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The Geto Boys Reunite

Prince asked Willie D to join, and although the rapper had his misgivings — "I knew all the shit that goes down when you join a group" — he relented out of appreciation for the opportunity Prince had given him. ("I wanted to be a team player.") Prince had another rapper in mind for the group as well — Brad Jordan, a softspoken Acres Homes native who rhymed under the name Mr. Scarface. Willie and Scarface went from strangers to bandmates over the course of one ­evening.

"Me and Scarface didn't even know each other," he says. "The day we went into the studio to make the album [the record that eventually became both Grip It! and Geto Boys], that's the day we met."

The original idea was for the Geto Boys to continue as Jukebox, Willie, Scarface and Ready Red still on turntable duty, but the first night the reconfigured group began recording, Slim decided to leave. Willie noticed Bushwick Bill — the stage name of three-foot-eight Jamaican native Richard Shaw, who had been the previous Ghetto Boys' onstage hypeman and dancer — hanging out in the studio, rapping along to Public Enemy, and, he says, "a light went off."

One of the greatest, if not the greatest, album covers in Houston music history: Willie D (left) and Scarface wheel Bushwick Bill around Ben Taub Hospital after Bushwick was shot by his girlfriend.
One of the greatest, if not the greatest, album covers in Houston music history: Willie D (left) and Scarface wheel Bushwick Bill around Ben Taub Hospital after Bushwick was shot by his girlfriend.

"[I said] 'Let's put Bushwick in the group and let him rap Jukebox's parts,'" Willie recalls. "Everybody's looking and laughing or whatever, and I was like, 'See this shit, man — no offense or whatever, but I think people will really trip out on a midget rapping, especially if he's talking about kicking somebody's ass.'

"But it wouldn't be a joke — we were going to make them take him seriously," he continues. "We were going to make people look at him and say, 'That dude there is the real deal.' So the same night, I took Bill downstairs to the kitchen and asked him some personal questions about himself and came up with 'Size Ain't Shit.'"

The revamped Geto Boys clicked instantly, Willie remembers, and the album — which, besides "Size Ain't Shit," also includes future classics "Mind of a Lunatic" and "Trigga Happy Nigga" — came together in short order. Their grittier, profanity-strewn style was a hit even before Geffen's fateful decision not to distribute the album, which brought the Geto Boys national headlines and landed them front and center in the ongoing censorship debate stirred up by Tipper Gore's media-watchdog group PMRC. Naturally, once Rubin's Def American label picked up the album, the controversy fueled record sales even more.

Although critics and fans alike tended to focus on the runaway sex and violence in the Geto Boys' songs, what truly set them apart was the psychological depth underlying even their most cartoonish moments. Whereas most of their contemporaries never bothered to explain their motives beyond simple thrill-seeking, songs like "Mind of a Lunatic" and the immortal "Mind Playing Tricks on Me" went a step further, acknowledging the paranoia, despair and outright fear lying just beneath all that swaggering gangsta bravado.

"We always keyed in on struggle," Willie says. "The struggle is how the people on top thrive on benefiting from the people on bottom, and keeping the people on bottom down. We always wanted to be a voice for the disenfranchised."

Not coincidentally, whereas most of their onetime peers have been all but forgotten by history — everyone save Dr. Dre and Tupac Shakur, pretty much — the Geto Boys' music is as potent now as when it was fresh out of the studio. Likewise, even though they've long since gone their separate ways, Willie acknowledges that the same chemistry that was there the first night he, Scarface and Bushwick became the Geto Boys makes it virtually impossible to close the book on the group entirely.

"The first few times [we got back together] were kinda scary, because I didn't know what to expect because of the long layoff," he says. "But man, every fuckin' time we link up, it's magic. We could not have performed together for five years, but when we hit the stage, bam! You'd never know."

chris.gray@houstonpress.com

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