Meanwhile, in my car I've been bumping an MP3 disc Neal made me with a coupla hundred rap songs, old stuff, new stuff, good stuff, bad stuff. It's not on shuffle play, but the player sorts by artist name, so I got a bunch of 2 Pac, a bunch of 50 Cent, a bunch of Eminem, etc. Right now I'm listening to a bunch of Geto Boys, and as always there's a real Guilty Pleasure thing going on here. Because the Geto Boys are as goofily scary in a "protect me, Lord, from those awful gangsta rappers" way as any band that ever lived. Their music and production doesn't often match that of Dre with N.W.A, but Willie D and Bushwick and the rest are better rappers than anyone in the Compton group with the possible exception of Ice Cube. And while I know humor is subjective, and Geto Boys are as misogynistic and misanthropic and profane and violent as it gets, the truth is they are funnier than most bands, too, even though I'm regularly embarrassed for laughing (I told you they were a guilty pleasure). There's "Gangster of Love," which features a sample from "Sweet Home Alabama" and a couplet where they rhyme "hold 'em" and "scrotum" ... hey, I laughed, even though one site said it's "generally considered the most offensive rap song of all time" ... and "Fuck 'Em," with a chorus that, shall we say, mirrors the song's title. Who can keep a straight face through the classic "Read These Nikes" ("When I dispose of your ass like waste, and nothin but my shoe is in your muthafuckin face, you're readin these Nikes!").
Just when you think there is no substance to the band, they come up with stunning classics like "Mind Playin' Tricks on Me," a complex exploration of the fears underlying the gangsta persona. It starts with Scarface seemingly talking to himself ... "I sit alone in my four-cornered room staring at candles ... Oh that shit is on?" One by one, the Geto Boys tell their haunted tales. He continues:
I’m paranoid, sleeping with my finger on the trigger
My mother’s always stressing I ain’t living right ...
It’s fucked up when your mind is playing tricks on you
Willie D takes the next verse:
Ain’t no use to be lying, I was scareder than a motherfucker ...
I keep looking over my shoulder and peeping around corners
My mind is playing tricks on me
Scarface then returns in despair:
I often drift while I drive
Havin fatal thoughts of suicide
Bang and get it over with
And then I’m worry-free, but that’s bullshit
I got a little boy to look after
And if I died then my child would be a bastard
I had a woman down with me
But to me it seemed like she was down to get me
She helped me out in this shit
But to me she was just another bitch
Now she’s back with her mother
Now I’m realizing that I love her
Now I’m feeling lonely
My mind is playing tricks on me
Finally, Bushwick finishes it off with a heartbreaking vocal ... lyrics don't do justice to the way he says "God damn, homie" before closing with the inevitable "My mind is playing tricks on me." Bushwick Bill is a dwarf who forced his girlfriend to shoot him ... he lost his eye as a result, and the cover of the album which contains "Mind Playing Tricks on Me," We Can't Be Stopped, shows Bill on a hospital gurney, eye all messed up, Scarface and Willie D pushing him down the hall ... his solo album, Little Big Man, included the amazing "Ever So Clear," which tells the awful story of the eye-shooting incident and concludes "it's fucked up I had to lose an eye to see shit clearly."
Meanwhile, there's the political commentary, like "Fuck a War" ("I ain't fightin' behind no goddamn oil against motherfuckas I don't know, Yo Bush! I ain't your damn ho!") and "Ain't With Being Broke" ("being broke/ain't no mutha fuckin joke").
And when you decide OK, maybe there's some redeeming value to these guys, you get a song that mixes all my reactions into one, like Willie D's solo effort, "Fuck Rodney King" ("Fuck that mothafucking sell-out hoe, they need to beat his ass some mo'").
Like I said, guilty pleasure. I can't think of very many people reading this blog who would actually want to listen to Geto Boys, but at least give "Mind Playin' Tricks on Me" a try.