BOOK REVIEW | "DIARY OF A MADMAN: THE GETO BOYS, LIFE, DEATH AND THE ROOTS OF SOUTHERN HIP HOP" BY BRAD 'SCARFACE' JORDAN
photo & text by nacrowe
when i encountered SOUTHERN HIP HOP icons THE GETO BOYS in high school my first impression was their earnestness. they weren't attempting to showcase how clever they were with their wordplay, flow or prowess with the medium. they were not attempting to impress with anything other than the direct power of the narrative of their music which focused on issues related to street life and being black in a corrupt system (legal or illegal) out to get you. along with WILLIE D and BUSHWICK BILL (R.I.P.), rapper SCARFACE showcased unadulterated authenticity that was never in question and was so overly earnest and direct (almost ERNEST HEMINGWAY-esque) that it could be mistaken for humor at times, something that was exploited to full comedic effect in numerous classic scenes from OFFICE SPACE (TWENTIETH CENTURY FOX, 1999).
along with CALIFORNIA-based acts like ICE-T, N.W.A. and TUPAC, HOUSTON's THE GETO BOYS were part of a generation of HIP HOP acts that took the cue from NYC's PUBLIC ENEMY and publicized injustice and corruption in their local communities for all to hear across the country, reigniting the social consciousness of the genre. no wonder his message was too much for the suits and white media to handle, even before RODNEY KING and the L.A. RIOTS.
in his autobiography DIARY OF A MADMAN (DEY STREET, 2015), BRAD "SCARFACE" JORDAN likewise maintains his direct voice and authenticity as he unsparingly evaluates his upbringing and life decisions in and out of the rap game. what i found most interesting in his memoir was his outspoken appreciation for writers, producers and engineers not associated with rap that included but not limited to LOU REED, ELTON JOHN & BERNIE TAUPIN, PINK FLOYD & ALAN PARSONS, KISS, BLACK SABBATH, CHAKA KHAN, and PARLIAMENT among numerous others mentioned throughout. SCARFACE has this reputation for his almost journalistic, unflinching eye for details and it makes sense that growing up he had a curious ear that didn't limit itself to specific genres. of course he grew up in the era before HIP HOP, but this sensibility of looking for peers outside his comfort zone stuck with him throughout his creative process. whether producing beats or about to commence a writing session, he speaks at one point about his process of chilling out and listening to a series of songs by different artists to get him in the proper space to create and be original.
thats another thing, he really makes the repeated point that biting on another's style gets you clowned on where he is from. that resonated with me as i have seen the pressure by people around me to make certain types of beats, not because they are good, but because that is what's fashionable at the moment. i get that pressure. ive seen it firsthand.
all autobiographies are about the subject presenting themselves in the light they wish to be contextualize themselves and for SCARFACE this means providing a window through his music to the oppressed. by that he explicitly state the black community that is being suppressed by institutional racism and a legal system designed to limit their agency. he knows full well that these truths are hard for WHITE AMERICA to swallow, but he sees his job as an artist to reporter his truth and the truth of his community. whether such gets labeled as glamorizing sex, violence and drug usage by a WHITE MEDIA is a matter beyond his control.
i thought he eloquently made his point regarding WHITE AMERICA throughout the whole book and his case was compelling, but what really got my attention was how he detailed the exploitation of his former label RAP-A-LOT RECORDS and its founding CEO JAMES PRINCE. that a homegrown black enterprise exploited his creativity for years is quite a story and the fact that the more corporate DEF JAM RECORDS set him straight financially and recognized his value and paid him for his worth is one of the big ironies of this narrative. one of many.
if you are fan of SOUTHERN HIP HOP, THE GETO BOYS or are interested in the history of HIP HOP or the inner-workings of the business, this book is a great choice narrated in a direct, matter-of-fact style. served straight up.