Sunday, November 24, 2013

My Top Ten Hip Hop Albums - #10

Geto Boys - The Geto Boys

Song Title Time

"Fuck ’Em"   4:02

"Size Ain’t Shit"   3:41

"Mind of a Lunatic"   5:04

"Gangsta of Love"   5:12

"Trigga Happy Nigga"   3:47

"Life in the Fast Lane"   3:25

"Assassins"   5:06

"Do it Like a G.O."   4:25

"Read These Nikes"   3:37

"Talkin’ Loud, Ain’t Saying Nothin’"   3:55

"Scarface"   4:55

"Let a Ho be a Ho"   3:40

"City under Siege" 4:27

 While most often associated with their bigger hits like "Mind Playing Tricks On Me", "Still", or "Damn It Feels Good To Be A Gangster", The Geto Boys was a benchmark album that the group, and perhaps Southern Hiphop, would never reach again.  This self titled album is the group's greatest work, and is probably the most overlooked album in my top ten due to its unavailability. 
     The Geto Boys are a group based out of Houston, TX, which formed with an almost completely different lineup in 1986.  By 1989 the local Houston label Rap-a-Lot Records had released two albums under the Geto Boys name, featuring a raw and unrefined sound, with brash violent lyrics.  By 1990 the lineup of the group was vocalists Willie D, DJ Akshun (soon to rename himself Mr. Scarface), and Bushwick Bill, with DJ Ready Red manning the turntables. 
    Def Jam Records co-founder Rick Rubin, who was the producer responsible for the rock influenced sound from many of the successful early hip-hop acts (Run DMC, Beastie Boys, LL Cool J, Public Enemy) had left the label, and had founded Def American Recordings, a label distributed by Geffen Records.  Rubin signed the Geto Boys to his label, and then went back into the studio with this lineup, and re-recorded and remixed the best tracks from the first two albums, along with new tracks. 
    The Geto Boys were recording during a time frame when the West Coast was just starting to invent "gangsta rap", but the sound hadn't been fully worked out yet.  The Geto Boys obviously took influence from contemporaries like Ice T, but put their own spin on the subject matter, which revealed a grittier and more violent tone in their lyrics. However, the violence in the lyrics was taken to a level beyond anything that NWA or any of the other West Coast acts would put forth - a style later popularized as "horrorcore".  The Geto Boys talked about committing crimes, dealing drugs, rape, murder, and mayhem; and did so in a meticulous and detailed manner that made their lyrics stand out.  Rubin was able to take these raw lyrics that had been written before the dawn of gangsta rap, and back them with a different musical sound that was neither East nor West Coast.  The Geto Boys had their own unique version of hip-hop. 
     The problem was that The Geto Boys was released right at the apex of the backlash against explicit lyrics in hip-hop music.  The FBI's letter to the NWA, the banishment and  prosecution of 2 Live Crew, Tipper Gore's lobbying of the RIAA - all of these things were in full swing when Def American was set to release Geto Boys, and Geffen Records tried to distance themselves from it.  So, the album pretty much sat dormant at the initial time of release.  In 1991, the Geto Boys returned to Rap-A-Lot Records and released what was technically the groups fourth album, We Can't Be Stopped, piggybacked on the success of their hit single "Mind Playing Tricks On Me".  With the huge commercial success of that album and single, Def American was finally able to widely release Geto Boys, although it was done with little fanfare, and sales were far from spectacular. 
    The Geto Boys is similar to NWA's Straight Outta Compton, with much of the album comprised of solo joints by the group memebers, with everyone coming together for a few cuts.  The difference between the two albums is that many of these songs on The Geto Boys were in fact intended for other projects, but Rubin was able to remix them and give the album a consistent sound.  The Geto Boys also had a different lineup of MCs in the past, so some of the songs had been re-recorded, which helped to contribute to the consistency of the album.  An example of this would be the only single released from the album, "Do It Like A GO", which was released on a previous album, although it had originally been a track from the Willie D solo album Controversy.  When listening to this album, there is no reason you would think that this was the third version of that song, or that it didn't fit in with the rest of the album.  Rubin was able to take something existing and fit it into what his vision of the Geto Boys' sound was.  One difference between The Geto Boys and albums from their contemporaries, is that they really do delve into violent subject matter.  While NWA might have had songs with the subject of gang violence, such as "Gangsta Gangsta" or "Boyz N Tha Hood", Willie D rapped about kidnapping one of his teachers at the grocery store and then murdering her to obtain her gold necklace on the song "Assassins".  Scarface rapped about having intercourse with a woman as she has her head blown off.  Bushwick Bill rapped about a mental illness where the voices in his head compelled him to murder women.  This wasn't "gangsta rap", it was rapping about the sick shit that you see on the evening news. 
    Adding to the unique Get Boys style was the selection of samples.  Lynard Skynard, the Eagles, and Steve Miller Band were just a few of the notable southern rock sounds sampled - an obvious influence of Rubin.  At the same time, they also infused other southern soul sounds, such as Isaac Hayes, King Curtis, and James Brown. 
    This album, and the underground buzz it generated for the Geto Boys, helped to shape the sound of the South's rap scene, which was set to explode in the coming years.  When labels like No Limit would blow up with acts like Master P, Sylkk and Mystical, the influence of Geto Boys was obvious.  However, because of personnel changes in the group, a return to Rap-A-Lot Records, and the departure of Rubin, the Geto Boys sound would fall more in line with the groups imitating them, than the groundbreaking sound they have here. 

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