The H-Town Countdown, No. 1: The Geto Boys' We Can't Be Stopped
Roughly 84,000 rap albums have been released in Houston since 1989. We're counting down the 25 best of all time every Thursday - or we were. Got a problem with the list? Shove it. Just kidding. Friendship. Email it to firstname.lastname@example.org. Note: With all due respect to Prince Johnny C, Raheem, K-9, Sire Jukebox and Big Mike, we're going to recognize the line-up of the Geto Boys to be 'Face, Willie D and Bushwick, with DJ Ready Red moseying around in the background. The Geto Boys We Can't Be Stopped (Rap-A-Lot/Asylum, 1991)
This being the greatest, most consequential Houston rap album of all time, the temptation was to write a 6,000-word treatise about it (and them). Instead, we've settled on these nine bullets:
- Grip It! On That Other Level, the first GB album to feature 'Face, Willie and Bushwick, did well to gain a lot of notoriety, but this album ushered Rap-A-Lot into the status of regional powerhouse more than any other. In hindsight, it feels a lot like Grip It! was a test run. "Mind of a Lunatic" was "Mind Playing Tricks On Me"; "Let A Ho Be A Ho" was "I Ain't A Gentleman"; "Gangsta Of Love" was "Quickie," etc.
- The album starts with a diss song aimed at the music industry, specifically mentioning the label that refused to release their album after it was recorded, and ends with a track about how they should receive more accolades. This sort of long form thinking is something that all three of the MCs embraced. Which ties into...
- I'm not sure you could name three hip-hop groups that had a more interesting and fulfilling dynamic. They were different, to a point - 'Face was the street-certified one, Willie was the In Your Face one and Bushwick was the wild card - but they all relied heavily on the same themes of paranoia and destruction to drive their interpretive lyrics. That's why it always felt like they were moving as one, like pilot fish following each other around. You can't overstate how important this is.
- Name one Houston rap album that made better, more creative use of samples than this one. You can't. You know why? Because it doesn't exist.
- There are several parts on the album where one of the guys tells the future. The two best: In "Fuck A War" Bushwick argues against fighting in the war by rapping, "I ain't getting' my leg shot off/ While [George] Bush [Sr.] old ass on TV playin' golf." This was the exact sentiment people expressed about George Bush Jr. ten years later, down to that infamous clip of him talking about the war while he's on TV playing golf. In "Mind Playing Tricks On Me," there's a part where Willie is trying to figure out who is following him. He suspects it might be someone he scammed, saying, "Or is it the one I beat for $5,000 dollars, thought he had [cocaine] but it was Gold Medal Flour." This is pretty much exactly what he's about to go to prison for now.
- Willie D claimed that they recorded WCBS in somewhere between four and six weeks. Bushwick said it took no longer than two. Think on that. Two to six weeks? We're talking about one of the greatest rap albums of all time. And it's not like it was even their debut and they had been writing it for eight years or whatever. This was their THIRD ALBUM (Geto Boys was actually the third album they released, but there were ten rehashed tracks on it, so we'll just pretend like it didn't happen). And more than that, IT FOLLOWED Grip It! On That Other Level, AN ALBUM THAT THE SOURCE PICKED AS ONE OF THE TOP 100 RAP ALBUMS EVER. Yeah, that's a lot of caps-locked typing, but shit, man, it's necessary. Dre's been recording Detox for 97 years.
- The album cover is one of the most recognizable in all of hip-hop history. We'll assume you're aware that the picture was taken shortly after Bushwick shot himself in the face during a dispute with his then-girlfriend (chronicled in its entirety on "Ever So Clear," a standout track from Bill's Little Big Man, which nabbed the number 16 spot on The Countdown). What's less well known is that Bill has gone on record saying that he regretted taking the picture and openly questioned the motives behind the entire situation. According to Bill, 'Face felt the same way at the time too, which is why he has that "Are we really fucking doing this right now?" look on his face in the shot. There's a great summation of the behind-the-scenes happenings of this picture from Bill in Brian Coleman's Check The Technique. Buy the book. Or at least go to the bookstore, read the quote and then leave the book out of place. Does anyone ever put a book back where they got it?
- Apparently, the idea for "Chuckie," Bushwick's exploration into his own depravity, came after him and Ganksta NIP, the founder of the rap's horrorcore genre, sat down and watched the movie Child's Play together. I can't think of one situation more terrifying than sitting in a room with Ganksta NIP and 1991 Bushwick watching horror movies. Rumor has it that Satan was invited too, but no-showed because he just wasn't comfortable with that situation.
- "Mind Playing Tricks On Me." Holy Christ, this is one of the most important songs in all of music. It transcended boundaries/genres/stereotypes. It was perfectly written and executed and endlessly replayable. 'Face, Willie and Bushwick's verse were all absolutely soaked in desolate paranoia, expository almost to an unimaginable point. They were all unflinching and sincere at the same time; getting one artist to do that is near impossible, getting three to do at the exact same time is unthinkable.
We Can't Be Stopped features the greatest Houston rap song of all time, the greatest use of a collection of samples of all time, the greatest Houston rapper of all time and solidified the greatest Southern rap label of all time. It is, without restraint, hesitation or question, the greatest Houston rap album of all time.
References 1 (psych). Mike Jones, Who Is Mike Jones? 2. UGK, Ridin' Dirty 3. Scarface, The Diary 4. UGK, Too Hard to Swallow 5. Lil' Keke, Don't Mess Wit Texas 6. Scarface, Mr. Scarface Is Back 7. Fat Pat, Ghetto Dreams 8. Devin the Dude, Just Tryin' Ta Live 9. E.S.G., Ocean of Funk 10: OG Style, We Know How To Play 'Em 11. Z-Ro, Let The Truth Be Told 12. Street Military, Don't Give a Damn 13. DJ Screw, 3 N' Tha Mornin' Pt. 2 (Blue) 14. Trae, Restless 15: Chamillionaire, Mixtape Messiah 16: Bushwick Bill, Little Big Man 17: SPM, Never Change 18: Swishahouse, The Day Hell Broke Loose 19: Chamillionaire and Paul Wall, Get Ya Mind Correct 20: Z-Ro, The Life of Joseph W. McVey 21: Ganksta NIP, South Park Psycho 22: Big Hawk, H.A.W.K. 23: K-Rino, Time Traveler 24: Pimp C, Pimpalation 25: Big Moe, City of Syrup Read the rules of The Countdown here.
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