April 26, 2010

Reader Review: Scarface - Mr. Scarface Is Back (October 3, 1991)


(For today's Reader Review, longtime reader Vslyke decided to tackle Scarface's debut solo album, Mr. Scarface Is Back, which is both a hilarious and fucking brilliant title for a solo debut album. And there is definitely way too much going on with that cover photography.  Anyway, be sure to leave your comments for Vslyke below.)


Southern hip hop is much maligned, as many (including myself) blame it for the watering down of rap. However, way back in 1991, Southern hip hop was but a tiny portion of the genre. Hip hop was dominated by New York and California, and there were only 2 Southern acts that enjoyed any kind of notoriety or fame: 2 Live Crew and the Geto Boys. Whereas the former was solely a party act, the Geto Boys were infamous for being one of the rawest rap groups out yet. So raw, in fact, that their self-titled album was shuffled several times between record labels, primarily because the track "Mind of a Lunatic" was considered too controversial by some. In 1991, the Geto Boys released We Can’t Be Stopped, which featured the song “Mind Playing Tricks on Me” (one of the greatest fucking rap songs ever), which hit #23 on the Billboard Hot 100 and featured Brad Jordan (better known as Scarface) on 2 of the 4 verses.


3 months after the release of We Can’t Be Stopped, Scarface dropped his debut solo album, Mr. Scarface Is Back. At this point, Scarface was far from the household name and rap legend he would later become. He didn’t even have exclusive use of his fucking name, as the covers of the album and both singles emphasize “SCARFACE of the GETO BOYS”. Scarface also references the other Scarfaces out there in the genre on the very first song. However, his next album would be missing this subtitle, so he was obviously able to work something out.


This album notably features no guest stars, not even the other Geto Boys. Clearly, Scarface didn’t want anyone crashing his debut album. Scarface also didn’t have the advantage of any name brand production to lift this project, as the biggest name associated with the production of the album is Mr. Jordan himself. In many ways, this is a throwback album, with beats built around samples and one rapper bulldozing straight through as if his life depended on it.


1. MR. SCARFACE
The first single. This song foreshadows the themes of the rest of the album, as any album that opens with a parody of a nursery rhyme that deals with a drug dealers shooting down crack heads is going to be fucked up. This is immediately followed by a scratched-in sample from Tony Montana himself, followed by Scarface exploding onto the track with a defining introduction. ‘Face then spins yarns that deal with drug dealing, killing, and women. The beat does a great job of complementing the stories and keeping the nearly six-minute track from becoming dull. All together, this was a great way to introduce any gangster rapper with a foot in horrorcore and dreams of money, power, and pussy.


2. THE PIMP
Scarface slows down to provide an ode to his sexual prowess. Hardly original, and I can’t decide if it’s better for being so detailed about what Brad Jordan likes his women to do. And the fake orgasm featured within is wholly unnecessary. By far, the best part of this song is the scratched-in N.W.A. sample at the end. This song would be much more welcome if it were sequenced later in the album, thus breaking up some of the repetition and providing some diversity.


3. BORN KILLER
Much better. Scarface provides an adrenaline-laced tale of a crime spree, which features the justification “I don't love me, how the fuck I'ma love you?” and yet another Scarface sample. This is the first song on the album to emphasize the theme of being mentally unsound, a recurring concept which pops up intermediately. Coldhearted and extremely violent, but you shouldn’t have expected anything else from one of the Geto Boys. He certainly isn’t a Rakim, but he does weave one hell of a story. I’ve always believed that Raekwon and the Notorious B.I.G. were directly influenced by Scarface, and you can hear them throughout this album.


4. MURDER BY REASON OF INSANITY
Again, Scarface takes the speed down a notch, but not in terms of violence. This track isn’t a story per sé, but rather a loose narrative that is a further exploration of Scarface’s gangster persona.


5. YOUR ASS GOT TOOK
Follows a similar theme as “Murder By Reason of Insanity”, but in a much more up tempo manner. I prefer this track over the previous song, especially with the cheery Sly & the Family Stone sample that provides a welcome contrast to the homicidal and violent lyrics.


