Interview by Gabriel Alvarez
“It’s three different stages of life — Either, you're headed into a storm, you’re in a storm, or you just got out of a storm…” — “Sorry For What”
The above quote from Brad “Scarface” Jordan sums up the often turbulent life of the rap legend as told in his new biography Diary of a Madman (written with veteran writer Benjamin Meadows-Ingram ). From his serious bouts with mental illness at an early age to getting shot to the eventual problems with the DEA, these are just a few adversities that the icon has had to overcome. But overcome he has during a career that has seen him make some of the greatest hip-hop songs of all time, both as part of The Geto Boys and as a successful solo artist. Diary of a Madman offers a closer look into his family life, stories of being in the studio, and the difficulties he’s had with Rap-A-Lot Records through the years. It may be a cliché, but Face is living proof that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger.
How do you feel now that the book is out?
Scarface : It feels pretty damn good. How you feel about me having a book out? [Laughs]
Well, like you say in the book, you’ve told your life story through your music. But this is still a cool way to know more about you. I enjoyed it.
Man, I appreciate that, brother. I really do. I mean, I can’t even be mad at my life. It is what my life is, you know?
You say early on in the book: “I was raised with the idea that I was born dying. That with every breath you take, you get closer to your last.” How were you introduced to that concept of life and death?
There was an old man named Mister Buster. We played dominoes together, and he always said it. He’d say, “You’re born dying.” Yeah, that’s the long and the short of it. That’s it. Nothin’ you can do it about it. It is what it is. Every day… brings you one step closer to the end. It’s on you how you spend your next moment.
You also talk about your time spent on the mental health floor of Houston International Hospital.
Yeah, that was a long time ago.
Do you think the general public knows enough about serious mental health issues like depression? Because some people might be misinformed and look at you and be like, “He’s Scarface, he’s a mentally and physically strong dude. How can he suffer from depression?”
I think… dealing with it made me stronger. I don’t even know what bothered me so much about being alive. I just know that I wasn’t too happy about it. [Laughs]
That must have been tough considering you were still a kid.
Yeah, I mean it is what it is. Can’t be mad at it.
Another good quote from the book: “The music is in my blood…. I think the first language I learned to speak was music.” You come from a family of musicians. Your cousin is Johnny Nash, who did the song, “I Can See Clearly Now.” Being around a lot of creative people, how did that spark your creativity?
I don’t know how it sparked it. [Music] is just second nature [to me], I guess. You breathe in and out, not knowing that you’re breathing in and out, but you know you have to. I just feel like I have to make music. I don’t know if that makes sense. I just want to make music. I don’t want to do nothing else but make music.
When you got into hip-hop you started off rapping and DJing. What records did you like to spin and cut up back then?
“My Adidas,” “Slow and Low.” The [Run-DMC and] Beastie Boys stuff.
You started selling dope while you were still a teenager. Did you ever stay up nights feeling stressed or scared about doing it?
That was just good hustling, man. That wasn’t really nothing. Just good hustling.
Did you ever feel guilty about doing it?
Hmmm… Hustling? Nah. Not really. You had to do what you had to do, man. It worked.
August 18, 1987…
I signed my contract. Yeah, I did.
You signed to Rap-A-Lot Records. What’s interesting is how the rest of the Geto Boys were basically strangers to you. You really didn’t know them until you started working with them.
No, we didn’t know nothing about each other. Not a thing.
Did you ever think, “This is not going to work out?”
Man, to this day, we still have that feeling: “This ain’t gonna work.” [Laughs] Twenty-five years later we still feel like it.
You say in the book that in your opinion The Resurrection is the best Geto Boys album. Why?
Great record. It just sounds better.
Do you think you like that record the best because that’s the one that Willie D came back on?
That’s hard to tell, man. That part’s in the book. What did I say in this book about the Geto Boys?
Well, the Geto Boys are a great group, but they were put together by James Prince, and it doesn’t seem like you were always that close or a cohesive unit.
Yeah, they put that together and, you know, it still worked. It worked. But that’s behind me. And that’s that. I’m out of that. My primary focus these days has been my life, and [to] put [it] down in words in a book.
What are your thoughts about the time the P.M.R.C. tried to censor music?
I think everybody was more concerned about what people were saying, and they wasn’t concerned about what people was doing. Wasn’t that around the time that Jeffrey Dahmer was eating motherfuckers? They was more concerned about what I saying, right? I don’t know, bro. I think that when they see the Hispanics come together and do businesses and make money, they want to send them back to Mexico. And when they see niggas start making money and build businesses they want to send us back to the penitentiary — to captivity. So you really have to take into consideration who the real enemy is here. They don’t want you to provide a living for your family. If you weren’t born in this country, they want to ship you back. Or if you were born in this country, they don’t acknowledge you as a human being. So it’s a fight both ways. And the P.M.R.C., you talking about the people that was against rap music? That was on some censorship and shit, right?
Yeah, fuck them. To get technical. [Laughs] The whole while you got motherfuckers like the Klan [out here]. They ain’t jumping on the Klan. They been hanging niggas and abusing the slaves, and using their babies for alligator bait, and injustice for my people forever. And you’re worried about shit that I said on my records? You should be more concerned with the shit your people were doing to mine. You feel me?
Well, it’s like the same thing happening in Ferguson and Baltimore. Cops are killing black people, but they want to talk about property destroyed in riots.
