Scarface - Biography
By Paul Glanting
Originating from the urban boroughs of New York, Hip Hop was a reflection of inner-city life. The concrete-centric themes echoed throughout the lower echelons of metropolitan cities throughout the world. However, in its early stages, the struggles presented by the genre didn’t exactly reflect the struggles of the oppressed populations of non-urban areas. One of the first prominent wordsmiths from the south, Brad “Scarface” Jordan introduced the Hip Hop world to the gritty and sometimes difficult to swallow truths of what Hip Hop would later call the “Dirty South.” Even as his locale made him an outsider to Hip Hop, the Houston-bred rapper’s growling flow remained confident. Scarface would also be a pioneer in the rise of the independent label, reaching a fairly high plateau of mainstream success through his consistent loyalty to the small labels whom gave him his early opportunities.
Born in Houston, Texas, Brad Jordan began his career by rapping under the name Akshen for a small Houston-based label called Short Stop Records. Meanwhile, Houston was also spawning a rap group called The Geto Boys, which was comprised of rappers, Prince Johnny C, Sire Jukebox and DJ Reddy Red as well as dancer, Bushwick Bill. The Geto Boys released the album Making Trouble (Rap-A-Lot-1988), which was met with mediocre critical response and lackluster sales. Rap-A-Lot decided to replace the group’s rappers, Prince Johnny C and Sire Juxebox with a pair of other fledgling rappers, Willie D and Jordan, now taking the name of the fictitious Cuban druglord, Scarface, from the 1983 film of the same name. In the newly constructed Geto Boys lineup, the 3”8 Bushwick Bill, the only other member of the original Geto Boys lineup aside from DJ Reddy Red, would also join Willie D and Scarface as a rapper.
Now with the Geto Boys, Scarface and Co. released Grip It! On That Other Level (Rap-A-Lot-1989). Because The Geto Boys’ debut album was largely ignored, their group’s sophomore album was by and large, considered to be The Geto Boys’ breakout. Like many other Hip Hop releases being released at the time, Grip It! On That Other Level began to steer itself into heavily controversial territory. Songs like “Trigga Happy Nigga” and “Let a Ho Be a Ho” drew angry criticism from activist groups who claimed the album was glorifying misogyny and violence. Because of the risqué nature of the newly restructured Geto Boys’ second album, it received very little attention from large outlets like MTV and mainstream radio. Nevertheless, despite substantial dissent from the mainstream, Grip It! On That Other Level acquired the Geto Boys a large following and began to make a name for Hip Hop from the south.
Grip It!... caught the attention of pioneering Hip Hop producer Rick Rubin, who had made a name for himself by producing records, and launching the careers of Hip Hop icons like LL Cool J, Run DMC and the Beastie Boys. Rubin brought the Geto Boys to his label, Def American, which he created once he left Def Jam, the iconic label he helped form. The Geto Boys then released the eponymous The Geto Boys (Def American-1990), which was ten of the tracks from their previous album, remixed. Along with the album’s “Parental Advisory” sticker, an additional warning regarding the vulgar nature of the album was included, perhaps an attempt to steer the controversy surrounding their lyrical transgression, in the group’s favor.
The next year the Geto Boys yielded We Can't Be Stopped (Rap-A-Lot-1991), which was another testament to the group’s fondness for gritty and unrelenting narratives. During the album’s production, Bushwick Bill had fallen into an intoxicated rut, resulting in his being shot in the eye. The cover of We Can't Be Stopped features Willie D and Scarface pushing their band-mate, Bill, on a gurney during an actual visit to Bushwick Bill in the hospital. The album featured what would be the group’s only number one single and is perhaps their most progressive single “Mind Playing Tricks on Me.” Over a melodic and soulful break, the group laid didactic lyrical prose, vividly describing the bleak consequences of gang violence and drug abuse. On the song, Bill recounts his unfortunate struggle with substance abuse, which cost him an eye.
The Geto Boys had steadily built a cult following for their raw lyrical depictions of their surroundings. Soon after the release of the Geto Boys’ fourth album, Scarface stepped out on his own and released his first solo album Mr. Scarface Is Back (Rap-A-Lot-1991). Scarface didn’t disappoint on his first solo venture and Mr. Scarface Is Back easily established Scarface as the most recognizable member of the Geto Boys, always appearing dauntingly well-dressed, Scarface was becoming a stoic figure in Hip Hop. Soon, Scarface’s popularity outweighed the collective success of the Geto Boys. However, while Scarface began to consistently release a string of successful solo-albums, he remained with the group with whom he made his name.
