Scarface is hip-hop’s most stunning paradox. If you add up his solo projects (including the studio-leftovers cash-grab Balls and My Word and counting the original double-disc Homies as one release, not two), his work with the Geto Boys, and the recent debut from the Product (One Hunid), Scarface has amassed an incredible sixteen albums of cultish, invigorating hood music in the same number of years. That’s a staggering, unparalleled accomplishment; you’d have better luck finding sixteen rappers who’ve only made one semi-good album during that period.
In Houston, ‘Face is king. Outside the city he’s largely an afterthought, and that speaks nothing to his talent, which is, again, staggering and unparalleled. He’s just more omnipresent than overbearing. His stuff sells well but rarely rises above platinum status; he’s been doing this since the early ’90s. He gets passed over for magazine covers (a recent Source found him sharing the photo op with half of Houston) and as Village Voice‘s Tom Breihan pointed out before I could, he never pulls rank in “top five dead or alive” conversations or highly subjective MTV lists, though his influence is enough to make T.I. call him father. He winds up on mixtapes, but not on half as many as rappers with a third of his appeal and less than a quarter of his longevity. He’s had maybe three certified hit singles, one more if you count Geto Boys’ “Mind Playing Tricks on Me” fifteen years ago. He never turns up in the news for anything negative, such as getting shot/shooting people or not making child support payments or starring in thinly veiled biographical movies. For all I know, some of this is his fault. He could be turning down free publicity left and right and entirely content as a respectable underground legend who’s flirted with the mainstream but who’s never taken the whole bait.
Part of it is his fault, of course. For one, the artwork he lets onto his albums and those of the Geto Boys, save for the ghoulish Def Jam-released-and-poorly-marketed The Fix, is absolute dog shit, painfully amateurish and all demo-looking. It was forgivable for awhile, given the kind of budget Rap-A-Lot was probably working with, but now it’s just a slap in the face to a guy with so much under his belt and still something left to offer. (Admittedly, this has nothing to do with the content on those records, but I’ve always wanted to make this point.)
‘Face is also way too damn modest, easily the most generous veteran in rap, the guy responsible for breaking Ludacris and who lets a bunch of lesser-talent newcomers suck up much of the air-time on his own album. My Homies 2 is that album, and it’s actually really good despite some horrible contributions from folks I have no interest in ever hearing again, people such as Partners-N-Crime and Spaide R.I.P.P.E.R., who check in respectively with “Club Bangaz” and “Always,” each a lame and sorely outdated attempt at pleasing some generic focus group or filling a trunk-rattle quota.
These are the only two major missteps on Homies 2, though that’s not to say the rest of the album breaks any new ground. “Definition of Real” features longtime (if infrequent) collaborator Ice Cube, who spits an empty-threatening verse he could’ve written ten years ago. (Cube still sounds dope, though.) “Pass the Itchy” and “Tryin’ to Fuck Something” are passable retreads of favorite Scarface themes: getting high and getting pussy. So is “Gotta Get Paid” (money). But nothing feels faked or forced, as the anthemic “Never Snitch” (with Beanie Sigel and a superb Game) and “Man Cry,” a soul-as-window turn by the underrated Z-Ro, prove convincingly. Shows of unity — the Houston-stacked “Platinum Starz” and “Southern Nigga,” featuring Mr. Lee, Rell, 8-Ball, E-Rock, Lil’ Keke and Slim Thug — also keep things from getting stuck. More important, there’s great mood control, celebration and sorrow tastefully sequenced, ending perfectly with “My Life,” a rousing if hypeless Geto Boys reunion.
But hypeless says it all. Homies 2 is another great if indistinguishable addition to ‘Face’s endless catalog, a single-less album dropped with no warning and wrapped in a cover that looks like a poster for an al Qaeda training DVD (or VHS tape, those antiquated fucks). But we’ll accept this. Too much pushiness compromises the time-specter-continuum in which ‘Face dwells, a place we should feel privileged to behold when given the chance but that we clearly take for granted. If only such humility meant something outside of Houston.
Rap-A-Lot Records Web site