November 29, 2010

Reader Review: Geto Boys - The Geto Boys (October 17, 1990)



(Today's Reader Review is handled by P_Captain, who uses the allotted space to discuss one of his favorite albums, The Geto Boys, from the crew of the same name. Read on for more, and leave some comments for him below.)

In 1988, the Ghetto Boys consisted of Prince Johnny C, Jukebox, DJ Ready Red, and their dancer Little Bill. Signed to a deal with Rap-A-Lot, they released Making Trouble, which was more or less a Run-D.M.C. ripoff both musically and delivery-wise. Unsurprisingly, the album tanked, and the CEO of their label, James "J. Prince" Smith, decided that there were changes that needed to be made to the crew.

Willie Dee, a solo artist signed to the same label, released his debut album Controversy in 1989, and J. Prince liked his work so much that he invited him to write some tracks for the Ghetto Boys. Johnny C and Jukebox didn't like anything Willie wrote, so they refused to record with him. Prince demanded that they participate or leave the group entirely: unsurprisingly, they both chose the latter. As such, Willie Dee became a Ghetto Boy himself, alongside DJ Ready Red and Little Bill, who decided that what he really wanted to do with his life was rap, changing his name to Bushwick Bill to mark the occasion.

To round things out, J. Prince reached out to a close friend of his, an artist named Brad Jordan who worked under the handle Akshen. Akshen released "Scarface", a twelve-inch single on Lil Troy's Short Stop Records, which was successful enough to eventually convince him to both change his name (to match the title of his breakthrough single) and to join up with the Ghetto Boys. With this new line-up complete, the group went from the Texas answer to Run D.M.C. to what was referred to as a southern N.W.A., as Willie Dee, Bushwick Bill, and the newly christened Scarface were heavily influenced by their peers out West. Around this time, Willie decided to drop some vowels from his rap name, shortening it to the more professional Willie D.

In 1989, they completed work on Grip It! On That Other Level, the first Ghetto Boys album using the new crew, releasing it independently on Rap-A-Lot Records. Success was immediate, and the Boys were on the receiving end of fair amount of controversy due to their violent habits, taking what N.W.A. started to “that other level”. Former Def Jam Records boss Rick Rubin took note of the Boys and decided they would be a good fit with his new Def American Recordings label.

As they were now being promoted to the mainstream (with distribution being handled by Geffen Records), the crew (with Rubin's input) decided that retooling their original effort would be the best course of action. They changed their group name to the Geto Boys and decided to retitle their album in an eponymous fashion, as an easy way of getting people to remember their name, although for some reason they included the article in the title, calling the new project The Geto Boys. Ten out of the twelve tracks featured on Grip It! On The Other Level were rerecorded, now that the Boys had access to better recording equipment and a slightly bigger budget, and a few other tracks were thrown in to round things out.

When The Geto Boys was being readied for release in 1990, Geffen Records had cold feet, pulling out as the distributor due to the violent content in many of the songs (specifically “Mind Of A Lunatic”), classifying the album as objectionable material. Luckily, Rick Rubin was able to secure a better distribution deal with Warner Bros., who handled the release even though they also distanced themselves from the content. In fact, the album was originally released with a secondary warning sticker, alongside the Parental Advisory, which read: “Def American Recordings is opposed to censorship. Our manufacturer and distributor, however, do not condone of endorse the content of this recording, which they find violent, sexist, racist, and indecent.”

Although I struggled to find any blatant racism, The Geto Boys is most certainly a controversial album, taking hip hop to levels it had never achieved before. In addition to the distribution issues, the original release featured a sample of The Steve Miller Band's "The Joker" on "Gangsta of Love", a sex rap chock-full of graphic depictions of brutally sexual acts, which the band clearly did not want to be associated with. (Strangely, the Grip It! On The Other Level version has that sample to this day. Maybe The Steve Miller Band has no idea what underground rap is.) The uncleared sample caused The Geto Boys to quickly go out of print, although it was re-released with an updated “Gangsta Of Love” that now legally sampled Lynyrd Skynyrd's “Sweet Home Alabama” (because that's better somehow?), and with the secondary warning sticker removed.

So, were the results really worth all the controversy and is The Geto Boys all that good? Read on to find out.

1. FUCK 'EM
The Geto Boys start out with what is a extremely aggressive rant against politicians who tried to keep them down, parents trying to censor them and everybody else they had to battle in order to have their album released. This is a classic cut which features Bushwick, Willie D, and Scarface all going at it with what can only be described as “focused anger”, even though Scarface's appearance is rather brief. The Tony Montana sound bites also add to the joy.

