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.