We Can't Be Stopped: Best Houston Album Ever Turns 20 Years Old
Today is the 20th anniversary of the release of the Geto Boys' We Can't Be Stopped. It is the most important Houston album of all time. Everyone understands this reflexively, even if they don't understand why they understand that.
It has likely been written about more than any other piece of Houston music ever. Its release had a seemingly endless amount of effects, not the least of which include being the first album to seriously nudge a young J. Prince towards moguldom and establishing the South, which prior to that had mostly been considered a rap wasteland, as a veritable nuclear force. As such, it's kind of hard to put together something honoring it that isn't just a repackaging of things that most people know.
So we picked and poked around a bit, sending text messages and tweets and phone calls trying to unearth a few anecdotes that nobody's really ever heard yet. Found three. You know what it is.
3. The Impossible Chemistry
It's fairly common knowledge that the Geto Boys weren't great, great friends. They didn't come together organically like, say, A Tribe Called Quest or even Public Enemy; they were arranged and puppeted by J. Prince. They didn't have that natural ease that great groups have, which, counterintuitive as it sounds, is a big part of the reason that they were great. It was like when Kobe and Shaq were winning all of those championships. During their time together, they never explicitly said they hated one another, and maybe they didn't, but they clearly didn't like each other, and that made them more fiery and more intimidating. Same thing here.
The Geto Boys have often been praised for the bizarre chemistry, a turbulent relationship that helped melt together three distinct styles and three distinct attitudes. The pieces fit together perfectly. Everything was amazing. They were always in sync, it seemed. But, and here's the interesting part, they rarely recorded anything while the others were in the studio. They'd come in, record their parts, and then leave.
The only time they were all in the studio together was when Prince would call them to be, and even then they'd leave as soon as they'd done whatever it was that they needed to do. They didn't have the opportunity to experience the "Oh shit, this guy was just amazing in the booth, I really need to crush this shit" effect that happens when great artists collaborate; they just existed that way. And that makes WCBS all the more impressive.
2. Willie D Is Not A Gentleman
The seventh song on the LP is "I'm Not a Gentleman," wherein Willie D dismisses the idea of Southern hospitality (and also, by the way, inadvertently argues for the equality of women) entirely. Everyone knows that that song starts with a lift of Queen Latifah's 1989 track "Ladies First*," but what everyone doesn't know is that the sample almost didn't even land on there.
While recording, Willie D called the name specifically, saying that he wanted to use it in the song. Now, this was at the beginning of the '90s, so he couldn't exactly just pull up the instrumental on the Internet. They had to find an actual hard copy. An intern at the studio, which was located out on 290, found one. An acquaintance of his had it. It was in Clear Lake. So the trek was made, there and back. The intern dropped off the record back at the studio, then drove home.
The next morning, the studio was a mess**. Shit was everywhere. Even the album had been scratched all to hell. They found it jammed in between the wall and a mixing console that was butted up against it. That's the story of how "Ladies First" came to be. Also, the intern that found the record: A young, energetic, working-for-free Matt Sonzala, not (yet) the godfather of rap networking in the South.
*You have to appreciate Willie D being smart to intentionally preface "I'm Not A Gentleman" with what is considered the greatest female rap anthem in history.
**A bonus tidbit: At the beginning of "We Can't Be Stopped," they go through this "In 1989, we knocked on the door, in 1990, we beat on the door, now it's 1991, we fitna kick this motherfucker in..." bit. When they say they knocked on the door, you hear someone knocking on the door in the background. When they say they beat on the door, you hear someone beat on the door in the background.
For the kicking in of the door, Willie D wanted to mike up a door in the studio and actually kick it in, that way it'd sound as real as possible. Later in the album, Willie D specifically mentions how the gunshots heard are sound effects. Sonzala tried to talk him down from the idea. Willie persisted. Sonzala called his boss and told him what was what. The boss said do not, do not, let him kick in any doors.
Sonzala said okay, you're the boss, why don't you tell him then. The boss's response: "...you tell him." Fuckin' Willie D, baby. He gets out of jail soon. And we couldn't be more excited about it.
1. Bloody Beaches
Here's a neat one, courtesy of a maniac: One of the more famous tracks on WCBS is "Chuckie," Bushwick's iconic horrorcore pummeling. Most know that fellow Houstonian Gangsta N.I.P., generally regarded as the founder of the genre, wrote the track for him. But, and this is a little bizarre given the nature of the song, N.I.P. wrote it while staying in a beautiful beach house in Galveston.
What's more, there were others there with him, including Bushwick, J. Prince, some bodyguards and so on. What's more what's more, J. Prince is the one that rented the house. And, according to N.I.P., he rented the house specifically so they could work on writing for the album.
Three of the most menacing, most intimidating, most terrifying forces in Houston rap history, drove down to Galveston and stayed in a rented beach house together like countless families have on countless families family trips, writing arguably the most terribly offensive, beautifully awful album that ever came from this city. Irony, yo.
Happy Geto Boys Day, everyone. Make sure you peep out your window every 20 seconds. And don't forget to check your telephone for taps.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.