2. SIZE AIN'T SHIT
This is the first track from Grip It! On That Other Level to appear. This time, Bushwick Bill takes a solo turn to brag about the size of his penis and how his short stature (being a dwarf and all) doesn't matter and he can bring it to anybody who is stupid enough to fight him. The lyrics are slightly altered in the third verse, but other than that, it's the same song. Although Bushwick is no lyrical genius (hell, he didn't even write his lyrics: Willie D helped him out), his passion and energy put into the performance sells it for me, similar to how Eazy-E can record a classic without ever picking up the pen himself.

3. MIND OF A LUNATIC
The original Grip It! On That Other Level version was not as brutal as this remake, which is credited as one of the fathers to the hip hop sub-genre horrorcore. This is also one of the best songs I have ever heard, and others obviously agree: even Marilyn Manson has attempted to tarnish this track's legacy by recording a crappy cover. On the original version, Bushwick raped his female victim and then murdered her, but on The Geto Boys, he repeats the same process, but ends his verse by having sex with the corpse, making this our chosen genre's first direct association with necrophilia. The instrumental is out of this world, so even if you are adverse to deviant violent and sexual descriptions, you should still be able to enjoy this. Scarface's super-long verse is a mini-masterpiece: this remake is where his legendary words "I sit alone in my four cornered room starting at candles" originated, which were made even more famous later on, when the Geto Boys released “Mind Playing Tricks On Me”.

4. GANGSTA OF LOVE
This song originally featured only Willie D and Scarface on Grip It! On That Other Level, but when Rick Rubin picked them up, he added Bushwick to a fairly large part of the song, reducing Scarface's role yet again. He clearly didn't like Scarface for whatever reason and wanted him out of the crew (something Face himself noted in a past interview), but regardless of the backstory, the results on here are even better than on the original album. If you come across a copy of The Geto Boys in a store, it's one hundred percent likely that your version will contain the “Sweet Home Alabama”-sampled version instead of “The Joker”, but it actually doesn't matter all that much: this is still a classic sex rap with some of the wittiest and most brutal lyrics ever.

5. TRIGGA HAPPY N---A
The word classic is being tossed around freely on this review and while I agree it is being overused, it's the perfect word to describe just about every song on The Geto Boys. And you can add this song to the long run of perfection. DJ Ready Red has a lot of fun on this cut, sampling some of Al Pacino's dialogue from Scarface, and the three verses are all excellent examples of gangsta rap, as the Boys describe robberies of both liquor stores and random victims. Rick Rubin decided (again) to reduce Scarface's presence by removing one of his two verses from the original "Trigga Happy N---a", but the end product isn't affected a bit.

6. LIFE IN THE FAST LANE
We've finally gotten to Scarface's solo. Instead of performing a first-person account again, Face rewrite his lyrics and turns the song into a social commentary, casting himself as the omnipresent narrator instead of being the guy who actually deals the drugs, escapes from the cops, or shoots guns in between recording tracks in the studio. As result, this song is a lot better than it originally was. Ready Red provides another excellent beat with a slight country twang, making this probably the most obviously Texan song on the entire album. (Um, most people in Texas don't ride horses to work. I don't think it's been considered “country” in decades.)

7. ASSASSINS
This song was originally performed by Johnny C and Sire Jukebox on Making Trouble, interestingly enough. Willie D, Scarface, and Bushwick Bill each take a turn spitting one of the three verses, showing a lot more energy than the original artists could ever muster, although the lyrics remain exactly the same. The beat sounded outdated in 1990, so you can imagine how it plays today, but the brutal lyrics of the Geto Boys help this to still work, although they aren't as much “Assassins” as they are “homicidal maniacs” on this track.

8. DO IT LIKE A G.O.
This single, which was originally a song written for Willie D's Controversy, originally featured Johnny C and Jukebox instead of Scarface and Bushwick Bill: this would mark one of the only times that the original Ghetto Boys actually agreed to recite Willie's lines. This track elevated the Geto Boys to a higher status than other local Houston heroes. Unlike the Grip It! On That Other Level version, this remake features the rappers delivering their lyrics with a lot more aggressive energy, lending a bit more authenticity to the anger prevalent in the bars. I've always found it funny that the group never bothered to remove the phone call intro to the track, as it features J. Prince talking to Willie D and the original Ghetto Boys.

9. READ THESE NIKES
This Willie D solo effort started off as my least liked track from the album, eventually rising all the way to my favorite. How can one song mark such a drastic change of opinion? It isn't because of the beat, which is alright. Willie's hilarious (and highly quotable) verses about beating down random people who try to mess with him is what sells it for me. Each line is just as funny as the one before it. It may not appeal to everyone as much as the other cuts on The Geto Boys, mostly because the other two guys are nowhere to be found, but seriously, if there were only three cuts here I could label as classics, this would definitely be one of them.

