Houston rap collective The Geto Boys were the original pioneers of Southern rap in the US, especially concerning Houston. Led by their frontman, Scarface, the Geto Boys’ origins are rooted firmly in the late-1980s and are known, to this day, as one of the first mainstream hip-hop groups from the South.
With the trio’s emergence, hip-hop finally gained a new respect for the South after its long struggle. Now more than ever, rappers from what are colloquially known as ‘The Dixies’ are being uplifted and empowered. However, during hip-hop’s formative years, the region’s music was a non-factor, especially in the eyes of New Yorkers.
Historically, the South has always been an extremely toxic environment for African-Americans, and unlike cities such as New York and Philadelphia, even in the present, a highly segregated society exists. Many now refer to Atlanta as the heart of the South, but as far as hip-hop goes, Houston was the leading city of golden-age Southern rap music. The Geto Boys formed in the 1980s in the Fifth Ward of Houston. The district, known for its impoverished neighbourhoods, was home to many aspiring artists. However, only the Geto Boys seemed to prevail.
The South had a few small yet mighty record labels on the hunt for artists in the late-‘8s and early 1990s, one of which was located in the Texas city of Houston. Founded by James Prince and Cliff Blodget, Rap-A-Lot Records was one of these labels. Operating as a subsidiary of the now-defunct A&M Records, Rap-A-Lot was home to acts from Tennessee, Louisiana and Texas. The label kept its finger on the pulse of Southern hip-hop, and Geto Boys were firmly on their radar. By 1986, the collective had signed with the label and was beginning work on their debut album.
In 1988, the three-person crew released Making Trouble. The project did not move the needle in any capacity and received little airplay locally. Following this failure to crossover into the mainstream, the collective rejigged its early line-up and revamped its sound. In 1989, the Geto Boys released their sophomore project, Grip It! On That Other Level. Unlike their debut project, this album made its way onto the Billboard 200, albeit only at number 166. Following its debut, the legendary super-producer Rick Rubin approached the group to release a fully remixed version of the project produced by him. This collaboration elevated the Houston outfit and put more eyes on them nationally.
With the rise of Death Row and the depletion of power held by the city of New York, the South continued to grow, with groups such as UGK and the 2 Live Crew impacting the culture. Slowly integrating gangsta rap into their music during the ’90s, the collective hit gold with their 1991 album, We Can’t Be Stopped. The project’s lead single, ‘Mind Playing Tricks On Me,’ charted at number 23 on the Billboard Hot 100 and swiftly made them a household name. Building upon this success, in 1993, the Geto Boys dropped Till Death Do Us Part. However, the project wasn’t without controversy.
The album’s lead single, ‘Crooked Officer,’ was accompanied by a music video. However, the visuals were seen as condoning and encouraging violence against police officers and the entire collective was denounced by the politician Bob Dole during his presidential campaign. The album peaked at number 11 on the Billboard 200, just missing out on the top ten. However, their music video was officially banned from airplay on MTV, which reduced the track’s exposure.
You can watch the previously banned visuals in the video below.