CD mixers were coming out. But Screw would not change. I can imagine if Serato was out when he was living, he would not do it. It was strictly turntables.
JS: How did you feel about VH1’s Hip-Hop Honors not acknowledging Screw in their Southern rap tribute?
ESG: Bunch of bullshit. And not just not mentioning Screw but goddamn… you had Bun B on there but there really wasn’t no Suave House. Tony Draper played a big role in Houston, too. You left out Suave House, Screwed Up Click, the list goes on. JaMarcus Russell gets caught sippin’ and you got clips of DJ Screw and the whole Screwed Up Click on ESPN. And VH-1 Hip-Hop Honors couldn’t give us nothing? You could give us a few minutes, just a mention in there. Something. If you look at Houston and you you look at Paul Wall, Chamillionaire, Lil’ Flip, Mike Jones, Slim Thug. Any artist that ever came out of H-Town, if you wasn’t with the Geto Boys or Suave House, you were directly or indirectly influenced by DJ Screw. All the songs Paul Wall had that was hits were Screw influenced and had Screw tape samples on them. And we cool to this day—he on my new album. If I would have even been invited to the Hip-Hop Honors I wouldn’t have felt right if I was going over the script and I didn’t see Screw’s name mentioned. Can you at least put this guy’s picture up?