10. TALKIN' LOUD AIN'T SAYIN' NOTHIN'
On Grip It! On That Other Level, Scarface performed the first verse, but Rick Rubin deleted him from the song entirely, so what we're left with is Bushwick's lone verse going against hypocritical parents and Willie D's two contributions dissing both pretenders claiming to be from the streets and cheating girlfriends. Scarface's verse was far from the best originally, though,so it doesn't really matter that he's missing from this track, which samples the James Brown song of the same name. Using a James Brown sample is pretty well-worn territory in hip hip, but Ready Red manages to get more out of one sample than many other producers can get out of a whole album, and that's saying something.

11. SCARFACE
This is the song that put Brad "Scarface" Jordan on the map as one of hip hop's greats: it needs to be heard by anybody who is only familiar with his work from The Fix and his many guest verses. This is also where I truly believe the mafioso rap phenomenon truly began. If you told me that Kool G Rap wasn't influenced by this when he wrote "On the Run", I would not believe you. This song has nothing to do with actual mob life, but it shares the same vision as the majority of entries in the sub-genre: Scarface is a cocaine drug lord who fights off rivals and gets sex with ease. This song is pure perfection. The N.W.A samples used throughout make this even more gangsta than it already is. With horrorcore and now mafioso rap on the table, tell me how many other rappers were capable of birthing two hip hop sub-genres within the same album.

12. LET A HO BE A HO
It's pretty funny that Ready Red would sample Pink Floyd's "Money" for a song about prostitutes who are not to be trusted. This lyric alone makes this song for me: "So why you wanna kill when she says no more? / You ain't the first to be dumped by a god-damn whore!"

13. CITY UNDER SIEGE
This is a political rant against Ronald Reagan, the government's participation in the drug trade, and corrupt cops. The Boys were inspired to write this track after hearing about a female who was killed by police officers after undergoing a chase because she was too exhausted after work to pull over. Even with the shift in overall subject matter (when compared to the rest of the album), "City Under Siege" ends the album with a bang and holds up like every other song on The Geto Boys.

FINAL THOUGHTS: The Geto Boys is an undeniable classic to me and is probably my favorite album of all time. Every track is pure perfection: there isn't a dull moment here, and it says a lot when this fifty-five minute masterpiece is the only album to make it onto my iPod in its entirely. There are no useless skits or filler tracks: everything on The Geto Boys is essential.   The Geto Boys is also the greatest Southern hip-hop album of all time, surpassing anything from Scarface as a solo rapper, anything OutKast or UGK have ever made, and absolutely everything from the last decade.  Every song on this album is pure gold: anybody who considers themselves a hip hop fan needs this in order for their collection to be complete.

BUY OR BURN? If you have read this far, then you know what the answer will be. Rush to a damn store to pick it up already.

BEST TRACKS: Every song is perfect. I'm serious!

-P_Captain

(Questions? Comments? Concerns? Leave your thoughts below.)

22 comments:

  1. So is this recommended over "Grip It! On That Other Level"?

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  2. now this is the shit

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  3. P_Captain, I don't believe what I just read here. You spoke from my heart, I felt every word you've written.

    Nice to see a guy who knows what a REAL "classic" album is and how a REAL "classic" album is made of. I can't agree with you more. The Geto Boys were always so damn talented and their Rap-A-Lot camp was packed with the best producers in the rap business. To me one of Top 3 groups in rap history.

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  4. Muttersprache: The songs in this album have much higher quality except "Trigga Happy Nigga" which is inferior here but still very good. Overall, I'd rather go with this over "Grip It!" but remember if you listen to this on earphones with only one of them it'll be a chore cause a lot of the instruments are divided by left & right.

    Kay-Em-Dee: Thanks and true. This album is consistent, every song is excellent from beginning to end, there's not one second that's wasted on this record and it's hard to believe it. To me, Geto Boys is in the top 3 along with Public Enemy and N.W.A. Few albums define "classic" like this one does, ignorant cats are quick to call some bullshit Lil Wayne or T.I. or Wacka Flocka record a "classic" just because they happen to enjoy it but a classic album works for it's rep.

    Evan: My original writing was a little different than Max's edition, but as long as I've gotten my point across in a clear way, it's alright. And I see some typos when Max edited the write-up too, but that's not much of a big deal.

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  5. It's a good album, great even. Better than any Outkast album, I disagree. Very much.

