The dream seemed dead.
John Hawkins, a man blessed with the voice of a preacher and the mind of a rap savant, known as Big H.A.W.K., was gone. The one major cog in the machine that was the Screwed Up Click after DJ Screw's tragic passing in 2000 had been taken from the Earth.
Two years after H.A.W.K., Big Moe followed him, a victim of his own gargantuan physical presence but also a noted addiction to codeine cough syrup. Back then, it seemed more than ever that the Click would perish into memory, emblazoned on T-shirts and through a litany of freestyles, grey tapes and recordings DJ Screw had left over the years. The SUC's individual members would no doubt rep the flag, but as a collective? A rarity, if anything.
Then, as the adage goes, a funny thing happened. The Click gained reverence as a cornerstone of Houston's musical landscape, one well-deserved and even educational to those who followed in their wake.
Late last month, the legacy stretched even further, not as a last gasp but as a reminder of what could have been. The Take Over, an album that was supposed to see the light of day around a decade ago in 2005, arrived in a digital avalanche on iTunes and Spotify and at local retailers.
Even tracking down someone from the SUC to discuss the project was a feat, but Mike-D of the Southside Playaz gave us plenty of insight into one of the SUC's final wishes. Sadly, Mike found himself sidelined by a three-year prison sentence that kept him out of one of Houston's more boisterous rap periods. "Just needed to be heard," E.S.G. told Lance Scott Walker in a 2012 feature on the rapper for the Houston Chronicle.
"Whoever killed H.A.W.K., that's what killed the drive," Mike told Rocks Off in an email after phone correspondence seemed to be as difficult to obtain as The Take Over itself. "You'll have to ask whoever killed John Hawkins about that."
Mike can vouch for this, as an original member of SUC who, after an early label stint with Lil Troy in 1991, had all but abandoned rap altogether -- until Screw, that is. To him, H.A.W.K.'s death in 2005 was the immediate moment that broke the SUC, leaving the collective weakened but not outright defeated. He doesn't refer to them as a group, more like a band of brothers with a reverence for their fallen leader.
"Even if you had beef with somebody, Screw was there to unite everybody," Mike says with a rattle of disbelief in his voice. "Wasn't no beef after you got around Screw. He said, 'We gon' screw the world,' and that's exactly what happened."
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The Take Over isn't a relic by any means; it's a proper and astute Screwed Up Click lost grey tape with features from nearly any man who ever went to Screw's house and went behind the gate to jump on the microphone. The Botany Boyz, Mr. 3-2, Z-Ro, Trae Tha Truth, Fat Pat, E.S.G., Lil Flip, Bun B, Big Moe, Lil Keke and even H.A.W.K. make appearances, bridged by the unified belief that not only the SUC needed this record but the fans did as well. Best of all, Screw himself gets the final say on the album-closing "SUC Soldiers" featuring arguably the Click's strongest twosome, Keke & Pat, along with H.A.W.K.
"It's like a verse in the Bible," Mike says with a chuckle. "You know how all the stories in the Bible took some time to build? That's what happened with this album."
His voice booms every time he even mentions the project, swaying with a tidal wave of joy.
"Even if I'm on the album, I'm a fan at heart," he says. "You know how bad I wanted to hear H.A.W.K. again? To hear Moe again? I felt renewed."
Mike holds a passion for Robert Davis (Screw's birth name) that few get to hear or see. To him, Screw is still their angel, the one who along with H.A.W.K. still steers the entire group together, in spirit at least.
"There's only three people in the world that can say they invented an entire genre. Can you name them?" Mike says, pausing for effect. "Chuck Berry invented rock and roll, DJ Kool Herc invented hip-hop and DJ Screw invented Screw. And you can't take that away from him."
The Take Over doesn't represent the end of the Click. Mike has his own solo mixtape in the works, and members such as Lil' Keke, Dat Boi T and more have projects on the way. E.S.G., one of the original forefathers of Houston rap slang, has his own LP in the works, slated to be released this year.
No one in Houston rap history has quite the star-crossed legacy of the Screwed Up Click. At various times it's been splintered, scarred, flourished, nurtured and properly given its just due. The identity of the band of brothers has been left to memory and a wing in the University of Houston library where their vast history -- and most important, that of their founder -- resides.
But on The Take Over, in the words of Mike D, the legacy will last forever.
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