(Today's Reader Review finds Michael picking up my slack regarding the back catalog of Queens crew Screwball. I still believe Y2K: The Album is underrated, in that nobody ever bought it but everyone claims to enjoy it, so it makes sense that the quartet would pop up at least one more time on HHID. Leave some comments for Michael's review of Screwball's second project Loyalty below.)
Screwball’s Y2K: The Album is one of my favorite hip-hop albums ever released. Not because it’s a mind-blowing artistic achievement or anything; it just happens to sound really good to me (well, half of it, anyway). Remembered fondly by politicians for hits such as “Who Shot Rudy?” and “F.A.Y.B.A.N.”, Y2K: The Album was a triumph for Queensbridge hip hop, as it built upon the successes of other QB natives like Nas and Mobb Deep, while still sounding unique enough to create its own niche in the hip-hop industry.
A year later, the four-man group consisting of Blaq Poet, Hostyle, Kyron, and KL (R.I.P.) decided to release a second album for the hungry masses, which they titled Loyalty. Unfortunately, that title turned out to be (possibly intentionally) ironic, as things for the group got a bit out of hand. Hostyle, the group’s second-most prolific member (behind Blaq Poet), wasn’t seeing eye-to-eye with the rest of the group. Eager to create an identity for himself, one independent from a group perspective, and wanting to build a successful solo career, he isolated himself from the rest of the members to focus on his own priorities, forcing the rest of the group to find creative solutions. Because of Hostyle’s eventual absence, Poet’s rise to quasi-stardom, and KL’s untimely passing, Loyalty served as the last true release for the Queensbridge quartet.
So, how does this album fare when compared to the monster that was Y2K: The Album? Let us not waste any more time!
1. THE INTRO
While I rather liked the music hiding beneath the nonsense cheers and boasts (“Two albums n---a, what!”), this was nothing more than a useless rap album intro. I really wished they made an actual song with this beat. Ugh.
2. LIKE A GANGSTA (FEAT. MATRIX BARS)
I think my main problem with Loyalty is that so many of the songs sound incredibly generic. This happens to be one of those. While I don’t expect anything from Screwball other than Queensbridge-repping and rugged thug rhymes, I do expect them to do it in their own unique way. This felt like a very by-the-numbers rap song. Yes, the beat was somewhat amusing, but other than that, very forgettable.
3. WHERE YOU AT (FEAT. NATURE)
Hey, now this sounds good!
Not-Cormega Nature, who
I have never given two shits about before I heard this song for the
first time, actually sounds pretty entertaining and genuinely jazzed
about working with his QB brethren. Godfather Don creates a smooth
and accessible beat, one which still manages to retain that trademark
Queens rawness. Each emcee flows over the track effortlessly, and
Hostyle sounds great on the hook: I actually think he makes otherwise
boring hooks sound fantastic (see: “Born Again” by Infamous
4. LIVE AND LET DIE
That same magic, however, is sadly absent from this effort. I’m so indifferent about this track that it drives me absolutely crazy. The beat, which is an admirable effort by Ayatollah, sounds too much like something created by some random dude trying desperately to replicate Mike Heron, the producer behind much of Y2K: The Album. And yes, I know that I just praised Hostyle’s hook mastery, but he simply can’t make it work on here. It’s just irritating, really.
5. TORTURE (FEAT. M.O.P.)
Dream collaboration? Yes. In reality however, this song is very underwhelming. I kept expecting the instrumental to transform into something much more grandiose and bombastic, but it ended up being nothing more than a generic sounding loop. I guess I shouldn’t have expected much from a producer named Stone. (Seriously? Stone?) Billy Danze does manage to sound really fucking pumped, and as a result, his verse was the only one I liked. I suppose the boring beat made the rest of the guys sound boring as the track dragged on. I tend to think of this song as a giant cock-tease, kind of like that girl from high school that never put out even though you were always there for her and...wait, what was I talking about again?
6. CHECK THE RESUME (INTERLUDE)
Good lord, stop wasting good samples on bullshit interludes and skits. Just stop! Make an actual song! Please!
7. WHEN THE SUN GOES DOWN
Ayatollah provides a song that is so thumpitty-thump in nature that it makes my stomach hurt. I usually like thumpitty-thumping beats, but something about this one turned me the fuck off. Maybe it was the use of a vocal sample that technically fits, but didn’t sound good in the first place. I actually really liked this song upon my first listen, but that was before the nausea kicked in. How very disappointing.
8. TURN IT UP
Good Lord. Yet another beat that sounds interesting at first, but quickly mutates into irritating piffle. There is nothing more to say about this song, except probably meh.
9. I SPIT (FEAT. BLACK ATTACK)
Guest rapper Black Attack sucks. But don't take my word for it: one spin of this track and you'll see that he comes across as someone who thinks he’s much better than he will ever be, and his verse managed to piss me off due to its sheer mediocrity. What is even more disquieting, though, is the lackadaisical bullshit that Hostyle tried to pass off as a verse. Oh yeah, and this whole “generic-sounding beats” thing is a serious problem for Loyalty. For God’s Sake, I want to listen to Y2K: The Album again! Why can't I be doing that instead?