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  6. hey Max, are you going to review HNIC2 sometime like, uhh, in the future ?

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  7. The future is a wonderful thing. No time restrictions.

    Eventually. I'd like to actually finish the Mobb Deep catalog, so eventually.

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  8. I don't know, I've always felt that guys boasting about rape, torture, sodomy, slaughter of innocent bystanders, and general brutality didn't have a whole lot of credibility when they got to their "social commentary" (the government is unfair, cops are unfair, etc.) songs.

    Call me crazy, but it just doesn't sound right for a man to kill a woman, rape her corpse, then record a song about police brutality.

    Since the things the Geto Boys rapped about in "City Under Siege" are for the most part real, and must be addressed, their message is unfortunately diluted.

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  9. Tile Grout: Funny that you say it. But most people seems to not realize that all the violent rage is just entertainment and not to be taken seriously.

    Plus you're missing the point, see the title for "Mind of a Lunatic" alone. It's all IMAGINATION. That's exactly what you'll find inside the mind of a... lunatic and that's what they rap about.

    When they get to the "social commentary" part, it's all reality. You can't tell me Scarface has no credibility recording "I Seen a Man Die" which is better than 99.9% of other songs that talk about mortality or relevant subjects just because he raps in "Assassins" about stabbing a prostitute and then cutting her body in pieces.

    When the Geto Boys get to a relevant subject that needs addressing they do it in a direct way that beats almost any other group in terms of politics. And remember this is early on in their career, later on they abandoned all that horrorcore stuff by large and became a lot more "socially conscious". Hell, these guys prove lunatics are smarter than the average person cause they do have lots of intelligence inside their brain for such heartless murderous maniacs.

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  10. P_Captain: good points. And there is something to be said about the fact that the Geto Boys were imagining/fantasizing about their violent acts, or ascribing them to a "lunatic" persona. In all fairness, I can't compare them to people in authority who actually perpetrated crimes against humanity (even if they didn't actually chop up bodies or stare at candles!).

    Without going into detail, I have some old family members who endured some seriously traumatic events during World War II. Some kept their sanity partly through years of imagining/fantasizing about violent acts against their old enemies. It was one way of letting their minds vent their otherwise helpless rage. Sometimes I forget that.

    On a final note, I forgot to say: "Really good review." Honestly, your love of real hiphop comes through in a way that a lot of people (including myself) couldn't express. And I agree with your overall evaluation of the album; it is, in its way, a classic.

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  11. This album is a genuine southern gem.

    Props to P_Captain cuz most ppl ignore this southern classics.

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  12. such a good info shared in this post.i really learn somany things from here.good post....

    - underground hip hop

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  13. I've never heard this album, only "Grip It! On That Other Level" (which to me is equally comparable to Straight Outta Compton, in terms of its classic-status as well importance to hip hop. Also I really enjoy that album) but I imagine there is not that much difference between these two. I mean there is some retooling of the backing, and more Bushwick Bill but I'm pretty sure it can be swapped for "Grip It!" if you already have that album. I'm still going to look it up though.

    Great review

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  14. I listened to the album and in my opinion it isn't as good as you made it out to be. Still, good review.

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  15. James: It's all opinions, so the next person may not like it as much as I do. What errors did you find with the album, though? Just curious.

    Patrick: This remake is probably on-par with "Straight Outta Compton" since "Grip It!" lacked the quality drums from the former and this one has filled that part. I always thought of "Grip It!" in specific as "Straight Outta Compton without Something 2 Dance 2".

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  16. Thanks for the response P_Captain. I have "Grip It!" already, but I'll check this album out too because it's still just as important.

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  17. Nice review! I like the fact that your always honest and shit ...Please could you review DJ Omar Sedless's 2Pac One Nation Mixtape? ... It's a sick mixtape with unreleased and unheard songs from Pac's East coast West Coast One Nation album...

    you could download right here...

    http://djomarseedless.blogspot.com/2010/06/2pac-presents-one-nation-mixtape.html

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  18. great review. city under siege is fuckin incredible and so is the song I consider to be its sequel, point of no return. I never noticed it before but the poor mixing of the movie samples in mind of a lunatic tarnishes what is one of the best instrumentals ever.

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  19. thanks for this great review. the geto boys are one of my favourites and this album was in my walkman for one year. keep these reviews comming, till death do us part would be nice to...

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  20. rate this, the southern straight outta compton for sure! and just as enjoyable

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  21. AnonymousJuly 17, 2014

    Curious question for the author.

    How would you rate the Geto Boys discography versus the Scarface discography?

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