6. DIARY OF A MADMAN
A more confessional track than what appears on the rest of the album, and another song that emphasizes the theme that Scarface was born fucked up, and thus his crime spree was inevitable. Also one of the more horrifying songs of the album, which is a hard title to earn.


7. BODY SNATCHERS
One of my favorite songs on the album, as Scarface experiments with some more intricate rhymes. This is a story about the time our intrepid hero was sent to a psychiatric facility, only to escape and wreck havoc on those who sent him there.


8. MONEY AND THE POWER
Brad details his alleged past profession as a crack dealer. Only the third verse deviates from the cliché of dealing, as Face details a worker who starting slacking off and a bust from the police. But as always, Scarface gets away when no one dares to snitch on him. Another strong story from one of the originators of Mafioso themes in rap.


9. P D ROLL 'EM
Meh. Not a bad track, but nothing special. The police siren in the background is a nice touch to the beat though.


10. GOOD GIRL GONE BAD
Another dense story, this one about a drug deal that turned out to be a set up. Of course, Scarface gets away and wins in the end. One of the best tracks on the album, as Scarface outdoes himself with the storytelling, laying down one of his best tales of the entire album.


11. A MINUTE TO PRAY AND A SECOND TO DIE
By far the best song on Mr. Scarface Is Back, as Mr. Jordan detaches himself from the narrative and provides a powerful comment on life in the ghetto. This track contains strong stories that comment on the hopelessness and destruction of the inner city. It also features a pair of strong Marvin Gaye samples, one of which, an ever-present moan from “Inner City Blues”, contributes greatly to the hopeless mood of the song. This was the second single and, in my opinion, one of the best rap songs ever made. The video is also definitely worth checking out, as it provides a strong counterpart to the track itself.


12. I'M DEAD
The idea of the track is perfect. How else to end an album that is based on the themes of death and mental instability? In fact, I picked this album after reading comparisons between this track and “Suicidal Thoughts” off of Biggie's Ready to Die. However, the lyrics falter, as they don’t convey the reality and seriousness of the rest of the album, and come off as slightly ludicrous. Good idea, but still one of the two worst tracks on the album.


FINAL THOUGHTS: Mr. Scarface Is Back is the beginning of Scarface’s legend as “your favorite rapper’s favorite rapper.” (This statement is especially true for me, since B.I.G. had to be influenced by this - more on that in a second.) Throughout the album, Scarface makes his case as the king of Houston, which by default made him the king of the South. And the way he does is perhaps the most impressive part of the album: no filler, no hooks, no brand name production, not even a guest feature. This is his show all the way through, and Scarface makes the most of it. Mr. Scarface Is Back also plays as a kind of precursor to Ready to Die, right down to the death of the album's protagonist on the final track. Both Scarface and The Notorious B.I.G. made a cinematic debut that laid out a larger than life alter ego, who originally made his fame as a drug dealer (which makes sense, since both men allegedly sold crack before breaking into the rap game); on both, the beats take a back seat to the rhymes; and boasting and stories about crime and women appear in abundance. Now, Ready to Die is a much better album (don’t get me wrong) but Mr. Scarface is Back was an obvious influence.


BUY OR BURN? This album is worth buying, if for no other reason than its influence on Ready to Die. Thankfully, the album itself is really fucking good, and so yes, go pick it up. Before Scarface comes to your house, shoots you, and kidnaps your kids.

BEST TRACKS: “Mr. Scarface”; “Born Killer”; “Your Ass Got Took”; “Body Snatchers”; “Good Girl Gone Bad”; “A Minute to Pray And A Second to Die”


-Vslyke


(Questions? Comments? Concerns? Do you want to see the South represented more on HHID? Leave some comments below, or hit me either on Twitter or at the e-mail address in the sidebar.)

