By Steve Weinstein
By Bryan Bierman
By Lindsey Rhoades
By Chaz Kangas
By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Jena Ardell
By Jesse Sendejas Jr.
By Katherine Turman
Brad Jordan hasn't changed meaningfully in 20 years. The Houston rap giant's first famous song, "Mind Playing Tricks on Me," found him sitting alone in a four-cornered room, haunted by visions. He was 21 years old, and George Herbert Walker Bush was president. Last month, Brad turned 39, and America elected Barack Obama. There's probably a 10-minute "We Didn't Start the Fire" anthem to be written about what's happened to rap music in between. But "the homey Scarface" remains proudly, defiantly alone, having made a point—a virtue—of never changing. Everything he believed in in his early twenties, he remains convinced of now that he's kicking 40's door down—a sad statement on inflexibility, but a testament to a peculiar kind of integrity.
Emeritus is Scarface's ninth studio album, and, he claims, his last, though he's been threatening retirement for so long, it's begun to feel like a reflex. He nonetheless remains consumed with righteous contempt for snitches and obsessed with "the code of the streets," as it were: "Let's keep it real/I got the documents to prove it/You a snitchin'-ass nigga/Tryin' to hide behind your music," he crows on "High Powered." The chorus of the mournful "Soldier Story" (which also features his quiet, elegant blues-guitar comping) says it all: "The streets always been my daddy/And mommy is the county jail/I'm a soldier and I'm about my mil/I ain't tryin' to do right/I'm already livin' in hell/Cuz I'm a gangsta." Scarface has built his entire persona around these kinds of cold-comfort affirmations, and here they feel like folk wisdom.
Ever since 1996's five-mics-in-The-Source landmark The Fix, 'Face has been relentlessly refining his sound, and on Emeritus, he continues stripping away, boiling down his beats until they're little more than a thumping chassis with some sticky guitar and organ adorned, while cutting his words until each one lands with thudding resonance. He still paints in mercilessly vivid strokes: parents identifying their dead children's bodies, crack sold in jelly jars. His misery is still fresh, but there's comfort in familiarity. Scarface remains trapped in the four-cornered room of his mind, but he seems to have found a measure of peace in solitude, turning out quietly masterful albums like this one, and letting time turn him into a weathered monument.