Sunday, October 9, 2011

Screwball Week, Day 4: The Origin Story

So, yesterday we looked at the the roots of Screwball's origins, the earliest releases by any of its members, specifically Poet. But there's an eight year gap between those records and the debut of Screwball itself. What happened during all that time? After all, the exact make-up of Screwball can be a bit confusing for more casual fan... I remember back in the days, myself, wondering, "wait, are KL and Kyron the same guy, or is that Solo? Which one's Kamakaze, and didn't someone leave the group?" And I'd feel pretty remiss in my Screwball Week duties if I still left anybody with an unclear idea of just who they are or how the group came about. I was going to just jump into a look at one of their 12" singles today; but instead I figure I'd better do something a little more explicitly biographical first.

So, after those singles with Noel Rockwell, Poet hooked up with a new DJ and producer, Hot Day, and formed PHD (Poet and Hot Day). Hot Day was already down with Marley Marl and The Super Kids, putting out records on Tuff City; so when PHD formed, that was their natural home. Their big album was Without Warning in 1991, but they actually kept putting out records on Tuff City all the way up until 1996.

It's some of these later PHD records that really tie it all together... 1995's "Set It Off Part 3" is a posse cut featuring Havoc (yes, of Mobb Deep - pretty much right before "Shook Ones" blew up), Hostyle and Legacy of Kamikaze[sic]. This was the debut of Hostyle, who would go to be a core member of Screwball. And Legacy also became a core member after changing his name to what he's better known as now, KL. In 1996, PHD put out their final single, which featured another collaboration with both Hostyle and Legacy, "The Grand P.O." It's also worth noting that, by this time in their career, Marley Marl had taken production duties over on PHD's records. And its these singles that transitioned directly to the debut single of Screwball later that year.

But what about the fourth member? Okay, we have to back up a bit. You notice Legacy was credited as being "of Kamikaze." So who were Kamakaze? They were a two man team that Marley was working with, consisting of KL and Solo. Kamakaze was going to come out with an album called Head On on Warner Brothers, along with other acts Marley was working with at the time. But this is right at the time all of that ended - Warner Bros shut down Cold Chillin' in '96, and Marley's acts who were going to come out on through different divisions of Warner, including Sah-B, World Renown and De'1, all got cancelled, including Head On. A few indie 12"s leaked, but basically the group Kamakaze were killed before they came out. And so Solo changed his name to Kyron (his real first name) and became the fourth and final official member of Screwball.

There's more reason why people and rap magazines often confuse Kamakaze with a specific single member of Screwball - because they're not wrong. In the 2000's, KL put out two singles - one through Hydra and then a later one on Traffic - both under the name Kamakaze, just using it as a personal alias. So if you bought "It's All Good," it tells you right on the cover that Kamakaze is one guy: KL of Screwball. So, sometimes Kamakaze means the group, and sometimes it just means KL. ::shrug::

Anyway, it's hard not to notice the similarity of their story with The Wu-Tang Clan's and Gravediggaz': dope disenfranchised artists who'd all had it rough coming up in the music business in the past coming together to form a stronger super group. In that sense (and possibly in others), Screwball is the Queensbridge Wu.

So Screwball took the name of a mutual friend of theirs who'd tragically passed on well before his time (R.I.P.), and and put their debut out themselves, "Screwed Up" on Screwball Records. Yeah, it was in affiliation with Hydra and their parent label, Sneak-Tip Records; but Screwball Records was its own thing which put out a couple other Screwball singles down the line... note the catalog number: SC-001.

After generating some serious buzz with Hydra Records, they signed to Tommy Boy's Black Label, where they released their debut album, Y2K and a bunch of hot singles. When The Black Label shut down shortly thereafter, they didn't skip a beat and went back to Hydra, releasing a ton of material, both collectively and individually with solo projects. It was a flurry of great music until 2004, when they all stopped rather suddenly. Only Poet kept putting out solo material.

Tragically, in 2008, KL passed away due to long-term health issues with asthma. R.I.P. A great MC from one of hip-hop's rawest underground crews; it's a great loss for us all.

So that's the key Screwball line-up. Those four men, pictured above, are the MCs who made up Screwball from their first record to their most recent in 2004. Buuuuut... That's not the very end of the story.

In 2008, an mp3-only album called Screwball Classics* was released. It was a largely just a collection of their past hits, but it also featured new music from a Screwball with an updated line-up. Hostyle is disappointingly out, leaving original members Blaq Poet and Kyron plus new members Scape Scrilla, Ty Nitty of The Infamous Mob (brother of the original man known as Screwball), and Versatile a.k.a. VS (she was that female MC on the NYG'z album). Since then, mp3s and Youtube videos have been popping up here and there, promising a new Screwball album. So we'll see what the future holds, but the Screwball MCs have a long legacy of coming back every time heads counted them out.

*Yes, since day 1 it's been referred to as a CD... and every place from Unkut to Screwball's own myspace page refers to a CD, but I do not believe such a thing exists. I have never been able to track one down, and believe me, I have looked. Even CDBaby, who have CD in their frikkin' name, only carry the mp3s. I mean, maybe if you met Blaq Poet after a show, he would burn you a CD of it... But I'm pretty convinced Screwball Classics was never actually released in any physical format.

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