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It's been more than 20 years since Houston's southern hip-hop vanguards the Geto Boys' first recording with their classic lineup, but judging by the tenacity of the group's vocal firebrand, Willie D, they've got enough conviction to keep the wheels turning and their beats bumping for another two decades.
"I remember telling Brad ['Scarface' Jordan] like it was yesterday," says Willie D (government name William James Dennis). "We were sitting around, just talking about possibilities, career-wise, industry-wise, and longevity in the industry. This was before the first album came out, and I said, 'I think I would be satisfied if we became legends and we had at least 20 years in the game.' At the time, we didn't really have a benchmark to judge that by because rap was still in its essence stages. I kind of just judged it by the rock groups and the R&B groups that had been together for a while."
Now, some years after reaching that elusive milestone, the classic Geto Boys lineup of Scarface, Willie D and Bushwick Bill is traversing America, giving fans of all age groups the chance to see the Texan trio perform live, including a stop at the Observatory on Sunday. Decades after their legendary formation, the Geto Boys have remained intact throughout inner-group strife and changes in trends, with a musical message that spans the globe. As far as Willie D is concerned, his goal of relevancy has been exceeded. But his plan didn't always appear to unfold accordingly.
During the '90s, the group endured their share of adversity, including persecution from the media over their lyrics. They experienced the witch-hunt against rap by pundits and politicians who deemed their music misogynistic and gory. Then there was the high-profile incident in which Bushwick Bill lost an eye in a shooting, which surprisingly helped boost sales of the group's 1991 album, We Can't Be Stopped. The cover image features an injured Bushwick being carted through a hospital by Scarface and Willie D.
In 1992, Willie D left the group, but he returned four years later, just in time to release 1996's critically acclaimed The Resurrection. "Still," a song from that album, and "Damn It Feels Good to Be a Gangsta" became two of their most recognizable tracks after being included in Mike Judge's 1999 film Office Space, a cult classic. Despite only one album to their credit in the new millennium, the group continue to stay alive and kicking on the performance circuit.
With both a drive to have an illustrious career and a desire to let their uniquely southern mentality and vocal delivery tell their tale and represent their region, the Geto Boys' legacy continues to pave the way for rappers such as Big Boi, The-Dream and Future.
"Before we put our [first] album out, the music landscape was dominated by the East Coast, and there was some West Coast rap," Willie D says. "The south had no presence, period. We had no voice; we had to listen to what the guys in New York were saying, and when they talked about boroughs, it went right over our heads." By the same token, West Coast rappers' rhymes about gang life were foreign to them because of a lack of street-gang culture in their area. "It happens now, but if you tried to start a gang in Houston 20 years ago, you'd get run out of town, no matter how big and bad you were," he says.
The Geto Boys' lyrical take on a variety of issues facing society has remained relevant, as has Willie D himself. These days, he's a weekly contributor for the Houston Press (a fellow Voice Media Group paper), answering questions about anything and everything in his column Ask Willie D. But, he says, he will always be part of the group that was the first hip-hop act to truly champion the south while acting as a unifying force in the hip-hop world, that reminded us we all have more commonalities than differences with the simple line they once borrowed from War: "The world is a ghetto."