Let's say a music correspondent is doing an article on the Houston rap icons, the Geto Boys, to coincide with the release of their eighth album, Da Good, Da Bad, Da Ugly. This correspondent interviews two members of said group, William "Willie D" Dennis, 32, and Brad "Scarface" Jordan, 28, separately.
I begin each interview by telling the members how, even though this album has its share of raw, powerful moments, the album as a whole doesn't come up to par with their earlier, unadulterated work. It doesn't have that vigor, that vitriol, like their controversial, self-titled 1990 album or their groundbreaking 1991 follow-up We Can't be Stopped, which included their legendary ode to fear and loathing in the gangland world, "Mind Playing Tricks On Me."
Now, if you say this to Willie D, husband and father of a daughter, with all the confidence of a person who has followed their music, mind you, it is likely you will get the man's grudging but admirable regard. "A lot of muthafuckas wouldn't have been real about it, you know," Willie D, former host of his own nighttime radio talk show "Reality Check," says during a phone interview. "They would've asked the questions and deep down, they would've been just like, 'I don't like the album,' or whatever. Lemme say this -- you got that right as a fan. You see, most critics ain't no damn fan. Them muthafuckas just criticize. The only time they hear your shit is when they've been chosen to do the report. You understand what I'm sayin'? And some of 'em won't even listen to the whole album. Sometimes they won't even listen to the album. They'll just start the interview. And I appreciate that honesty, man. Those are the critics I appreciate more than anything -- the ones that know us. The ones that know our history. Most of our critics don't know nothing but 'Mind of a Lunatic' because it got a lot of negative publicity and 'Mind Playing Tricks' because it got a lot of airplay."
Now, if you say the same exact thing to Scarface, be careful. When the white-clad, married rapper is not accusing you of having "devilish intentions," being "dirty" and "corny" in your writings, and depriving his six children "of being fed," he launches into a tirade on everything from the clothes you're wearing to how you must have "white genes" because you want "to be so white, you can't stand it."
"The negative feedback from a writer is all a muthafuckin' consumer would need to not go in and show support for a Houston-based group that the whole fuckin' city could show support to," Scarface says at a listening party for the new album at Club Phoenix. "This is the reason why muthafuckas started bustin' rhymes down here in the first place. I'm talking about in the whole South ... down here, I'd say the Geto Boys is the reason why muthafuckas started fuckin' rapping."
What Scarface says isn't so far-fetched. Before the Geto Boys came along, nobody thought that hardcore rap could come from Texas. It was just ten years ago when Willie D and Scarface, along with diminutive rapper Bushwick Bill and their then mixmaster DJ Ready Red, laid down the seeds for Houston rap with the release of their first album, Making Trouble. During these ten years, the Boys themselves have been through many changes. Shortly after the release of the self-titled 1990 album, DJ Ready Red left the group. In 1992, Willie D took a sabbatical from the trio and was temporarily replaced by former Convicts member "Big Mike" Barnett on two albums, 1992's Best Uncut Dope and 1993's Till Death Do Us Part.
All three have broken out with individual albums, especially Scarface, whose five albums -- including this year's My Homies -- have been some of the most successful albums released by a local artist. In 1996, Willie D, Scarface and Bushwick Bill reunited for the heavily hyped album The Resurrection. But the blissful union would be for only that album, and Bushwick Bill's vulgar diatribes are nowhere to be found on the Boys' latest.
Bushwick Bill has also released an album, No Surrender, No Retreat. But the press Bill has been getting these days has more to do with hassles he has been getting into with his former employers. To recap: Bill, whose real name is Richard Stephen Shaw, filed suit in early September. According to the suit, several employees of Rap-A-Lot Records verbally and physically assaulted Bill on August 28 after leaving the Jus' Joking Comedy Cafe. The beating was seen by club security, which includes several sheriff's deputies, but they failed to intervene. Bill is suing the Rap-A-Lot, Noo Trybe and Virgin labels, the assailants, the Jus' Joking Comedy Cafe and their security for $20 million in damages.
"All I know -- all I can do is wish Bushwick well," says Scarface, who, along with Willie D, has not spoken with Bill about the incident. "I don't exactly know what happened because, you know, I'm not in on that. I don't know what the fuck went on, and it ain't my business." Then he begins to sing the chorus from Silkk the Shocker's "It Ain't My Fault" and swigs on his beer. "I can only wish Bill well, man. That's what I can do -- just wish him well."
Both Willie D and Scarface assert that Bushwick's loss doesn't affect the album one damn bit.
"No, he ain't ever helped out on no album," Willie D says. "No, it's always been Scarface and me, man. We've always did the creative stuff on the albums. It's always been Scarface and me that have wrote every Geto Boys song. Bushwick came in and picked up a tape and learned his part."
For a while there, it looked like Scarface wouldn't be coming back for another go-round. The rapper, who launched the Interface label a while back, once said that it would take "a lot of money" for him to get back in the studio and endure the whole Geto Boys thang. But he did.
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"The Geto Boys started Scarface, Willie D, Rap-A-Lot and all that shit," Scarface explains. "I had to go back to it. The Geto Boys put it together, man. But next year, man, I'm telling you, I'm through with it. I'm telling you, man. They gonna have to give me a lot of money."
In regard to the album's content, Willie D confirms that the structure the Boys follow is like making a movie. "And just like when a person does a movie, everything in the movie is not: 'Let's take a movie like GoodFellas that has a lot of killing. Or take a movie like Casino which has a lot of killing.' Every movie has different aspects to it. It's not just one thing. It's not just killing. It's always some other messages in it.
"We don't do an album and say, uh, let's kill a hundred people. You know what I mean? We always gonna give people something to think about. And that's our main thing we try to do on every single album -- to make people think. Think, think, think!"
While Willie D takes the noble route with his motives, Scarface wants everyone to know that, even if it all ends tomorrow, when he was a Geto Boy, he was having fun. "I want 'em to take with them the memory that the muthafuckas jammed, man," Scarface exclaims. "They just had a good time, man. They did eight records, man, and that was it. They had a blast, man.