On “Nothin’ 2 Show,” one of the better tracks on The Foundation, Willie D. warns of the times “when you’re down on your luck/nobody gives a fuck/bill collectors on your heels and a repo on your wheels.” This hip-hop home economics lesson is anchored by a boast about Willie’s life insurance policy. Longevity in an ephemeral world is, after all, a subject the Geto Boys know well. Here, from the opening dis to “devils in high places who’ve been conspiring to kill off present and future black entrepreneurs/independent mom and pop stores,” the Geto Boys push back hard against the forces bent on their destruction.
The GBs made rap loathsome and formidable before being loathsome and formidable was mandatory. They were denounced by Bob Dole. They parlayed Bushwick Bill’s getting shot in the eye into a marketing gimmick long before 50 Cent (and The Game, etc., etc.) turned slug wounds into cash. And they’re still better than many of those they’ve inspired.
The Foundation wisely eschews Kanye-Neptunes-producer-of-the-week standard fare. Scarface is a major producer in his own right (his past as Def Jam South head is well-known). He helps keep the backing tracks from sounding like nostalgia pieces. Keeping things in-house helps give a group feeling, kinda like a band, a tightness that’s rare in an otherwise producer-dominated genre. Maybe that is part of what makes the GBs remind me of my other favorite group of ghetto boys, Black Sabbath. Who else so effectively melds heaviness and moodiness, sentimentality and gloom?
Bushwick Bill still provides comic relief, but you wouldn’t want to laugh too loud. Occasionally, he gets surprisingly self-conscious, like on the tired you-dumped-me-so-I’ll-kill-ya misogyno-dirge “Dirty Bitch.” The feculent rant is almost redeemed by his admission that “I’m too short to take shorts.” There are real signs of maturity, though. “I Tried” is a remorseful soul ballad, with the three leaning smooth and repentant into some highbrow hi-hat. Later, Willie D. expounds civic pride: “Take an interest in politics, Chopin and Van Gogh/shoot a muthafucka up and then go vote.” And on “Leanin’ on You,” a somewhat spiritual ditty, Bill sheds a tear out his good eye, but cautions, “This ain’t no poor-little-me song.”
Even when things get sensitive, the Geto Boys are still more Axis of Evil than Axis: Bold as Love. On the lead single alone, they manage to dis gays, the Beatles (“fuck Paul”), women, and just about anyone else. Or, as the album’s intro says: “War and peace—more war than peace.” The chickens are coming home to roost again.