Geto Boys' Willie D on Fighting Authority and FBI: "We Had Doors Kicked In, Been Set Up"
By Travis Cohen
Press Photo The Geto Boys, left to right: Bushwick Bill, Willie D, and Scarface.
The bands that last, they're the exceptions to the rule.
The Geto Boys are that kind of long-lasting, exceptional group. And after 24 years, they're still going strong and they're headed to St. Louis this Sunday to perform at the Coliseum Music Lounge.
Widely regarded as one of the greatest hip-hop crews of all time, the Geto Boys have been known for their sharp-tongued lyricism, laced with visceral visions of crime and violence, their overt disregard and distaste for authority, and their dark sense of humor.
Over the last two and a half decades, Willie D, Scarface and Bushwick Bill have seen their fair share of controversy. They've been persecuted by Tipper Gore and her self-righteous American Inquisition of music, investigated and harangued by the FBI, and changed lineups more than a few times before settling back into the trio that will be performing in Brickell on Thursday.
Recently, we spoke with Willie D about one of the most storied and enthralling groups that ever put rhymes to a beat.
RFT Music: How it is you guys have managed to keep it together? For most groups, regardless of genre, it's no easy feat to keep making good records and playing together for 25 years.
Willie D: Well, with the chemistry between myself and Face as the primary writers for the band, and what we've got between the three of us in terms of chemistry, both in the studio and on the stage -- this is the lineup that has worked better.
As far as what it's taken, it's just really the will to want to keep the legacy alive, you've got to have the will. You know, there's ups and downs, and it's been contentious at times, so it takes a lot of will to want to keep it going. That's outside the regular acrimony that could happen within the constraints or the confines of being in a group. In addition to that, you just have the politics that's played in the game, with the radio and videos, even distribution channels, how your music is placed in stores. The music industry is very much a political game. So aside from the will, it takes some adjusting. You've gotta be willing to adjust. Any group or any artists that have been successful have kind of grown to be like the industry in that they've figured out that change is necessary to grow and to continue to be relevant. You've got to try to strike that balance between change and not losing your identity, and keeping the integrity of the product. I think when we go in, we're all very conscious of that.
You've got a really strong air of eloquence and maturity and intelligence. But at the same time, there's something of a 'Fuck You' attitude about the Geto Boys, especially when you think of your time going toe-to-toe with Tipper Gore. How do sum up your legacy and the lasting ideas you all represent?
I see the legacy as being a group that challenged the norms, a group that even when we felt some trepidation about attacking certain powers, like the government, and certain self-interest groups, like PMRC [Parents Music Resource Center] with Tipper Gore being at the head, and even the NAACP, even the FBI, institutional establishments that make up the so-called "fabric of America," when we feel like there's been an injustice, then we speak on those injustices.
To go out on a limb for the people like that, people respect that, and through the years they've rewarded us. We've put ourselves out there -- not just under scrutiny, but under attack. We've had our record label targeted by the FBI. We've had our artists targeted in homes, our doors kicked in, been set up by various crooked individuals working in law enforcement -- all because they just couldn't stand the fact that you had these young kids that were out of the hood, who we've made into influential men in the community with a solid voice, not just speaking with reckless abandon, but actually speaking with some directness and knowing exactly what the game is, knowing exactly what the play was, and exposing those people out there that take part in the divisiveness in our country.
When people look at the totality of that, that's what separates us from just being a group that entertains. A lot of the time, people will go out and purchase the music and they'll enjoy it, but only a few of them really, really get it. Like maybe five or ten percent of people really get the message at the time when it's being said. Everybody else might ride with it because it's entertaining. But then years later, you start looking back and you start listening to the lyrics and say, "Damn - it's happening right now! They talked about this 20 years ago and it's happening right now!" And that's the kind of music that we always wanted to make, we wanted to make timeless music.