Like dark, faceless shapes in your favorite recurring nightmare, they just keep coming back. More than 26 years after the legendary Geto Boys first hacked and slashed their way onto a national rap radar that had tuned the South out entirely, Willie D, Scarface and Bushwick Bill are reuniting once again. The trio have become hip-hop icons to more than one generation of rappers toiling away far from the bright lights of New York and Los Angeles — especially here in Houston, the relatively remote musical outpost where their journey began.
Scarface and Willie D gave the city a taste of their ageless chemistry last weekend during the Welcome to Houston set at Free Press Summer Fest. Tonight, they’ll be joined by their diminutive partner at House of Blues for the kickoff of the group’s latest re-formation, the month-long “Office Space Tour.”
The ride should have never lasted this long. ‘Face, Bushwick and Willie were brought together by Rap-A-Lot Records mogul James Prince as replacements parts for a group that had already fizzled out. They were a pre-fabricated act from the start, calculated to cash in on a growing appetite for hard-boiled street stories in hip-hop. It had been tried before, and plenty since. But for the Geto Boys, the plan somehow succeeded beyond all expectations.
“We knew while we was doin’ the record that it was going to work,” says Willie D, Houston’s Greatest Advice Columnist and the Geto Boys’ loudest, most aggressive voice. “It’s something very rare, man. It was the luck of the draw, I think. At the same time, it was J. Prince’s foresight, being able to say, ‘Look, I want Willie D in the Geto Boys.’”
Indeed, it was Willie D’s maniacal rhymes that were the initial catalyst pushing the Geto Boys on to a wicked new plane of explicit street rap. One of Houston’s top MCs, Willie had made a name for himself by stringing together months’ worth of consecutive battle-rap victories at the city’s biggest hip-hop club, the Rhinestone Wrangler. While his talented flow and aggressive style intrigued Prince, the real hook was Willie’s gonzo lyricism. The label head asked Willie to write material for the second Ghetto Boys record, but the group’s rappers — then comprising Prince Johnny C and Sire Juke Box — balked at the graphic content of the new tunes.
“I wrote those songs for them, and they did not want to rap on ‘Let a Hoe be a Hoe,’” Willie says. “J. gave ‘em an ultimatum, and they went solo. People were liking those songs, and J. wanted to take the group in that direction.”
Prince soon replaced Johnny C and Juke Box with Willie and with Brad “DJ Akshen” Jordan — soon to become known as Scarface. Dancer and hype man Little Billy was rechristened Bushwick Bill and given a promotion on the Willie D-penned “Size Ain’t Shit.” The Ghetto Boys had become the Geto Boys, and right away, there was the sense that the trio was onto something.
“I just felt real confident in our talents, and I felt real confident that J. had the business savvy to get it out there,” Willie says. “I believed that if the people could hear us, they were gonna fuck with us. All we had to do was be heard. That’s why I was rappin’ so loud — I wanted motherfuckers to hear me!”
Willie D and the Geto Boys would go on to be heard loud and clear across the country and around the world, especially their paranoiac classic “Mind Playin’ Tricks on Me.” But being heard did not solve all of the group’s issues. Never particularly close, the Geto Boys split up and re-formed a number of times over the years, to varying degrees of success.
“Throughout the years we would’ve made more music if the group wasn’t so fractured in terms of our ability to be in harmony as people,” Willie says. “We’re so different, and we didn’t grow up around each other, and we’re not family.
“That’s how the music industry is: People get in these groups, and when you add in fame and money and different personalities, you get people in different camps,” he continues. “Everybody’s got their own camp telling him, ‘You’re great, you’re the best!’ It’s just very hard to manage that.”
But managed they have, through a hell of a lot of ups and downs. They’ve emerged as respected godfathers of a genre that often little resembles the musical form they helped pioneer decades ago. And perhaps against all odds, their preternatural confidence remains intact.
“It pretty much feels the same as it ever did,” Willie says. “It’s magic. We hit that stage, and it’s a wrap. We’re pretty much untouchable on that stage. Same thing in the studio: We get in the studio and me and Brad (Scarface) get to writing those raps, we’re pretty much untouchable.”
Will Willie and Brad ever get back together in the studio for a new Geto Boys release? There have been hints lately in the hip-hop media that they might, and soon. With so much conflict and pathos in the headlines these days, Lord knows there’s certainly no shortage of inspiration in the streets. Is hip-hop ready for a fresh dose of reality?
Frankly, Willie D doesn’t much give a fuck.
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“Hip-hop is fuckin’ fake,” the rapper charges. “Hip-hop is ghost, man. It’s way too easy to get into the game, and that’s what it’s so diluted. Biting used to be a cardinal sin in hip-hop. Now it’s celebrated. You couldn’t go out there and try to sound like Lil’ Wayne. Fans would clown you. You couldn’t eat trying to sound like Kanye! The fans wouldn’t let you eat! Now, these motherfuckers will let anybody eat off the plate.”
It’s hard to know how serious the Geto Boys are about slapping some of the food out of the newcomers’ mouths. Willie D is cagey when it comes to discussing his musical future, having been around the business long enough to watch his best-laid plans evaporate. But whatever he and the group have in store for fans following this summer’s tour, there can be little doubt that it will involve Houston, Texas: home of the Geto Boys.
“If we do a tour, we invariably have to put Houston on the schedule, or the very first thing we’re going to hear is, ‘How y’all not gonna perform in Houston? That’s fucked up!’” Willie says with a chuckle. “It’s that pride that people have that makes them feel that way. In other cities, we’re visitors. But Houston feels like the Geto Boys belong to them.”
The Geto Boys perform tonight at House of Blues, 1204 Caroline. Doors open at 7 p.m.