Geto Boys: Texas rap gods return to SA
Geto Boys’ End of the World Party and Concert feat. Dirty Wormz
9pm, Fri, Dec 21
1305 E. Houston
It’s been 15 years since Scarface, Bushwick Bill, and Willie D took the stage together as Geto Boys in San Antonio. Since then, they’ve released two albums, 14 solo albums, and a slew of singles with actual performances coming few and far between. With plans for an upcoming tour in the spring, the trio returns to the Alamo City for a tune-up performance that promises hefty doses of gangsta nostalgia. Hip-hop legend Willie D credits the show to fan response in San Antonio, and confirms select pretour dates in Austin, Chicago, and Washington D.C., but no real promise for a new Geto Boys album.
“They want Geto Boys,” says Willie D describing the group’s devoted fan base. “They want us, and it feels good to know that we don’t have to put out a new album for people to want us, to want to do business with us, to want to see us. We don’t have to put out a new album to have a sold out show. We can go five, six, seven years without doing a show and you book a Geto Boys show and it’s sold out. That’s rare in hip-hop.”
1989 was a landmark year for William James Dennis, perhaps the most overlooked member of the group. Released that year, his solo debut LP Controversy memorably featured a cop, a Klansman, a bikini-clad female, and Willie D himself flexing through some overalls on the cover, and delivered on the promise of explicit lyrics and street raps tinged with political commentary. In addition, the Houston rapper joined fellow Geto Boys Scarface and Bushwick Bill on Grip It! On That Other Level, effectively putting Rap-A-Lot records and Southern hip-hop on the map. Recorded in 10 days for a mere $2,500, the album caught the ear of Def Jam architect Rick Rubin, who helped bring 5th Ward verisimilitude to the masses via his Def American label.
“It was so organic,” says Willie D, reflecting on those early days in the studio. “We felt like it was us against the world. We had the presence of mind to accept the challenge. We felt like we were about to go to war because we knew we were up against a whole institution that discarded the South and disregarded the South.”
Masterminded by burgeoning rap mogul James Smith, Geto Boys rhymes touched on a slew of taboo topics including murder and necrophilia, and their sound stood in stark contrast to anything coming out of the East.
“We didn’t have Broadway lights, all we had was street lights,” recalls Willie D. “So we talked about what we knew. We talked about the streets as we knew the streets. We talked about the struggle as we knew the struggle. The struggle is universal. Pain is universal. We felt like if we could just talk about our pain and talk about our struggle that it would be accepted and that’s what we did. We felt like it was a special moment.”
Following their success with Rubin behind the boards, the trio returned in 1991 with We Can’t Be Stopped, regarded by purists as the most important album in the history of Southern rap.
The album cover featured Bushwick Bill brazenly flaunting a fresh gunshot wound to the eye, flanked by his partners in rhyme. Fueled by the hit single “Mind Playing Tricks On Me,” the LP was certified platinum with the accompanying video for the track garnering heavy rotation on MTV.
“We took an everyday topic that people like to glamorize and we showed the dark side of it,” said Willie D. “At the time that was something that was unconscionable. Rappers didn’t talk about their vulnerabilities. They only talked about the glamorous side of the drug game and we wanted to expose the flip side of that, the paranoia side where you’re just always in a state of emergency. You’re always watching your back. You think everybody’s out to get you. I think that was what really, really endured people to that song.”
After We Can’t Be Stopped, Willie D left the Geto Boys to focus on solo projects before reuniting with Scarface and Bushwick Bill for 2005’s critically acclaimed The Foundation. Earlier this year he released “Hoodiez,” a tribute to slain Florida teen Trayvon Martin that featured guest verses from Scarface, Propain, and D-Boi. With fans still clamoring for new material from the group, Willie D cites the funds required to produce, market, and promote a quality album as a key obstacle.
Others point to the group’s very genesis as an obstacle to new tracks. While fellow luminaries like Public Enemy and Run-DMC shared a tangible bond, Geto Boys were first brought together by James Smith for a commercial, albeit creative venture. Although they are brothers-in-rhyme who share an undeniable chemistry in the studio, it’s been a while since they have been regarded as the most cohesive unit. This week Willie D takes the stage in San Antonio with the group’s legacy on his mind.
“I read some article somebody put out on the top 20 hip-hop groups of all time and Geto Boys was listed around twelve or something like that,” says Willie D. “I don’t know 11 rap groups better than the Geto Boys. I just don’t.” — M. Solís