Houston Music

The H-Town Countdown, No. 6: Scarface's Mr. Scarface Is Back

Roughly 84,000 rap albums have been released in Houston since 1989. We're counting down the 25 best of all time every Thursday. Got a problem with the list? Shove it. Just kidding. Friendship. Email it to [email protected].


Mr. Scarface Is Back (Virgin, 1995)

There's this phenomenon referred to as the Sylvia Plath Effect. Plath was a prominent writer around the middle of the last century. Her most famous work, a novel called The Bell Jar, is a factual account of a young writer who lands an ultimately unsatisfying job with a high-profile magazine, gets denied entry into a prominent writer's workshop, suffers a mental breakdown and eventually tries to commit suicide a few times.

An insufficient recap of a great book, for sure, but we're counting down the "25 Best Houston Rap Albums of All Time" list, not the "25 Best Books Our Wife Made Us Read That Incidentally Ended Up Being Somewhat Helpful While We Were Doing Something Completely Unrelated To The Actual Book" list. Although, if we did make that list, we suppose The Bell Jar would be at the top. At the bottom: Generation T: 108 Ways To Transform a T-Shirt, because what the fuck does anyone need to know how to make a handkerchief out of a child's T-shirt in nine steps for? Handkerchiefs are like a dollar at the corner store.

Anyhow, like the lead character in her book, Plath worked for a big-name magazine (Mademoiselle), was rejected from a well-to-do writer's program, suffered a mental breakdown and tried to commit suicide. She was hospitalized at a mental health facility and later released to pursue a happy, fulfilling, long life - the ending The Bell Jar implies. Except the real-life Plath killed herself several months after The Bell Jar was published by placing her head in a gas oven.

The Sylvia Plath Effect argues that, more than any other group of people, creative writers are more susceptible to mental illness. We suspect Mr. Scarface believes this wholeheartedly: To wit, Mr. Scarface Is Back.

Mr. Scarface Is Back is a gorgeous album, stuffed with macabre tales of urban putrefaction and pious observations of the relationships that that environment cultivates. It is purposely in-your-face and confessional, but in a far less pompous way than you'd assume an album described as "purposely in your face and confessional" could ever be.

The first lines from its first five songs, for example, tell us:

"I don't give a fuck about the chatter in the background!" ("Mr. Scarface")

"I like pussy" ("The Pimp")

"I'm a born killer" ("Born Killer")

"Niggas get stomped when they step with that bullshit!" ("Murder By Reason of Insanity")

"Get [your hands] up, mother fucker, this is it!" ("Your Ass Got Took")

This is hardly inventive content for the early '90s, which is why no one has ever argued that Face is anachronistic. But he utilizes his voice, essentially a baritone sledgehammer, to deliver even his most mundane lines - of which there are few, mind you - magnanimously. And that textured aesthetic extends throughout the duration of Mr. Scarface, manifesting, more often than not, in the types of elaborate and developed stories that would ultimately vehicle his importance.

Even "The Pimp," whose premise was already tired in '91, feels magisterial. And that hints at the album's grandest accomplishment: All of the tracks lay together to support a larger theme: that Scarface, who most assuredly recognizes his own brilliance, is absolutely terrified by the idea of losing his own grip on reality.

Whether it be through obvious offerings like "Diary of a Madman" or more subtle efforts like "Money and the Power," all of the songs here are dotted with Face's paranoia. Even sex spirals into shootouts and classes in thanatology and self-evaluations.

The fact that a song that talks about how he gets head after anal sex can be on the same album as the glorious "A Minute To Pray and A Second To Die," a track that tallies the effect of a young man's death from several different perspectives, without impeding the general feeling of dystopia is impressive enough.

That they both somehow serve the same purpose is why Scarface is regarded as one of the greatest, most ingenious rappers of all time.


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.

KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Shea Serrano