Houston's Geto Boys always had a talent for taking things too far. In the late '80s and early '90s, when contemporaries like Ice-T, N.W.A. and Public Enemy were exposing social injustices that spoke for legions of young black men and women, Bushwick Bill was dropping rhymes about grave-robbing and skull-fucking. When black motorist Rodney King was savagely beaten by four white Los Angeles police officers, Willie D made "Rodney K.," a song that called King an Uncle Tom for opting for peace over continued destruction in the wake of the L.A. riots. Scarface, whose solo career is a topic unto itself, took ultra-violence and depression to new levels in songs like "Born Killer" and "Dear Diary." And we all remember "Mind of a Lunatic." Man, those were the days.
But to sum up the merits of the former super-group on extremities alone would be unfair. Putting Face, Will and Chuckwick on the same track was almost always a guaranteed head-nodder, backed by an original Southern blend of bass, keys and funk that was mostly devoid of the heavy sampling prominent at the time. "Mind Playing Tricks on Me," their breakout hit from the summer of '91, stands as one of the most harrowing depictions of the ghetto ever committed to wax. And "Six Feet Deep," from 1993's Till Death Do Us Part, was a striking departure from the cartoonish exploits most gangsta rap bothered to offer: a mournful tribute to the group's fallen friends and family, steeped in atypical maturity and perspective.
That's why you'll crack a familiar smile when you hear songs like "I Tried" and "Leanin' on You" from the Geto Boys' eighth album, The Foundation. Resurrecting the group's most successful lineup of Scarface, Willie D and Bushwick Bill (who haven't recorded together since 1996), The Foundation has more than a few songs that remind us why Houston's 5th Ward still holds a special place in every hip-hop purist's heart. "Tried" and "Leanin'," in particular, are the kind of songs the group does best, ones that bridge the struggles of the hood with the hope of a better tomorrow, never sounding corny or compromised in the process. Other highlights include the Scarface solo turn "G Code," the funky "1, 2 the 3" and "The Secret."
Only missteps like the lazy "What?" quiet the comeback, and Bushwick's spotlight ("Dirty Bitch") quickly lays claim to the most hateful anti-woman song ever, a title previously held by Eminem's "Kim." Considering just how intelligent these guys actually are, it would've been nice if each member brought only their A-game material to the mike, leaving the misogyny and crime boasts behind. Regardless, The Foundation rolls with a confident swagger and timeless appeal, and still has enough moments to recapture that old gangsta-funk glory. It's a much-needed reality check, dirty bitches and all.
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