Perhaps attempting to follow in the footsteps of Scarface, Willie D also decided to pursue a solo career. However, unlike the popular Scarface, Willie took what would end up being a temporary leave of absence from the group and is therefore, he is entirely absent from the Geto Boys’ fifth album Till Death Do Us Part (Rap-A-Lot-1993). Again met with a fairly positive response, singles like “Six Feet Deep” and “”Straight Gangstaism” were given a musical boost by a live band, which included guitar, bass and keyboards. Other Southern Hip Hop groups such as Outkast and UGK would later adopt the implementation of live instrumentation.
Later that year Scarface released his second solo album, The World Is Yours (Rap-A-Lot-1993) and while not held with as high regard as his solo debut, was still a commercial success and continued to establish the gruff Houstonian rapper as an icon of Southern Hip Hop.
Scarface then released what is often considered his opus and a watershed album in the rise of Southern rap music with The Diary (Rap-A-Lot-1994). Still true to his tough sentiments, Scarface’s third solo album spilled significantly more heartfelt tales, as can be heard on songs like “I Seen a Man Die” and “No Tears.” Scarface also did a reworking of his group’s profound single, with “Mind Playin’ Tricks on Me ’94.” The Diary’s acclaim perhaps hit its pinnacle by snagging The Source magazine’s highly coveted “Five Mic Rating.”
After working with the newly reunited Geto Boys on their acclaimed album The Resurrection (Rap-A-Lot-1996), Scarface released The Untouchable (Rap-A-Lot-1997), an album that was released amidst Hip Hop’s collective mourning for slain rappers Tupac Shakur and The Notorious B.I.G. The reflective single “Smile”, which featured Tupac, was wildly successful and would attain Gold status.
Scarface remained with the Geto Boys, while his status as a solo artist continued to ascend. The Geto Boys then released their album Da Good Da Bad & Da Ugly (Rap-A-Lot-1998), which, as evidence by its lengthy list of guest appearances was indicative of the South gaining notoriety as a force within Hip Hop. As Southern Hip Hop became prominent, Scarface’s contribution to the genre wasn’t forgotten. My Homies (Rap-A-Lot-1998) was a double-disc album, which was a showcase of collaborations between Scarface and various artists. On the album Scarface is featured laying out his aggressive rhymes alongside other noteworthy Southern Hip Hop artists like Devin the Dude, UGK, Master P as well as fellow-Geto Boys Willie D and Bushwick Bill.
While not as commercially lucrative as past releases, The Last Of A Dying Breed (Rap-A-Lot) met an immensely positive critical reaction as songs like “Look Me In My Eyes” and “Sorry For What?” highlighted the Southern legend’s thick and brutal rhymes.
Stepping closer to Hip Hop’s mainstream, Scarface would go to Def Jam records and release The Fix (Def Jam-2002), an album that featured the upbeat anthem “My Block”, as well as contributions from Hip Hop mainstays like Jay-Z, Kanye West, Beanie Sigal and Nas. The Fix was another critical success for Scarface and would be his second album to earn a “Five-Mic Rating.”
The Geto Boys again formed to release what has become their final album, The Foundation (Rap-A-Lot-2005). Probably due to Scarface’s visibility on tracks like “G-Code” and “Yes, Yes Y’all”, the album was fairly commercially successful and introduced a new Hip Hop-listening audience to the back catalogue of the legendary Hip Hop group.
Scarface returned to Rap-A-Lot records to release his eighth album, Made (Rap-A-Lot-2007). And, while Scarface’s return to the independent label that helped build his career spelled less coverage for his album, Made met a good amount of critical praise. Scarface then announced that his ninth album, Emeritus (Rap-A-Lot-2008) would be his final effort. Featuring a lengthy and impressive list of guest appearances, many of whom Scarface had helped to influence, the album was another successful effort from the Houston-born rapper.
Scarface has reached a remarkably high level of success, especially considering the minimal amount of mainstream attention he’s received. Always staying true to his raw lyrics as well as the Southern region from which he came, Scarface has never compromised his integrity and truly make the ancient Hip Hop idiom “keep it real” tangible.”