Remember how lame Hip-Hop had become by the end of the nineties? By 1999, Rappers were slowly becoming R&B singers; incorporating singing choruses and making music for mainstream clubs and the billboard charts. The likes of Jay-Z, Dr. Dre, Eminem, Eve, Missy Elliot (who all released albums that year) would eventually turn this once great genre into a weird amalgam of Hip-Hop, Disco, and Bubblegum Pop. By the time the Millennium dawned artists like Nelly and Mystikal began ruining the genre further, but amidst all this trash came Screwball; a four-piece Hip-Hop group from Queensbridge, who with their début album Y2K brought us a real hardcore alternative.
Fans of underground Hip-Hop who’d followed the careers of PHD and Kamakazee throughout the ’90s, rejoiced when the group Screwball was formed. Blaq Poet from the duo PHD, KL and Kyron from Kamakazee, and Hostyle formed Screwball in the mid nineties, and they released some great 12” singles. “They Wanna Know Why” was released in 1996, and then in 1999 we had a slew of 12” singles including “Who Shot Rudy?”, “H-O-S-T-Y-L-E”, and “F.A.Y.B.A.N.”.
When the album Y2K finally dropped, it was a breath of fresh air in 2000; a year which featured some of the weakest Hip-Hop releases for a long time. Y2K just oozed raw lyrics with thumping hard beats, and featured some of the greatest Hip-Hop of that period. The album opened with a quick intro and the opening track “That Shit” produced by Mike Heron, which even today sounds as rugged as the day it was released. From there on in, the album never relents; there is no filler and no unneeded skits. All the 12” singles with the exception of “They Wanna Know Why” feature in this album, which in itself makes it a must for any fan of underground Hip-Hop.
The tracks themselves are produced by DJ Premier, Marley Marl, Pete Rock and a few others, and even though the producers are varied, the overall album is consistent and blends together perfectly. The title track “Y2K” produced by Godfather Don has an amazingly understated and almost mellow vibe, but as soon as you hear Screwball spit over it; it instantly becomes powerful. The line “…bomb the White House, run in the Pentagon and spray it out” is a prophetic line considering the things to come, and along with the track “Who Shot Rudy?” (where the group imagines the assassination of New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani) it shows the real sentiments of the people before everybody got brainwashed by 9/11 propaganda.
Pretty much every joint on this album is a classic, and the complete album can be listened to from beginning to end without skipping a single track. Songs such as “Take It There”, “The Operation”, “Urban Warfare”, and the fantastic “Attention A&R Department” (with its hilarious intro) are just great examples of raw Hip-Hop. The aforementioned solo track by member Hostyle entitled “H-O-S-T-Y-L-E” was an underrated single when released, and unfortunately that became a trend of Hip-Hop during that period; anything worth listening to wasn’t being listened to. Outside of the underground nobody had heard of Screwball, and Y2K wasn’t acknowledged as the classic album it really was. The fact that nobody rated this album in magazines and the fact that nobody played this album on radio, shows how mainstream Hip-Hop made all the wrong choices from that time onward. I guess everybody was busy buying into “Country Grammar” by Nelly and the destruction of the genre because of inferior Hip-Pop music is sadly still evident today.
Hostyle and Blaq Poet have since released solo albums in the noughties, but the group has since disbanded. KL sadly died in 2008 of an Asthma attack, and even though Blaq Poet has made some great music on his own; it was Screwball’s album Y2K that was their crowning achievement. If you haven’t heard it before, go cop it, you won’t be disappointed. This is how a Hip-Hop album is supposed to sound.
Hard As Nails.