Like the little [Tamir] kid in Cleveland. The man didn’t even stop his car. [He] got out and shot that boy. That’s some crazy shit to me. Are you serious? What’s wrong with those people? And then you look at the news right now, they telling you that these kids, that these “thugs” — [because] every second [they’re saying] “thug” — is doing this. No! What triggered this, is the question. What pushed them to this level? What happened? They want to make a big deal out of what’s happening with these kids going around burning shit down and looting and breaking down windows and shit. Well, you see them now, don’t you? But you ain’t seen them when you was chasing that boy and you shot him in the back or you was choking that man to death or when you put your [knee] on the back of this man’s head and broke his spine. You ain’t see that shit. All you see is these lil’ kids tearing shit up because they’re sick of you fucking with them.
That brings me to another quote from the book where you say, “We have a problem in this country with telling the truth about what’s really going on, especially when it comes to the history and the day-to-day realities faced by the black population.”
Yup. Shit, we’re not sentenced the same. The same sentencing guideline rules don’t apply when it comes to black folk and white folk. And you ain’t got to take my word for it, take it from the case law. Look at a white dude with a drug charge, you know a rich white boy with a drug charge, and you look at a poor black guy with the same fuckin’ charge. I guarantee you, and I’m willing to bet my life, that they were sentenced differently. For an ounce of rock cocaine I think you get 10 years or some shit and for an ounce of powder cocaine, what you get, two years or some shit? I don’t know. Like what’s the difference?
Some people say that because we got a black President everything is fixed now. Racism is over.
Ain’t a motherfuckin’ thing fixed. If you ask me, it’s even more fucked up. But the great thing about it is [now] you see it for what it really is.
Well, getting back to the music, you say in the book that you don’t think you get enough credit for your production work.
No, I don’t.
You also say your production is influenced by Dre and Marley Marl. What is the right sound for a Scarface record?
I don’t know, just rhythmic. I just love the way I do me. It’s what I do, bro, so… I like it better [when I rhyme over my own beats]. Being a DJ taught me how to make beats, too. Like if you think about it, Marley Marl was a DJ, right? He made great beats. Dr. Dre was a DJ, so he made great beats, right? Exactly. So, yeah, that’s what being a DJ made me. It made me do great beats. And great beats made me rap.
You named the book Diary of a Madman , which is also the title to what you call one of the deepest songs you've ever written. Here’s a quote from that song: “But then again I wear a blindfold/ Staring at the motherfuckin’ world with my eyes closed/ To myself, I’m a stranger/ Walking in the footsteps of danger.” Damn, that is pretty deep.
Yup. I mean, I see what’s going around me, but I’m not paying no attention to it. I know I’m here somewhere, but I can’t find me. I don’t know me. I didn’t know me back then, hell.
You also talk about how running Def Jam South made you a millionaire, but also get into how you’ve lost out on basically millions of dollars due to bad record contracts. The thing is you don’t sound bitter about it.
I think in the long run that whatever happened to me is my fault. I mean everybody else [was doing it as] business. I was doing it as a friendship. I was like, “This is my friend.” So I knew that my friend wasn’t gonna burn me. But, hey, you live and you learn, bro. So I don’t even talk business no more. I let my lawyers talk my business now.
Nas and Jay-Z both appeared on your album, The Fix , at the height of their battle. You mention in the book that you asked Nas to tone down his original verse for “In Between Us” because he took some shots at Jay and you didn’t think it was appropriate. Do you remember what he said on the song?
Nah, that’s not nothing. I’m not going to repeat anything that was said. I just know that it was some shots at cuz that wouldn’t have made my project diplomatic if I would have put out an album like that. You know what I mean? I didn’t want them beefing like that. That wasn’t the purpose of it. So [Jay] didn’t take shots at [Nas] on the song we did together ["Guess Who's Back”], so lets not take shots at him. You know what I mean? But [Nas] ended up [re-doing] the verse and it sounded even better.
What’s your opinion on battling rappers on records?
It’s personal now, man. It’s not the same art form that it was. I don’t want to be threatened. And I’m not gonna battle. If we’re gonna fight, we’re gonna fight. You know what I’m sayin’? If you make a threat toward me, then I’m gonna take it as a threat. You know how they be rappin’ — “Fuck me, you’re gonna kill my kids, and you’re gonna walk up to my house and shoot me” — all that tough-ass talk. You know, if you say that shit you kind of have to make good on it. Because I’m gonna be makin’ good on mine. I’m not gonna fake shit. I don't want to be a part of that. I don’t play well with others. I always got an “Unsatisfactory” on my report card for not playing well with others. I don’t want to play with them. So don’t come in here fucking with me and I’m not going to come in here fucking with you.
On “In Between Us” you got a line that goes: “You're only as good as what you come up against…”
Yeah, that’s the truth. You're only as good as what you come up against. If you’re coming up against some bullshit in life then you’ll always be on some bullshit. But if you come up on some real strategic shit in life, then you’ll be real strategic in making your moves, and that’s extremely important.
What do you think you’ve gotten out of doing the book?
You know what? In all honesty, it’s cooled everything. All those ill feelings that I have been harboring in my heart for so long, I got rid of those. I don’t feel like that no more. I’m not mad no more. I feel like the weight of the world is off my shoulders. I don’t have anything to hide no more. I said it all. I left it all on the page.
[Buy Diary of a Madman (Harper Collins/ Dey Street Books) here . Scarface’s Deeply Rooted album scheduled to drop in July.]