Back in April of ’06 walking Texas rap encyclopedia Matt Sonzala embarked on a cultural exchange program with New York fashion-icon-in-the-making/DJ Roxy Cottontail. Houston hip-hop was having a moment: Mike Jones, Slim Thug, Lil Keke, Devin the Dude and more all burst out of the humid air in the Dirty South with a force that took the world by surprise. Paul Wall had the Internet goin’ nuts, and for a time there the whole world was All Candy Coated everything — 25 Lighters, Wood Grain, Tippin’, Sippin’. Sonzala would bring Houston artists to New York, and Cottontail would in turn bring NYC’s finest to Houston for night’s they cleverly called “Screw York City.” Over a span of two years the two brought a host of Texas talent — Rapid Rick, Devin the Dude, Lil Keke, Chingo Bing, Michael Watts, DJ Chill, Mr. Rogers – to packed clubs on the Lower East Side, nearly 20 shows in all. Tonight, after a five year break, Screwston is back in the city with an impressive lineup of Texas’ best.
Even back in ’06, as their music was being played on airwaves across the country, it took convincing the artists the trip was worth it, that the music they were making on the Third Coast had reach and impact.
“I feel like it’s my duty,” says Sonzala of introducing Texas rap greats and unknowns to different parts of the globe. “Even when Houston rap was blowing up, none of the guys really ever toured. They never hit the road. It was a foreign concept to them.”
Sonzala introduced the concept to Bun B of UGK, Devin the Dude, and countless others, who were always taken aback by the crowds and enthusiasm they were greeted with in places far, far away from their humid home.
“I’ll never forget, in June of ’07, bringing Devin the Dude to play New York. He thought no one would care, but he packed the place out, all of them rapping his words back to him. Nas and Kelis were there. It blew him away. We flew to Amsterdam the next day, and packed that. People made the trip from Germany, England, all over Europe. There was a guy in a ‘Screwed Up Click’ shirt. Another in a ‘Whut It Dew’ shirt. It was unbeliveable, man.”
Though Houston is no longer lighting up the mainstream, the influence of its rap and, in particular, the syrup soaked, slowed down sound of DJ Screw, is seeping into corners previously uncoated. Screw’s purple fingerprints are all over A$AP Rocky’s debut, and recently even Beyonce caught the bug on her controversial single “Bow Down/I Been On.”
“There might be better and bigger DJs in the world,” says Sonzala. “But there’s no DJ in the history of DJing who touched his community as much as Screw did. He struck a nerve.” That might sound like white hot hyperbole from a guy trumping up the home team, but it’s not. One need look no further than Noz’s recent Pitchfork column about Screw for reference.
Tonight’s Santos Party House show sees rappers from Houston, Austin and San Antonio on the bill: Doughbreezy, KYDD, League of Extraordinary Gz, World Wide, Grit Boys and more. Headliner Killa Kyleon’s mother used to bring him to Screw’s house as a young boy, Sonzala says. “He used to make drawings for for Screw when he was really little. Now, he’s one of the best rappers in Texas, hands down. He can really rap. He’s got skills. New York hip-hop audiences — that’s what they prize above all else, skills. Killa is built for this city, and he’s really going to impress. He’s better than most of the popular rappers out right now.”
Screw York City returns to Santos Party House tonight. It’s free. RSVP at pushermania.com