It was a landmark moment in gangsta rap history and cemented the rapper’s legacy as one of the most notorious figures in music, right up there with GG Allin, Sid Vicious, and Marilyn Manson. Now in the midst of the first Geto Boys tour in two decades to feature the classic lineup of Bushwick, Willie D, and Scarface—a tour that hits the Middle East June 29—two of the iconic Houston rappers spilled their souls in exclusive interviews with the Dig about the trailblazing group’s many ups and downs, including their high-profile scraps with government censors, their platinum albums, their on-and-off again personal relationships and, of course, the horrifyingly gory shooting that, for better or worse, will forever be a key piece of their legacy.
“At the end of the day, however it came out, that’s one of the hardest album covers ever. Because it’s real,” Bushwick said recently from San Antonio. “My eye was really sitting on my cheek. Now that I look back at it, every time I look at that album cover, it reminds me what not to do. Not to take matters into my own hands and leave it to God.”
It was 1991 when the shooting occurred on the eve of the release of the Geto Boys’ much-anticipated fourth album, We Can’t Be Stopped. The now-classic record was the follow-up to the group’s self-titled 1990 album, which was produced by Beastie Boys/Public Enemy/Run-DMC kingmaker Rick Rubin. Fans were fiending for more of their wild gangsta tales, many obsessively searching for a viable alternative to the genre’s undisputed kings, N.W.A.
The Geto Boys album, which featured mug shots on its cover of Bushwick, Willie D (Willie Dennis), Scarface (Brad Jordan), and former member DJ Ready Red, included 10 previously recorded songs that were re-done by Rubin, including “Do It Like a G.O.,” “Mind of a Lunatic” and the Lynyrd Skynyrd-sampling, XXX-rated “Gangster of Love,” all of which became instant classics that remain hallmarks of the golden era of gangsta rap.
The Rubin-produced album was so controversial that Geffen Records refused to distribute it and Geto Boys became public enemy #1 for Al Gore’s wife Tipper and her Parents Music Resource Center—the organization that created the Parental Advisory sticker. In addition to the sticker, Rubin’s Def American, which put out the record, included this unprecedented additional warning: “Def American Recordings is opposed to censorship. Our manufacturer and distributor, however, do not condone or endorse the content of this recording, which they find violent, sexist, racist, and indecent.”
The controversy and political grandstanding only fueled the simmering rage inside the three young rappers.
“We were fearless, man. We didn’t really care,” Willie D told the Dig from Houston. “We were too naïve or too fucking ignorant to even care about the PMRC or all that shit—the government, and Tipper Gore. We were like, ‘Fuck them motherfuckers. Tipper Gore is a whore.’ We didn’t care.
“Who the fuck are they to say their way is the right way to talk? This is the United States of America. We didn’t really care about nobody but what our fans thought. We knew that we had a message and ultimately our message was to get to the heart of the struggle.”
They were as angry and rebellious as N.W.A., as politically astute as Public Enemy, and had more salacious sex rhymes than 2 Live Crew, yet had their own soulful, southern edge, caustic wit, and an uncanny knack for melody and musicianship that set them apart from the pack.
But for Bushwick, the pressure was building. He was 24 and had a son with a 17-year-old woman, Tamika Randleston. He was frustrated that their last record sold hundreds of thousands of copies, but he was broke and was losing his family’s health care—along with his mind.
It was June 19, 1991. In a Texas apartment, drunk and suicidal, Bushwick grabbed his loaded gun, forced it into Tamika’s hand, put the barrel to his head and ordered her to shoot him.
“I got drunk so I wasn’t thinking rationally,” he recalled. “I remembered there was life insurance on me. I thought, if I could kill me, my family could get that money.
“I gave her the gun cocked already. She turned her head away and was trying to put it down when I turned and the gun went off. I’m just fortunate I’m alive to talk about it 22 years later. God saw fit for me to live, despite my ignorance.”
He says he was pronounced dead, even going into the morgue with a tag on his toe. However, he showed signs of life, and soon was rushed into surgery. What happened next defies logic, but became one of rap’s most bizarre and infamous moments. Someone from the record label—Bushwick won’t say who—made the decision to put him on a gurney and snapped a picture of Willie D and Scarface somberly wheeling him down the hospital hallway. He’s got a giant, Miami Vice-style cell phone to his ear, a 5th Ward Posse cap tilted on his head, and his destroyed eye is bare for the world to see.
He says he agreed to the grim shot, and the stark reality of the disturbing album cover instantly upped the ante in the gangsta rap game at a time when every rapper with a .22, a dub sack, and an MPC sampler was seeking to up their street cred to inflate record sales.
“It tripped me out. I didn’t even remember the picture until I seen it. I was drugged up,” he says. “I don’t even know who took the patch off my eye.”
The notoriety that followed the gory album cover—coupled with the infectious, Isaac Hayes-sampling, urban paranoia anthem “Mind Playing Tricks on Me”—pushed We Can’t Be Stopped into the Billboard top 20 and it went platinum.
“Those were the best days because there was a sense of innocence there,” Willie D says. “That was at a time when you really felt like you were doing something, that you were making a difference. You felt like the people involved were dedicated and supported everything you were doing. The fans were really fans.
“That was right around the time when hip-hop started really getting commercialized,” he continues.
“And I think the commercialism is what destroyed hip-hop. Maybe destroyed is a bit too harsh. But it destroyed the passion. It stole the soul.”