A Look Back at the Geto Boys’ “Mind Playing Tricks On Me.”
The deranged, genius mind of Brad “Scarface” Jordan has made him one of the most revered, irrefutable hip-hop legends to ever get in a vocal booth. Back in 1990, a then 20 year-old Scarface was sitting in his grandmother’s living room watching television when he heard her say a phrase she would often exclaim around the house, “My mind’s playing tricks on me.”
“It was strange way how it came about,” remembers ‘Face’s 83 year-old grandmother Rosemary Wilson, AKA “Maw Maw.” “He said I was walking in the house with my lips moving. He was down on the floor looking at TV. He said ‘maw maw, what you doing? What you saying?’ I said ‘oh nothing baby, my mind’s playing tricks on me.’”
An inspired ‘Face—who was working on his debut solo LP at the time, Mr. Scarface is Back—began penning “Mind Playing Tricks On Me” about being overwhelmed by paranoia. When coming up with the beat for the record, ‘Face sat in the studio with his personal “button pusher,” engineer Doug King. ‘Face and King sampled Isaac Hayes and the off-beat kick drums on the song were Face’s take on what super producer Marley Marl had done on classic records for artists such as Big Daddy Kane and Biz Markie.
Excited about his record, ‘Face took the original version of “Mind Playing Tricks On Me” to Rap-A-Lot records’ CEO J. Prince. Prince, one of the godfathers of the independent rap hustle, and other members in the Rap-A-Lot camp told Scarface they didn’t care for the song. “Minds Playing Tricks On Me” was almost scrapped. Months later, as ‘Face continued to work on his solo debut, he heard the new version of “Minds Playing Tricks on Me.” It featured a verse from Willie D as well as Bushwick Bill, who he had met just a year prior when they began to record the Geto Boys album, Grip It! On That Other Level. While Willie authored his own rhymes, Bushwick recited raps that ‘Face had previously recorded on the song. The record would turn out to be not just the lead cut from the Geto Boys’ 1991 LP, We Can’t Be Stopped, it became their signature song.
“I didn’t have any idea he was gonna try and make a song out of it,” Ms. Wilson says. “When I
heard it, I couldn’t believe it. It was hitting the charts man. When I heard it, at first it was some words on the songs I didn’t want to hear. I said, ‘Are those words coming out of your mouth?’ He said ‘Grandma, that’s what you have to do if you want to get your foot in the door.’”
When the Geto Boys shot the video for “Minds Playing…” ‘Face was adamant that there’d be “no lip syncing performances” simply because in his own words, he felt that it was “corny.” This is a M.O. Face has kept for most of his career, he hates to perform in videos and would prefer to tell a story. The video was shot in three days in Houston’s Fifth Ward and the only the time all three members of the group were on set together was the one shot where they pummel an adversary that turned out to be a figment of Bushwick’s imagination. The trio actually never spent any time together outside of music business and didn’t get along too well, especially ‘Face and Bushwick. Will and ‘Face did however rally around Bushwick when he was shot in the eye by his girlfriend shortly before We Can’t Be Stopped was released. A photo of all three in the hospital served as the album’s cover.
A high profile ad campaign for St. Ides liquor (the company always picked only the elite MCs of the era such as Tupac, Notorious B.I.G., Wu-Tang Clan and Ice Cube), movie roles and an iconic cover of The Source followed, as did mainstream appearances on MTV, The Arsenio Hall show and CNN. “Mind Playing Tricks On Me” was definitely one of the most rotated and popular videos in YO! MTV Raps history as well as other outlets such as The Box, Pump It Up and Video Music Box.
Geto Boys went on tour during the height of “Mind’s Playing Tricks on Me” and after the run, Willie D left the group. The impact of the song is immeasurable, not just for the Geto Boys and Rap-A-Lot, but for Southern hip-hop. Circa 1991 was dominated by acts from the West such as Ice Cube, Tupac and N.W.A. as well as East Coast MCs such as A Tribe Called Quest, EPMD and LL Cool. Meanwhile, Southerners like Master P and the Geto Boys struggled to be heard on a national level. With a mainstream hit, the Geto Boys were able to travel to areas such as New York City where they had gotten booed off the stage just a year prior and plant the flag for rap down bottom. Seminal groups such as 8Ball and MJG, UGK and Outkast soon followed just a few short years later.