Lusty, Blustery Rappers

Guess they won't be voting for Giuliani for U.S. Senate ...

The members of New York's Screwball — veteran rappers Poet, Solo, KL and Hostyle — all toiled around New York City's underground rap scene for the better part of the '90s. As the duo Kamakazee, KL and Solo made heads nervous back in 1994 with their mix-tape classic, "On the Real," while MC Poet retaliated against KRS-One — for rapping "The Bridge Is Over" — with his dis "Beat You Down" in 1987. Hostyle joined the crew in 1993 on the posse cut "Set It" and returned four years later (with Poet) on "Talkin' About the Cash," from the Beatnuts' Stone Crazy (1997).

Now these excitable young men with bad attitudes have made an impressive debut CD, Y2K: The Album. With infallible studio producers DJ Premier, Havoc (from Mobb Deep), Pete Rock and Mike Heron, Screwball roar out a blustery list of likes (women, guns and money) and dislikes (New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and wack MCs) over an explosive, ghetto-operatic mixture of drama, penetrating beats and lush orchestral patterns.

They offer such poignant stories as "Urban Warfare" (RealAudio excerpt), wherein Hostyle details an incident of police brutality, in which he lost his left eye. "Bullet wound to the head/ Far from dead," he cries on the trumpet-driven track. "Still glad I'm breathing/ Face swollen/ Still holdin'/ My degree/ To MC." The song segues into the dramatic violin strings and battle-cry choruses of their controversial hit, "Who Shot Rudy?" (RealAudio excerpt), an assassination whodunit involving the New York mayor.

On Y2K's crowning jewel, "You Love to Hear the Stories" (RealAudio excerpt), they rap a heartfelt homage to their Queensbridge neighborhood's rise in rap and honor their hometown heroes: the Juice Crew, Nas and Mobb Deep. Poet defends their fierce allegiances, stating, "I guess it's just in our nature/ We're on some Kamakazee shit/ Queensbridge has got to set it straight/ This is the place where stars are born/ So I'm stay reppin' for my hood till I'm dead and gone."

A few breaks (the brief "Biz," the riot-inspiring anthem "No Exception" and parts of "Somebody's Gotta Do It") between too many gun-toting songs helps the disc flow smoothly. Admittedly, I enjoy listening to the ill-favored "Zoning" for its neck-snapping beat, even though I'm opposed to the crew's nasty, misogynistic lyrics. All in all, this is an effective street-oriented album, with authentic hardcore rhymes and beats that are harder than the streets these guys claim to bust their gats on. Give Screwball seventy minutes and they'll give you the world.