Lance Scott Walker is one of the most foremost historians of Houston hip-hop. His latest book DJ Screw: A Life in Slow Revolution, which will quickly establish itself as the authoritative text on the wildly influential figure. The DJ Screw book follows his essential tome Houston Rap Tapes: An Oral History of Bayou City Hip-Hop. Lance often employs oral histories in his work, but this new book took on a slightly more experimental approach in how it’s organized. It’s one of the many interesting things he talks about in this interview.
How did you get to where you are today, professionally?
My working background is in printing and graphic design, but to backtrack to where I started writing about music, it would be when I was a DJ at Rice University (KTRU) in the early ’90s. I didn’t go to school at Rice, but I was friendly with people at the radio station and knew enough about music to get myself in the door, so they gave me a shift where you start—in the small hours. One of the responsibilities of DJs there included reviewing new releases that came in, tagging them for profanities so we knew what we could and couldn’t play on the air, so I took my time at night going through the bins and wrote about as many records as I could, giving myself a musical education in the process. This was from ’93 to ’96. I did lots of writing during that time, even if I didn’t really think of it that way. To me it was just part of the world of music—playing in bands, designing flyers, booking shows.
I co-founded a record label (Ojet) in 1998 and a booking collective (Hands Up Houston) in 2000, and all that activity led to me being asked to write a piece for a site called Tranjka. I had never written an article before, but I took up the challenge and wrote an essay about digital music called “Napster Of Puppets.” I was working at a creative agency then, and at work I printed out the article, which got snatched off the printer by one of the content writers, who brought it to my desk and said, “Did you write this? You can write.” He wanted to get me away from design and into the content department, but before that happened I was laid off in the dot-com bubble.