Though the controversial subject matter of gangsta rap wasn’t much of a barrier to popular success during the ’90s, the Geto Boys’ recordings proved almost too extreme for widespread exposure. Blocked from distributing their 1990 major-label debut by Geffen — who insisted that a track dealing with necrophilia as well as murder was a step too far – the group’s label, Rap-A-Lot Records struck a deal with producer Rick Rubin, who arranged another distributor for the album, released on his own Def American label.
The controversy, which occurred two years earlier than similar censorship incidents involving Ice-T and 2 Live Crew, gave the Geto Boys a large amount of publicity. Their follow-up, We Can’t Be Stopped, eventually hit platinum, though the trio of Scarface, Willie D, and Bushwick Bill began to fracture by 1993. After releasing solo albums during the mid-’90s, the Geto Boys reunited in 1996 for their most praised album yet, The Resurrection.
When the Geto Boys came together in 1986, though, it was with a completely different lineup. Formed as the Ghetto Boys, the group consisted first of Raheem, The Sire Jukebox, and Sir Rap-A-Lot. When Raheem and Sir Rap-A-Lot left, the group added DJ Ready Red, Prince Johnny C, and Little Billy (a dancer who came out on stage to warm the crowd up before the rappers took to the stage). Little Billy would later become Bushwick Bill. The first single the group released was “Car Freak” in 1986, which then followed with two LPs “You Ain’t Nothin’/I Run This” in 1987, and “Be Down” in 1988.
The group released their debut album in 1988 entitled, Making Trouble. With the release receiving very little attention, the group broke up shortly thereafter and a new line-up was put together with DJ Ready Red, and the inclusion of Akshen (aka Scarface born Brad Jordan, in Houston) and Willie ‘D’ Dennis (born in Houston), both aspiring solo artists. After suggesting that Little Billy join the group as a rapper, Willie D wrote “Size Ain’t Shit.” It was recorded three days later by Little Billy, who did such a good job rapping his first ever rap, that he was offered a contract, added to the group as an official member, and became Bushwich Bill.
After the Geto Boys’ Grip It! On That Other Level caught the ear of hip-hop impresario Rick Rubin (LL Cool J, Beastie Boys), Rubin re-mixed and re-recorded tracks from the album. He was ready to release it on his Def American label in 1990 when distributor Geffen balked at “Mind of a Lunatic,” a track which described necrophilia with a murder victim. By late 1990, Rubin had found another distributor, Giant Records, and the album was released — as The Geto Boys — that same year.
The Geto Boys’ association with controversy was far from over though. Rap groups were a hot topic for moral-minded politicians during the early ’90s, and several leaders used the Geto Boys as an example to decry the state of modern music. The fires were fanned in 1991 with the release of the group’s second proper LP, We Can’t Be Stopped. Before the release of the album, Bushwick Bill had lost an eye in a shooting incident with his girlfriend, and the cover featured Willie D and Scarface wheeling Bill into an emergency room, with a prominent shot of the damaged eye. Inside the album, proceedings were among the most extreme in the history of recorded music. Obviously, radio airplay was non-existent, but We Can’t Be Stopped still went platinum in early 1992 — thanks to the Top Ten Rap/R&B single “Mind Playing Tricks On Me,” one of the most effective inner-city vignettes in music history.
By 1993, all three members had begun solo careers, though Willie D was the only one completely separated. Scarface and Bill continued with new member Big Mike, releasing Till Death Do Us Part in 1993, but split late in 1994. Just one year later, Willie D returned to the fold for another Geto Boys release, The Resurrection, which showed the group in fine form. Now it was Bushwick Bill’s turn to leave the group, citing a contractual dispute. Willie D and Scarface soldiered on with the release of 1998’s Da Good, Da Bad & Da Ugly. After settling his differences with Rap-A-Lot, Bill returned for the group’s 2005 reunion album, The Foundation.
After a 10 year hiatus from the rap game, to the delight of their legions of fans, the boys are finally back in the studio to record the long awaited, Habeas Corpus, which is expected to be their most ambitious project to date.