Houston Music

Willie D

Like Gandalf coming back from the dead in The Two Towers, Willie D strives to lead his followers in the right direction. And if you question his motives, he'll knock you upside the got-damn head with his staff. Time hasn't mellowed Willie D, not a bit. He's still as volatile as he was more than a decade ago. Back then, alongside his brothers-in-verbal-brutality the Geto Boys, he was reminding listeners that he was not a muthafuckin' gentleman and demanding to know where his goddamn trophy was.

Time has soothed his fellow fire-breathers. The brilliant yet tortured Scarface spent most of his latest album, last year's acclaimed The Fix, admitting to his fans that he's officially a grown-ass man. Meanwhile, the demented, diminutive Bushwick Bill has basically become Flavor Flav.

But Willie D has grown more acid-tongued -- and stressed out -- with age. When you hear Willie D rap, you can visualize him rubbing his bald cranium, the better to check the rage fermenting in his head. You can't blame him for being so pissed. Young, unfocused MCs continue to break out all around him, racking up accolades and Escalades. The elder MC feels the need to school these punks on their own terms.

But they aren't his only targets. Unbreakable kicks off with the title track, which lifts some foreshadowing dialogue from the Leon Isaac Kennedy exploitation flick Penitentiary. D then tears into Tipper Gore ("Don't get your head chopped off like Daniel Pearl"). Next, for some reason, comes the turn of original king of comedy-turned-radio DJ Steve Harvey (if anyone knows the story behind that, get at me). The track could be dismissed as mere random bile-spewing if there weren't a point behind it. "If you think about it," Willie D ponders near the beginning of the track, "the fans ain't even buying the albums for content, they buying images." That perceptive comment makes it clear that D is attempting to bring some purpose to the proceedings.

Unbreakable has a pugilistic tone, and why not? D's uncle won over 100 pro fights, former heavyweight Jack Johnson is an ancestor of his, and D himself was a boxer not so long ago. Unbreakable launches more pointed, verbal jabs than Roy Jones fires at his cornered foes. In "Come Hell or High Water," D positively dices sucka MCs. When he's done with them, D says, they'll be "searching for [their] ass like Elizabeth Smart."

With D producing and arranging, the album sounds as salty and crude as his flow. With the familiar synthesizer and drum machine combination, D mostly settles for time-tested, aggressive, Houston G-funk accompaniment (augmented by occasional guitar licks from Corey Stoot and Uncle Eddie). But on the last few tracks, the Gulf Coast thug grooves give way to retro, fluid samples from Cameo and D Train.

Unbreakable reminds audiences why we need old pros like Willie D around. One of the few hard-core Houston MCs who raps about shit that matters, D is determined that listeners walk away with something. Better yet, he manages to deal with serious issues -- record industry vacuousness in the title track, the living conditions of the incarcerated in "Inmates Song" and the evils lurking around at-risk kids in "Little People with Burdens" -- without resorting to sanctimonious preaching.

That's why it's forgivable when he briefly throws his male audience a bone by reveling in his mack-daddy ways. The back-to-back tracks "Once Upon a Time" and "Falling Out the Sky" showcase D in full-on Rudy Ray Moore mode. It's just D's way of getting the knuckleheads to listen. (However, the remake of the 5th Ward Boyz bawdy club anthem "P.W.A." should've been given away to friends as a Christmas gag gift.)

As boisterous and sandpaper-rough as it is, Unbreakable is effective simply because it has an established rap legend rapping about something. And, as is oft forgotten these days, something is always better than nothing.