A Conversation With Reggie “Bird” Oliver of the SUC
In 2004, award-winning film maker Reggie “Bird” Oliver visited DJ Screw‘s grave with Screw’s mother a week before her death and promised her he’d do whatever he could to tell the world about her son’s accomplishments.
Bird had met Robert Earl Davis (aka DJ Screw) 15 years earlier at Quail Meadows Apartments, where then teenaged Screw lived with his father. Screw’s friend Toe famously commissioned the first tape and then played it for Bird, who was among the first to commission a second round of tapes.
“Back then, we’d only freestyle on the last ninety seconds of the tape. And I still have every Screwtape I ever made with Screw. I only ever lost one tape.” Unfortunately, the one he lost was a rare original master that Screw let out of his sight.
This was after Screw’s move from Quail Meadows to the famous Screw House on Greenstone. Bird left the house only briefly to return to his own home and left his car running. In the meantime, a group of young men standing outside stole the tape, switching it out for another tape.
“There were six of them standing there. I couldn’t just rush up on them, but I had to go face Screw, too, and tell him I lost the tape. So we stayed up that night and made Pints, Pints, Pints,” where he ruthlessly dissed the six men who stole the tape. Pints, Pints, Pints was of course an instant hit, and the offending men were publicly humiliated. That’s how close Bird was to the great DJ Screw.
I met with Bird at DJ Lil’ Randy’s studio, and he told me dozens of fascinating stories of spending time with DJ Screw and the original Screwed Up Click. He remembered the tenser moments of the North Houston/South Houston rivalry, where, “Dudes with braids and afros were coming to the Screwhouse looking for tapes, and we knew they weren’t from around here. These were the same dudes who were stealing our cars and painting ‘Rosewood’ on the side of ‘em, so for all we knew, they were trying to rob us.”
“Everything we did was legal. Screw told us never to have weed or nothing in our cars because he knew the feds were watching. I had my car torn apart several times on my way out of his house. And eventually they did arrest Screw. But they didnt find anything. All they found was music.”
Bird arrived at Screw’s house later that same day to find the front door ajar, and remembers, “The next day, when Screw got home, he started looking for a place to open his shop, and he started talking about starting his Website.”
One of the most fascinating things I learned from Bird was that Screw never worked on Sundays.
“He might work four or five days without sleep during the week, but his rule was ‘No work on Sunday.’” Bird and Lil’ Randy traded stories for hours about the things they did on Sundays. They’d go to the movie theater at Gulfgate Mall, or to a roller skating rink, or to play laser tag. Lil’ Randy remembered a block party on MLK where he accidentally called Screw by name, and the rest of the party was spent at the trunk of Screw’s (then) black Impala SS selling tapes out of the trunk.
“And he was not trying to sell no tapes!,” Randy said. “All that happened because I called him by name in public.”
“Nobody knew what he looked like,” Bird told me. “He and I were shopping at a clothing store in South Park when a salesman started telling us he was a rapper. ‘Oh, yeah, I made a tape at Screw’s house last night,’ the guy said! And I asked him what Screw looked like then. The guy started telling us what Screw looked like and me and Screw are sitting right there laughing our butts off in front of the guy.”
Bird told me alot of priceless stories like this, stories of going to Frenchies, Franks, and Dots with DJ Screw. He remembered once accidentally calling him by name at a Foot Locker in Gulfgate Mall and spending the next hour with Screw autographing sneakers and shirts for fans. But I was most interested to talk to Bird about his video work.
His earliest video work that I’ve seen was on the Fat Pat documentary Ghetto Dreams, where SUC members, friends, and family gathered to pay homage to their friend, icon Fat Pat, who had recently passed away. The video is handheld, experimental, and underground, but it’s inspired and — for what it is — unaffected in its sincerity and enthusiasm. It consists largely of a group of male friends and a handheld microphone, all partying in someone’s home and remembering a friend.
There’s an especially poignant speech by DJ Screw where he talks about his goals of creating something positive for his friends to participate in. It’s an incredible movie which will certainly live forever on YouTube. Bird shot much of the video for the movie and acted as producer on the project.
“I carried my video camera everywhere back then. That movie is just a small portion of what I got on video.” I told him the rest of it belongs in a museum, and it does.
DJ Screw: The Untold Story is the movie for which Reggie “Bird” Oliver won his five “Best DVD” awards at film and video festivals around the country. The movie is an invaluable resource, and coupled with Soldierz United For Cash, it represents 99% of the footage and first-hand information available on DVD regarding the early days of the Screwed Up Click movement.
The DVD has brilliant interviews with all of the primary sources. Lil’ Keke speaks openly about the most fascinating aspects of the early days of life in the Screwhouse. Screw’s longtime girlfriend Nikki (Nik-Nak) steals the show with the most direct telling of Screw’s story I’ve heard so far, bar none. Seriously, every living principal player in the early days of the SUC movement was interviewed for The Untold Story, and key peripheral characters are well represented, as well. I’ve seen the movie well over a dozen times now and I’m still drawn in to passages and catch myself daydreaming about the spaces between each story.
The film really should be shown on VH1 and BET as often as any other documentary. It deftly hits all the notes that any of the others that are regularly broadcast try to hit. But when I say this to Bird, he, like all of the other SUC members I’ve met recently, replies humbly. More likely to quote his pastor or defer to Robert Earl Davis, he says, “I’m just doing it for this SUC movement. Trying to keep the movement alive for the younger generation, so that what we started with DJ Screw can go on forever.” END