Reading Between the Lines of Scarface's 'Diary of a Madman'
L-R: Scarface with Dr. Dre and Doug E. Fresh
Photos courtesy of HarperCollins
Diary of a Madman
Brad “Scarface” Jordan w/ Benjamin Meadows-Ingram
Dey St./HarperCollins, 223 pp., $25.99
The strength of Brad Jordan as a rapper has always been his need to simply exude his will and presence on a track in order for it to work. He’s the mastermind behind the greatest Houston rap song ever, the Geto Boys’ “Mind Playin’ Tricks On Me,” a right-hand to one of the more solemn Tupac records recorded in his last days, “Smile” and owner of two, maybe even three outright classic rap albums from 1994 to 2002.
The strength of Brad Jordan as a man, at least in his own eyes and according to his new autobiography Diary of a Madman, is how much of a team player he was. How he sacrificed his own personal gain and worth in many a situation for the betterment of a group, namely James Prince and Rap-A-Lot Records. His voice is the only constant from the Geto Boys on their records after its reconfiguration in the late 1980s. The road to becoming a constant, nimble yet brooding figure who became the rightful champion of Houston rap and the “godfather of Southern rap,” one that came with its share of pitfalls.
In numerous interviews, Jordan reflects on his early childhood and constantly seeking attention via suicide attempts. His narration, always cold and annotated through the words of longtime hip-hop scribe Benjamin Meadows-Ingram, catches him in the height of his paranoia, from fighting inside of Houston’s International Hospital and eventually scheming his way out to giving up selling drugs and giving up school because he couldn’t play football at Willowridge. Ingram, under the tutelage of such profile kingpins as Elliott Wilson and Noah Callahan-Bever, helps present all of these stories as if he and Jordan are riding shotgun with one another in an old-school Lincoln — the Blues Brothers of pain, suffering and success.
The book, a scant 223 pages, reads almost like a companion piece to growing up in Houston in the 1980s, right as crack was beginning to grip the city and murders grew from the Fifth to the Third Ward and beyond. Jordan constantly paints with a brush of familiarity, of how his family always played a role in his life, even if he went searching for himself at 14 years old. He’d constantly get into fights with his stepfather; hell anyone, because it was in his blood. The chubby boy admitted that rock was his first love but then Run-D.M.C. told him that making music with a microphone and a DJ would lead to greater opportunity.
Every little Scarface anecdote packed within Diary of a Madman comes in near-chronological order. He may step aside to make comments on certain political situations such as child support, the government and more but everything always returns home eventually. There’s a tale about Tupac Shakur, weeks before his death in Las Vegas, where Jordan turns comedian, understanding the duality of Shakur’s almost insane work schedule and his actions outside of the booth. Rolling to hotels in Hummers with bullhorns, fighting fans and messing up the money, Jordan pays proper respect to many of his friends that have died. Each name and scene is punctuated with the signifiers, “it fucked me up” or “it broke my heart”.
Diary of a Madman reads like a Scarface album that has been recorded before, only in Sony 4K, not CD or to be shown on VHS. Whether shootouts in Louisiana, remembering those who inspired him, or the albums he personally cherishes and dismisses, it all comes out within the span of Jordan’s 44 years on Earth. Outside of creating with Mike Dean, Jordan’s Uncle Eddie & N.O. Joe, configuring a sound that would no doubt become one of the early identifiers for Houston’s musical identity, the main component within the book is James Prince, Rap-A-Lot CEO and a man Jordan constantly refers to as a “genius”.
The book paints their relationship like a partnership, one that constantly finds the two defending one another. It was Prince who incurred the wrath of David Geffen after Geffen's label refused to release the self-titled Geto Boys album. Prince defended Jordan after two teenagers in separate incidents shot and killed people, blaming them on Scarface. They were in tandem waving middle fingers at the DEA and Jack Schumacher, who became the butt of many of a punchline on 2000’s The Last of a Dying Breed, ultimately gaining victory. But for every win, whether it be Prince steering what the group should rap about, certain album-cover looks, or something else, the partnership soured once Jordan realized he was worth more than what he was given.
Jordan lets Diary be his word and testament, right down to the Lil Troy allegations of snitching that he flame roasted on 2008’s “High Powered.” It’s a revealing look into the mind of a genius, a troubled one who highlights his wants as a musician, his creative process and the pitfalls he’s walked through with black shades, a bowler hat and black suit. Mr. Scarface existed long before he ever saw the movie, and he’ll continue to do so long after another chapter closes.