Big Talker

From the Geto Boys to his new nationally syndicated radio show, Willie D has kept his mouth moving. But where his rap was once down and dirty, not it's--gasp!--respectable. Has the gangsta of love sold out, or just grown up?

Syndication will bring the quality of Reality Check up a notch. Willie's new producer will be radio veteran David "The Rooster" Webb. The show has also wrought another, somewhat more surprising, alliance for Willie. White former parole officer Marilyn Gambrell is his new research assistant. As the director of No More Victims, a service organization for addicts, crime victims, perpetrators and their families, Gambrell has already provided several of the show's guests and has been on the show herself. She sees Willie as a soldier in the fight "to heal this nation." He, in turn, wants to help No More Victims expand.

When Gambrell found a guest for the show who had murdered both of his own parents, she says that at first Willie had one response: "He killed both his parents? Kill him!" But when she explained the extreme abuse the man had suffered as a small child, Willie began to see the possibility of rehabilitation. "I told him about little babies who are abused," says Gambrell, "who have their rectums torn open and are left there bleeding with no one to help them. We're not just evil, sickass people. We are surviving from something."

On the show, Willie is doggedly inquisitive, asking Graglia if he's ever called someone a "nigger," asking gang leaders exactly how gangs spread to other cities, asking Julie if her children still respected her after her incarceration. Though Willie D now lives in West University and drives a Lexus, hangs out at Starbucks, eats at Bennigan's and listens to James Taylor, on Reality Check he always seems to be exploring some aspect of the environment he grew up in, trying to make sense of the ghetto.

"It's therapeutic to me. I'm not just helping other people; I'm helping myself. I have a lot of demons that lurks inside of me," he says. "And the show helps me to cast those demons away. Because of all the strife in my life, you know, that's part of the reason why I'm so emotional, I'm so compassionate, I'm so connected, I'm so appreciated by all the people out there that's going through the same type of things. Or who have been there and done that."

"He's real. He's honest. I trust him completely," adds Gambrell, noting that the two have become so close that they often just have to glance at each other to know they're thinking the same thing. "He wants to know more, find out more. He'll call and say, this is my topic, I'm on my way to the library, what do you think?"

But what does she think about the sexist lyrics, the songs about slashing women's throats and raping them?

"That is unacceptable," she admits. "But I think he knows that's unacceptable, now."

Maybe, maybe not. Willie D continues to maintain that his rap lyrics are valid. Though in 1995, shortly after the birth of his daughter, he told USA Today that he had some reservations about letting her hear what he had written, he bristles at the suggestion that he feels apologetic. "How can a person be wrong on a record? How can an artist be wrong? How can a person painting a picture be wrong?" he asks passionately.

Though Willie D insists that his rap career is not over, he admits that, to his surprise, his commitment to Reality Check has taken precedence. How that will affect the songs on his new CDs, a solo album and a Geto Boys release he says will be out next year, he isn't sure. But while he has always defended his lyrics as a reflection of reality, he has also insisted that being a gangsta rapper is about money -- "getting paid, straight up ... Hell, if I thought I could write a song about living on a farm, milking cows, riding horses, plowing, um, the field or whatever ... I'd write about that shit."

And what sells hasn't changed much. After all, even Salt of the comparatively upright Salt-n-Pepa, who is now a born-again Christian, raps about taking another woman's husband on their new CD. "McDonald's ain't changing the Big Mac," Willie D points out.

Lucrative or not, Willie D's music has always had a message, and those who have been listening closely, he insists, won't be surprised at his newfound radio voice. Newsweek once called rap "a radical voice with an often conservative agenda," and overtones of caution, as well as the self-reliance that lies at the heart of black conservatism, do come through in some of Willie D's lyrics. But those overtones are even clearer on Reality Check.

"I got many conservative views. I got many liberal views," Willie says. "On the conservative side, I feel like, hey, a man should be the person who brings home the bacon. And I also believe a man should be the head of his house. When I say the head of the house, I mean if somebody try to break in the house, who's going to run to the front door?" Willie also thinks that for women, a career should be a choice -- for a man, it's an obligation. "A woman's obligation is to be a man's helpmate. Help raise the kids, cook, clean," he explains. "When I say cook, clean, I don't mean that in a prehistoric, slave-type perspective. I mean if a man gets off work, comes home, and he's not too tired, help out. Help her out. If the load gets so heavy, the best thing I can say is shit, hire a maid. Hire a maid if you're financially able."

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