Monday, October 10, 2011

Screwball Week, Day 5: Who Shot Rudy?

Screwball's second record, again on a pre-Hydra white label, this is their most famous song; and interestingly, it's a solo song. I mean, some of the other members might be adding their voices to the chorus, but the rap verses are all Kyron. He wrote the song while he was in jail, and the controversy it generated nearly bought him back. A DVD I reviewed last year, Legends Of the Hip Hop Cop, talk about how the police targeted him after the song came out. Of course, it was his own damn fault that he already had an open warrant; but according to the documentary, they specifically went out to arrest him and the police even went so far as to go into the label and take all of their songs.

Just in case you didn't already know, the "Rudy" of the song's title is the then mayor of New York City, Rudy Guilliani. He had a very controversial term, because he took a very strong-arm approach to cleaning up the city. He was largely successful, in that he made a lot of notoriously crime-ridden areas safe and tourist-friendly, and had most of the porn, etc removed from Times Square. But he accomplished this by using very brash and ethically questionable methods that seemed to persecute many of the city's poor. The nation got much more unified behind him after 9/11, but at the time of this record - 1999 - he was definitely one of those, you loved him or you hated him-type political figures.

And this song lets you know what Screwball's attitude is towards the man right out the gate with the opening vocal sample of Esther Rolle's "If You See a Devil Smash Him" from Don't Play Us Cheap. Then the strings kick in, and it's another perfect Screwball track by Mike Heron. Screwball worked with a bunch of producers - and some quite regularly, like Godfather Don, who was another great match. but Heron was so plugged into Screwball's sound that he should probably be considered Screwball's fifth member.

According to Blaq Poet, Tommy Boy's nervousness about this song was also responsible for delaying the album, Y2K... in fact, he says in his interview with Unkut, Guilliani had ties to Time Warner (who actually owns Tommy Boy), "Yeah, they held-up the album. Coulda dropped that shit and went platinum if they woulda dropped it at the right time, when we had all that free publicity off the 'Who Shot Rudy?' shit. We was all on the news, in the newspapers and all of that, but they don’t roll with it ’cause they were scared of Time-Warner, and Rudy Guilliani at the time had ties with Time-Warner, who were the distributor for Tommy Boy, so they slowed down with dropping that." On the other hand, the big buzz off this tiny, independent release, may've been instrumental in getting Tommy Boy to mess with Screwball in the first place.

According to the infamous article in The New York Daily News, Kyron came up with the song in a dream: "The taxi drivers were protesting, the frank vendors were protesting, and I just vibed off that... some things are for the better [in the city under Giuliani] but there's a lot of people who are being wrongly picked up and arrested." And there is a somewhat dreamlike quality in how the story is narrated - rather than coming off an angry incitement to violence or the bitter tale of a victim, it's told by a nearly impartial third party:

"Ay-yo, who shot Rudy in broad daylight for cash?
I woke up this morning and heard the newsflash:
They said it happened down at City Hall;
He had his wife with him. Five shots from the crowd made him fall.
It was chaos and pandemonium, blood covered up the podium,
Covered his face, and wouldn't show me him.
I had to see if it was true;
Secret service was mad nervous. So was the boys in blue."

The way he drifts from being at home, watching the events on news, to right there on the scene asking to see the mayor's face on the scene is certainly straight out of a dream. But the incident really just serves as a set-up for the meat of the song: the details of the shooting's aftermath and, of course the final statement that there's an awful lot of potential suspects due to the way the mayor ran the city:

"Sharp lawyer suit-breasted, double-breasted; reporters
Was mobbin' daughters and other mourners,
Pushin' cameras away, blockin' the sights.
Had the riot squad at Washington Heights.
Kennedy Airport stoppin' flights. Niggas was tight,
'Cause they couldn't sell a dime all night; but that was ahright.
The devil died and nobody cried,
They was real like some Jews celebratin' when the pharaoh got killed.
Glasses of Henny were spilled and we got twisted,
Smokin' blunts on the corner like we used to 'cause we missed it.
Knowin' he was gone for good, dead and stinkin', it got me thinkin',
Ay-yo, where the fuck Dinkins?
And Harlem World, Shaolin to Brownsville,
Did Sharpton and Farrakhan make the shit real?
Was it Khalel? You know he keep mad steel.
Did the Bloods or the Crips smoke Rudy on the hill?
Who shot Rudy?"

The B-side... Or rather, the A-side, if you look at the actual record label, is another Screwball hit that's sure to be familiar, "You Love To Hear the Stories." Here they pay tribute to the original ode to Queensbridge, "The Bridge" by MC Shan, and it even features him reprising one of his classic verses from that record. But this isn't the version most heads know from the Y2K album. This is the rare, original version, produced by the aforementioned Godfather Don. I don't know if I can say this is better than Pete Rock, because that's damn good. It's more lush and musical - basically just what you'd expect Pete Rock to bring to the table but this version is harder and a more natural fit into Screwball's catalog. Certainly, it's a good enough song, and the production styles are hot and different enough, that a serious Screwball fan will want to have both.

This is a little bit rarer than most Screwball singles, since Tommy Boy opted not to press a version of this as one of their own singles, which Screwball probably initially expected them to. So you've just got however many copies Screwball pressed up themselves promotionally. Still, none of Screwball's records are really that hard to find, and there's a couple of relatively inexpensive copies sitting on discogs as of this writing. Dirty, Clean and Instrumental versions are provided for both tracks.

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