Scarface

The Fix (Def Jam South)

Brad Jordan's greatest contribution to hip-hop's thug life will forever be his work with the Geto Boys on the bone-dry cautionary tale "Mind Playing Tricks on Me." Even ten years after the fact, the Houston posse's only truly bulletproof moment remains a rap classic -- few drug 'n' misogyny fables are so unsettling in their remorseful honesty. Jordan, who goes by Scarface, has never topped "Mind Playing Tricks on Me" in his solo career, but he's continued to be the Johnny Cash of the game: doomed, cursed, praying for salvation, unlikely to see heaven.

The Fix is another chapter in that epic drama, sweetened by the occasional presence of the Neptunes behind the boards and Jay-Z behind the mic. Aside from the high-profile guests, perhaps the most notable thing about the album is its utter weariness. Tracks like "In Between Us" (featuring a fine cameo by Nas) pare down the self-pitying machismo of most keeping-it-real thug sincerity. Instead, we hear blues licks and beaten-down lives. What aids this bleak worldview perfectly is Scarface's delivery. He's a forceful rhyme-spitter, but he also has the necessary anonymity of an Everyman -- if his voice isn't quite distinctive, it compensates with plenty of bite, command, and experience.

Thankfully, Scarface doesn't overstuff his album with skits and throwaway tracks like most hip-hoppers. The man knows his limitations. No matter how much sorrow and heartache he pours into these tracks, ultimately he's peddling the same gangsta shit that has made a lot of less-talented rappers rich. (Johnny Cash similarly had the ability to drown in his own schtick if he wasn't being closely monitored.) But just because The Fix travels familiar ground doesn't mean there's anything rote about Scarface's message. There's no joy, no glamour in these tales -- only wisdom and resignation. The Fix is very much the grown-up diary of the lowlife from "Mind Playing Tricks on Me," off the shit and not always convinced the straight and narrow is much better.

 
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