10. LOYALTY (FEAT. CORMEGA)
After the five-song drought that made me want to club baby seals, we are blessed with this absolute gem of a track. Cormega, who I regard as the best rapper that no one really knows about, is undoubtedly the standout performer: he even addresses his old spot in the supergroup The Firm, which I thought was hilarious, since Nature (his replacement in the group) appears on this same fucking album. KL then goes to war against Hostyle, who apparently tried to “sabotage the enterprise” (how dare he?). All in all, this was really good, even though I found myself enjoying Cormega’s verse far more than anybody else’s: part of me wishes that Mega had taken this beat and done something with it all by himself. Side note: this beat was originally intended for Y2K: The Album's “You Love to Hear the Stories”, but was scrapped in favor of the Pete Rock-produced version that actially made that project. I’m glad it found its way onto this title track, as it seems to fit the overall theme like a glove.
11. REAL N----Z
As opposed to those fake n----z, I suppose. Anyway, the late 1990’s computerized blippy sound that punctuates every single bar on this song sounds absolutely terrible. I actually quite liked the piano sample that broods alongside the standard braggadocio lyrics from Kyron, though. Still, I don’t understand why the lyrical quality of this album is ten miles behind that of Y2K: The Album. You would think that the members of Screwball would try to elevate their game on the mic, but alas, this is not the case. As such, this turned out to be yet another disappointing song which wriggled and suffocated beneath its own potential.
12. GORILLAS (FEAT. NOREAGA AND KOOL G. RAP)
This song is a bit of an oddity. I really liked the beat, and although the lyrics are a tad bit on the generic side, each emcee acquits themselves nicely. I’ve never been much of a fan of Kool G. Rap, but I do acknowledge his prowess behind the mic, and he's pretty good on here. Noreaga sounds as good as he possibly can (which, please note, is quite mediocre), and yet, overall, this song was technically a triumph. So why don’t I like it? That’s a question I ask myself quite frequently with this album. A lot of the songs on this CD are so extraordinarily unremarkable that I can’t help but hate them, not for being terrible but for squandering their potential.
13. MY N----S
Hmm, track eleven spelled “n----s” with a “z”, but it was spelled with an “s” on here. Oh Screwball, you’re so silly! The chorus on here borders on retardation and just sounds so...ugh. This is the kind of song I would criticize if I was an old white Republican living in my Florida retirement home. So with that being said, this song is boring and kind of sucks. And no, Blaq Poet, I don’t want to smell you.
14. TOO HIGH, TOO HIGH (FEAT. TRAGEDY KHADAFI)
Tragedy’s claim that rappers are “Similac’n” off his “shit” was hilarious, but other than that, this was pretty dull. The energy level of the track is certainly appreciated, but again, there’s nothing outstanding about this at all. It suffers from the same wannabe QB production style that “Live and Let Die” was plagued with. Yes, I'm aware that Mike Heron produced this. It just seemed like he tried too hard to recreate the QB authenticity, which is something that should come naturally.
15. STREET LIFE
The Queensbridge harpsichord insanity on this song is just perfect, however. I love everything about this song: this is exactly what I was expecting when I bought Loyalty, with its incredibly grim and bleak street tales complemented by flawless production. Unfortunately, this song was a significant factor in the feud between Hostyle and the rest of the group. “H-O-S-T-Y-L-E,” the lead single for Y2K: The Album, was released much to the chagrin of Poet, KL, and Kyron. They saw Hostyle’s willingness to parade himself in an accessible and radio-friendly (sort of but not really) manner as a betrayal. Hostyle’s eagerness to create his own identity and fondness for self-preservation eventually led to the end of his ties with Screwball, and this song (to me anyway) is the final farewell to the soured relationship.
16. THE BOOTH
Ugh. We know what a skit is…
17. THE BIO
There’s nothing to say about this song that hasn’t been written about the rest of the weak songs on this album. Pass.
18. GOTTA BELIEVE (FEAT. COMPLEXTION)
Are you fucking kidding me? No. No. No! One of the most intriguing beats of the album is wasted on this R&B shitfest. Just...bleh. Skip.
19. SCREWED UP
It was clever to end this album with a touch of nostalgia, seeing as most of Loyalty was a humongous disappointment. This was the first twelve-inch single released by the group all the way back in 1996. The Beatnuts were kind enough to provide the great instrumental, and it still sounds really fantastic and not at all out of place on this album. It is sad that this track is better than most of the total crap found on the rest of the CD, but such is life, I guess. Oh, the album’s over? Yay?
FINAL THOUGHTS: Loyalty is not a good album. In fact, I really fucking hated it. The very long tracklist of songs, which by itself isn't always a bad thing, include concepts and ideas so disgustingly generic and formulaic that they make my head want to explode. Screwball manages a handful of entertaining tracks, and “Street Life” is the best song Hostyle will ever record, but it pains me to say that this album should have never existed in the first place. The fact that this was Screwball’s last album makes that last statement even more heart-wrenching, as I really loved Y2K: The Album.
BUY OR BURN? Buy ten copies of Y2K: The Album, but do not bother with this travesty of an album. Burn the tracks below and be on with ya’.
BEST TRACKS: “Street Life”; “Loyalty”; “Where You At?" ; “Screwed Up”
(Questions? Comments? Concerns? Leave them below.)