The oft-changing “King of [the city]” argument in hip hop is about the closest to political debate the genre ever gets, with categories like Body of Work, Adaptability and Authenticity all factoring into who gets the proverbial key for that year.
In New York the title has been passed like a blunt at a Wiz Khalifa show with names like KRS-One, Notorious B.I.G. and Jay Z all holding the crown at one point, while on the West Coast OGs like Ice Cube, Snoop Dogg and more recently Kendrick Lamar have boasted the title.
But in one city, a man named Jordan has reigned supreme for more than 25 years (No, it's not Chicago and this dude isn't trying to sell you sneakers.). Brad Jordan, better known as Scarface, has been the de facto king of Houston literally since he dropped his first solo album in 1991.
Face recently celebrated the 20th anniversary of his landmark LP The Diary, and fittingly has reconnected with that album’s producer, N.O. Joe, for his latest project, which is due out later this year. In an exclusive interview with BET.com, the Lone Star state's most iconic MC discusses the current state of hip hop, bringing a breath of fresh air to the game and why half the industry owes Three 6 Mafia a check.
BET.com: Is there anything you can tease about the new album that you’re working on?
Scarface: I can say that this is a breath of fresh air to the entire hip hop community. The makers of The Diary are back in the same room again. That would be me and N.O. Joe. I know everybody loves what’s going on right now, but I just wanna bring it back to what it was. It was a privilege to get a great sounding album. People took that for granted. When we was getting all that great music back in the '90s and early 2000s, we took that for granted. People thought that there was always gonna be great music. People that were making great music stopped making music period. Nobody knows how to make a great album anymore. Seriously. I think the last great album I heard in hip hop had to be, as far as a complete body of work, good kid m.A.A.d. city. [Editor's note: This interview was conducted before the release of To Pimp a Butterfly]. Actually, Nipsey Hussle, that Crenshaw s**t too. Don’t get me wrong. I love what’s going on, but just a body of work that had a storyline from beginning to end and was not just a whole bunch of individual songs, that’s what I mean by a great album. You gotta have a great start and finish. A great body, a great climax and a great ending. An album should be made like a book.
On your albums you’ve always been pretty consistent. Is there anything you’ve one differently this time around?
I feel like the albums that were made in the '60s and the '70s and the '80s and the '90s were the best albums. So I’d be a damn fool to try to go into something else. I stick to what the best albums were made from. I don’t wanna experiment with no new s**t. I just wanna make better s**t using the same format. And you might say, “Face, you don’t wanna do that because that makes s**t stagnant.” No! The s**t that’s coming out right now is making s**t stagnant, because every f***ing tempo BPM is like 60. All the BPMs are 60 and everybody sounds like the old Three 6 Mafia music. Everybody is biting the old Three 6 Mafia style, making the old scary music with the hard bass. If I was Three 6 I’d say something about it, like “Y’all are stealing my s**t.”
You’ve been through so many different eras in hip hop, what in hip hop has inspired you the most?
I think the number one favorite album had to be the first Public Enemy album, Yo, Bumrush The Show. That’s when s**t got hard, when music was hard. That’s one of my all time favorites. I was around when Big Daddy Kane did his albums, I was around when Marley Marl did Cold Chillin’ and when No Limit dropped they s**t and when Cash Money did they s**t. I was around when Blastmaster KRS-One and Scott LaRock did they s**t, when Roxanne Shanté did her s**t, Eric B. and Rakim did the first Paid in Full album. You feel me? So what can you do to me? I come from all those different eras in hip hop wrapped up in one. I have a f***in’ extensive rock history. I know rock n' roll, I know classical, I know movies. You can’t beat me. I came up on great f***in’ music.
You mentioned rock n’ roll. What are some of your favorite rock or non-hip hop albums that people might not think you listen to?
Dude, that f***in’ Arctic Monkey s**t! Have you heard this shit yet? Oh, my God! That’s some of the best stuff I’ve heard in a long a** time. Coldplay’s first couple albums were the s**t, especially Parachute; that s**t was crazy. Also I love Stevie Nicks. I’m a huge fan of Fleetwood Mac, and an even bigger fan of her voice. I wrote the hook for “In Between Us” with the intent to have Stevie Nicks sing it. I’m out the box. I think when she agreed to do it we were already done.
That would have been amazing. And have you ever thought about working with someone like the Arctic Monkeys?
Without question. I would definitely collaborate with the Arctic Monkeys, with that lead singer, man. He’s the s**t. That guy’s got the best voice in music.
You’ve always been able to adapt to the times without changing your musical DNA. Do you miss the times when hip hop used to really scare people with its reality?
I don’t think hip hop should scare people. I feel like hip hop should make people aware of the situation of what’s going on around them. You’re not gonna hear that s**t no more. That’s not what they wanna hear right now; the record companies don’t want that message out there no more... Either that or 50 Tyson gonna be the next one to get a deal.
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(Photo: Jerod Harris/Getty Images for i.am.angel Foundation)