There are those who know Geto Boys as the group who did “that one song from Office Space”, and then there are those of us who know them as the true pioneers of Southern rap music. I won’t claim I was around for Making Trouble, but I was there in 1990 when they released The Geto Boys. I was 13 years old, living in a small, white town in Northern California, and Tipper Gore and her PMRC were on a mission to shield kids like me from the horrors of the ghetto. Not only was The Getos Boys branded with the dreaded black-and-white parental advisory sticker, this album was so special, it came with a separate warning from the label.
“Def American Recordings is opposed to censorship. Our manufacturer and distributor, however, do not condone or endorse the content of this recording, which they find violent, sexist, racist, and indecent.”
As if an explicit lyrics sticker wasn’t enough to make me want that tape, this new warning created an uncontrollable desire to hear what these gangters from Houston, Texas had to tell me. The curiosity was so strong that I actually shoulder-tapped for the cassette tape in front of Tower Records on Birdcage Walk in Citrus Heights, CA (the closet thing to a city anywhere near my hometown). The content contained within that plastic case ended up being as controversial and indecent as anything my virgin ears had ever heard.
Scarface, Willie D and Bushwick Bill took the hard reality of living in Fifth Ward, Texas and applied a horror flick script on top of it. Murder, rape, drugs — they took misogyny to a whole new level. Nothing was off limits. These guys were not just saying ‘fuck the police’ and ‘fuck bitches’, they were saying ‘fuck the police, fuck your kids, fuck your sister and your grandma’. It was seriously frightening stuff. But without serious talent, the novelty would have wore off quickly. If these three mcs were not some of the best of the late-80’s/early-90’s, we would not be talking about them today.
As the 90’s progressed into the new century, the public became a little numb to the explicit material found on rap albums, and the Geto Boys toned it down a bit — even getting reflective on the error of their ways on tracks like “Six Feet Deep”. Bushwick’s girlfriend had shot his eye out, the members of N.W.A. had gone Disney, and the Southern thing had been passed on to a new generation. Scarface had a solid underground solo career, but less than a decade after they formed, the Geto Boys were as irrelevant in the scene as Tipper Core and her ill-conceived PMRC.
That is why last night’s show is so shocking. Not the material, by now we’ve become desensitized to lyrics like ‘I sit alone in my four-cornered room staring at candles, dreaming of the people I’ve dismantled’, that’s nothing compared to what we see on the news every day. What was shocking about last night was how great the show was.
Great hip-hop shows are extremely rare. Especially when the artists are pushing 50. I’m seen members of the Wu-Tang Clan embarrass themselves. I’ve seen Slick Rick go through the motions like a barely animated corpse. I’ve paid to see Too $hort, only to have him stand on the side of the stage while his entourage performs for him. Needless to say, I didn’t have high expectations for what a Geto Boys show would look like in 2013. But I had never seen them live, so it was worth a shot. If they even showed up, they would meet my expectations. If they showed up before midnight, they would exceed them. As it turns out, they showed up, almost on time, and made my expectations seem silly.
Taking the stage at around 11:30pm, Scarface promised something special — ‘all 3 members of the Geto Boys on one stage‘. Willie D kicked it off with “Homie Don’t Play That” before all attention turned to the 3’ 8″ Bushwick Bill. Immediately proving that size ain’t shit, and that age doesn’t seem to apply to him, Bushwick told us the story of “Chuckie” like not a day had passed since he appeared on the cover of We Can’t Be Stopped with his eye shot out. Still sporting the patch, and a camouflage hat, his voice was still strong enough to outweigh the roar of the crowd. Bushwick might be small, but he was an absolute giant on that stage last night.
No hypemen, no air horns blowing, no rags in the air — just a tight hip-hop performance by three professionals. Scarface’s flow should embarrass most mcs. Willie D still has the energy of an 18-year-old. And although Bushwick wasn’t feeling well and had to leave the stage every so often, he never failed to be on point with every verse. Track-after-track, the Geto Boys proved they deserve to be in the spotlight. Even if you were the kid just waiting for “Damn It Feels Good to Be a Gangsta”, you had to bow in respect to these guy from Houston who paved the way for many modern acts.
The second biggest surprise of the evening was their sense of humor. They were gangsta as fuck while in the zone, but the space between tracks found Scarface and Willie D acting like little kids at a birthday party. A Rocky Mountain High hat that was thrown on stage had them laughing until they were crying. Willie D schooled the audience on how to say the word ‘pussy’ the right way — in order to get some. After Bushwick performed “Size Ain’t Size”, the guys validated it by claiming ‘he will kill you, we have to ride in separate cars‘. But the funniest part of the night had to have been when Scarface brought out an acoustic guitar and played “Wish You Were Here” by Pink Floyd. Not only did he play the song, to which Willie D left the stage after telling him “you’re on your goddamn own“, but he sang it as well. It was all kinds of awful, but it was all kinds of fun.
These guys were the hardest of the hardcore back in the day, and when they are taking turn spitting lyrics on “Do It Like a G.O”, they still are. But when they change “Read These Nikes” to “Read These Converse” (‘because Nike won’t pay me’), it’s refreshing to see that they’ve grown up and can poke fun at themselves. Ice Cube outgrew his anger and started doing family movies, Flavor Flav went reality TV, but as far as I can tell, the Geto Boys have stayed the Geto Boys. They’re just a little less angry that they were 20 years ago. Last night they showed they now have four things in this world; balls, their word, a sense of humor, and an absolute appreciation for their fans
Here’s to Scarface, Willie D and Bushwick Bill. Here’s to hoping some of the younger acts in hip-hop can learn a little something about integrity and professionalism from them.
Little Ghetto Boy (intro)
Homie Don’t Play That (Wille D solo)
Mind of a Lunatic
Do It Like a G.O.
Gangsta of Love
Wish You Were Here (Scarface solo with acoutic guitar)
First Light of the Day
Geto Boys and Girls
Read These Nikes
Size Ain’t Shit
Bald Headed Hoes
When It Gets Gangsta
Damn It Feels Good to Be a Gangsta
Mind Playing Tricks on Me
Balls and My Word (outr0)
The World Is a Ghetto (Bushwick solo)