photo & text by nacrowe
a few years back, right after my return stateside after teaching abroad for almost a decade, i found myself interviewing a rapper from the BRONX that my cousin was producing and recording. i was gathering information for a future press release. one of the questions i had for him were his lyrical influences and what he drew from them. right away he said GUCCI MANE and THREE 6 MAFIA since they both kept it absolutely authentic and only rapped about their communities (ATLANTA and MEMPHIS, respectively) and their struggle in the drug game and music industry.
given this cosign, i was excited to read the recent memoir THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF GUCCI MANE (SIMON & SCHUSTER, 2017) hoping to get some insight into how this GUCCI MANE perceives his relationship to his community and artistic legacy. it was a little disappointing that for such an electric, effervescent personality, his memoir largely doesn't deliver on its promise, instead resorting to a paint-by-numbers literal walkthrough of his childhood, court dates and petty beefs with other rappers (YOUNG JEEZY) and various empty purchases. to an extent i understand and expect that memoirs are partly an exercise in self mythology except for that rare occurrence when an artist really feels the need for a MEA CULPA or to set the record straight on some aspect of their career/persona that has been misinterpreted by the public. neither seems to be the case here as again, the book focuses on the timeline of his life from the poor backwoods of rural ALABAMA to his move to ATLANTA as a young adolescent and his introduction to both HIP HOP and selling dope, which led to his rise to fame and battle with the authorities, rival gangs and rappers, drug addiction, mental illness, etc.
again, things here just seem to happen to him. its a pretty somnambulistic way of perceiving your existence, but its his book not mine. seemed a shame because his lyricism is incredibly inventive and humorous at that. as my friend from the BRONX properly surmised, he also has a distinct voice and persona that exudes authenticity. which is again why this book was a bit of a disappointment.
i wasn't looking for details into the inner-workings of the drug game or readouts of his numerous court appearances. most of that i can find elsewhere. i was looking to learn more about what makes the guy tick.
if you are a fan of GUCCI MANE and SOUTHERN HIP HOP than this might interest you, otherwise i'd steer clear and maybe consider other recent autobiographies by the likes of DARRYL "DMC" MCDANIELS of RUN-DMC (review linked HERE) or SCARFACE or THE GETO BOYS (review linked HERE).
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.