13 comments:

  1. am i the only one thats sick of the term "mafioso"?

    also i love scarface and this album, but the diary is the best ever in the entire universe

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  2. i forgot to mention that while this review wasnt that bad the constant references to ready to die got really old

    fuck biggie and ready to die

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  3. actually i take back what i said, this review sucks

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  4. What has impressed me ever since 1991 is the production on this album. The Rap A Lot label had some true talent when it came to contructing a song. Also check out Ganksta N-I-P's first album for further proof. Awesome review, Vslyke.

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  5. Murder by reason of insanity was my joint back in the day, mad headnod appeal and raw spit: the OPP breakbeat and the "all in the same gang" bassline...hot ish

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  6. A wonderful album, and as I always like to say: THIS is a real CLASSIC album.

    Scarface proved that he's a great artist, someone significant. He started with this album showing us his talent and the skills of the Rap-A-Lot camp and continued with "The world is yours" by letting his self loose and his creativity doing the rest (to my opinion, "The world is yours" is his best work).

    @ Vslyke:
    1. Your references to "Ready to die" make no sense. B.I.G. wasn't even close to Face's skills and attitude.

    2."Ready to die" is not better than "Mr. Scarface is back". You can't compare Rap-A-Lot to Bad Boy. Nooo wayyyy...

    3. Jay-Z said once that Scarface is on his Top 5 Rappers list or so. Just Because Jay-Z was also talking about drg dealing etc. doesn't mean that he can be compared to Scarface or that these 2 have something in common.

    I'm not biting on you, you can understand that, right? And your review is ok, good choice.

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  7. @Kay-Em-Dee

    1)Haha, B.I.G. doesn’t have the skills of Face? Hmm… And as to the attitude, it obviously doesn’t show up on “Juicy” or anything, but some of the cuts are rawer than anything Scarface ever did.

    2)I obviously disagree. And what the hell do the labels have to do with anything? Lol.

    3)I was simply commenting on the influence as I see it. Jay-Z obviously does not have that level of influence, and seeing as I believe Face had a hot album at Def Jam when Jay-Z gave him those props, I doubt the validity of his praise.

    Also not biting on you, thanks for the comment!

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  8. Scarface is the best gangsta rapper ever below Ice Cube, for me it can't be argued and he's also a top 10 rapper.

    Finally a review on a real classic. This blog needs more gangsta rap, for real!

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  9. Face is a true legend. Great review. I agree with the similarity with B.I.G., it's obvious. However I prefer Face by far. I've always found Biggie much too publicized while Scarface was slept on for a long time. And I agree with the comment about the Rap-A-Lot productions being great. To me, along with underrated producers from the West (Ant Banks, Shorty B., Khayree, Studio Ton, K-Lou, Prode'je etc.), rap-a-lot in-house producers (Mike Dean, N.O. Joe, Scarface, J. Bido, Big Mike) are among the greatest ones in rap. I can never get tired of their funk-inspired beats with live instruments. It's a good thing such a blog finally opens up to this style of rap because when it comes to music I think it really outshines most of what has been reviewed on this blog so far, when it comes to rap skills though, it's a different story.

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  10. @Max yeah, more southern music reviews would be great.
    @Vslyke "Southern hip hop is much maligned, as many (including myself) blame it for the watering down of rap."
    You better blame the (major) record labels for watering down hip hop. There's enough great southern hip hop to render the hate on the south pointless. It's the labels that push certain shit and neglect a lot of great southern music. Ask Scarface why he isn't on a major anymore.

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  11. AnonymousMay 08, 2010

    E.S.G's Ocean of funk would be a great album for you to review. thus its considered a Southern classic

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  12. AnonymousJuly 27, 2010

    Do Emeritus!

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  13. One of my friends used to play this constantly back in the day. Great album. Scarface has the presence to carry an entire album by himself. That can't be said about many rappers these days.

    I always considered the cover to be just a bit off, however. Based on his facial expression, it seems Mr. Face is rising, mid shit, from his toilet seat to see why a scene from Miami Vice is suddenly being filmed in his bathroom.

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