Scarface Is Taking Hip-Hop Back To Its Essence
Older, wiser and much thinner since his last album, hip-hop’s beloved veteran MC Scarface is taking it back to the essence.
Interview Emmanuel Maduakolam
Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in the Fall 2015 issue of of XXL Magazine, on stands now.
On a lazy afternoon in August, Scarface inhales a bag of sea salt Popchips within seconds while chilling at XXL’s Manhattan office. Luckily the chips are of the healthy variety—their slogan is “all the flavor, half the fat”—which is fitting for ’Face’s new image. The once husky street poet has lost over 100 pounds in the past three years, completely changing his look and life with regular dedicated workouts. He’s even been documenting his process on Instagram.
After a seven-year hiatus from releasing albums, ’Face, 40, has been busy prepping the release of his 12th solo album, Deeply Rooted (Let’s Talk/BMG). On the LP, the Houston hip-hop legend and core member of the Geto Boys tackles difficult topics such as police brutality, politics, his chronic battle with depression and domestic issues affecting the African-American community.
Never the one to mince his words, Scarface sat with XXL to share his viewpoints and explain why hip-hop needs him more than ever.
XXL: Deeply Rooted is your first album in seven years. Why now?
Scarface: The timing is perfect for me to put out an album right now. The playing field is different in regards to the business part of it. The playing field is a little more level and in my favor. And I wanted to take my time to make sure I was doing the right shit. You got some artists that come out and they been around for a long time and they make the music like the way music sound right now. That’s not how I want to do my shit. I never want to make my music sound like what someone else is doing. That’s not my thing.
How does the business sound different? What makes that playing field more in your favor?
This is my project. When I say the playing field is different, I’m recording an album for me; I’m recording an album that benefits me. That benefits my community and my hip-hop community. I’m not making an album that benefits one particular person or a label. It’s my turn. All my life I did shit for everybody else. This time I’m doing shit for me.
How does your new album benefit the hip-hop community now?
It’s our life, it’s what we are and it’s what we need to hear. There’s a difference when every other record you hear is a club record or some shit you can’t relate to. I still write music that muthafuckas can relate to. I can’t relate to rich people problems because I can’t relate to them. I’m not rich people. But what I can do is talk about police brutality or how fucked up the judicial system is. It’s important that we continue to bring onto the table of how lopsided this fuckin’ government is when it comes to Black people. I know people think it’s getting fair. But muthafucka, it should have been fair, you see what I’m saying?
An album like the one I created is perfect for this time because that’s what’s needed. We don’t need another goddamn buffoonery song. I remember when it was tough to get into the music business if you’re wack. Even the executives maintained integrity of this craft, man. Now they just don’t give a fuck. “Fuck what them niggas is hearing. Let’s make these niggas look stupid.” Because when you think about it, we’re making niggas look stupid. They putting money behind shit that making niggas look stupid, with an exception to a few artists. The rest making us look like we’re stupid, like we animals. Let these niggas kill each other, talk about dope and talk about riots in the streets rather than saying, “Look we’re having a problem right now.” Police is beating our ass and society has turned a blind eye to it.
This agenda that’s being imposed on the world needs to be addressed and it needs to be uninstalled. That slave manual that was installed in our ass from day one when the Europeans grabbed us and made us slaves and then sent our ass over to America to be even more mistreated. That manual needs to be uninstalled, man. Unfortunately there’s a lot of people that saying, “I got me a job, I got me a college education.” It ain’t me or I, it’s us.
Do you think police brutality is the biggest problem in America?
It’s America’s agenda, that’s the biggest problem. Police are the enforcers of America’s agenda.
What’s America’s agenda?
To make sure to keep this nigga with no chance. “Okay, we’ll get him an office job, we’ll make sure we keep a White boy over here so in a minute we can get rid of his ass. The minute he fucks up, he’s out of here. As long as he’s user friendly, we can fuck with him.” See, here’s the thing. America has that agenda, a White supremacist agenda. Where everything that was created by whoever, they would rather take the credit for it, remove everything that you know about yourself and start everything that they want you to know. Let’s say time, who came up with time? Who came up with the wheel? Who came up with the Super Soaker? Fuck it. Who came up with hip-hop? Don’t answer that. Now what I want you to do is answer me this. Who controls it and why? And in order to maintain that type of a stronghold on people, you have to make sure that you kicked their ass, you got to make sure who killed their ass and let them know who the muthafuckin’ boss is.
So that’s what your new album Deeply Rooted is attacking?
The meaning behind Deeply Rooted is that I’m deeply rooted in these muthafuckin’ streets and I know the difference between bullshit and bullshit.
Everyone's been buzzing about Meek Mill vs. Drake. Do you consider that beef? What do you think of beef now and then?
I like to mind my business when it comes to other people’s business, especially when it comes to beef. If Drake got a problem with Meek Mill or Meek Mill got a problem with Drake, then they need to address it. But I did say this and I think muthafuckas missed what I was saying. If you got a problem with somebody, and this is hip-hop, that’s cool. You got a problem with a muthafucka that’s one thing. But it’s a lot of people that’s affiliated with those people that ride so hard for Drake or ride so hard for Meek until… It can be some gangsta shit that jumps off. I think people take rap, like, I’m in New York and I love being here, and I think a New York beef is different from anywhere else beef ’cause this sparring is good for hip-hop. That’s the way it’s looked at here in New York. But the way that we look at it in other places, this muthafucka said something about my momma.
Does ghostwriting discredit an artist?
It’s a difference when somebody writes your shit. That’s between you and whoever wrote your shit.
What does that mean?
If you wrote a record for me, that’s between me and you. If I wrote a record for you, that’s between us.
How long has ghostwriting been in hip-hop though?
We wrote all of Bushwick Bill’s shit for Geto Boys. So sometimes, and this just my opinion, your voice is just so fuckin’ dope. Like I think Bushwick has a very unique voice and I can pen his shit out or someone can pen his shit out and write in the manner like he talks. I guess if someone can really coin your style, they can probably write for you. But on the flip side of that as a MC, as a muthafucka that can get up on the mic and talk that shit, I rather be a MC than have someone write my shit as an artist. Muthafucka go up there and Milli Vanilli me, I don’t want to do that. But on another note, you can start pointing your fingers at freestylers. A freestyle is not shit that you wrote down, a freestyle is off the top of the head.
Nowadays it’s artists memorizing unused verses for freestyles.
I don’t memorize verses. When a muthafucka said freestyle, if I’m reading some shit I’m going to let you know. If I’m fuckin’ freestylin’, you’re going to know. Then I’m going to say this is off the head and make it rhyme.
Your biography Diary of a Madman that came out earlier this year tackles depression, a serious condition that’s often downplayed. How did you get out of depression?
I never am away from that shit. I think depression is a feeling. It’s a mind state, to me, and I don’t know how the doctors diagnose this shit, the muthafuckas who never dealt with being sad or not wanting to come out the house and not wanting to be fucked up. I don’t know how they deal with the shit. I don’t think you can teach this shit in the school. It’s not a book for what we go through. Some days I’m like, fuck the world. And some days I’m like, I’m good, this is going to be a great day. Dealing with depression man, I don’t know how I deal with it. I just wake up every morning.
You think since you’re a hip-hop artist, people overlook your depression?
I go through the same shit everybody else goes through. If it ain’t the police or the government, it’s bitches with grown-ass kids still trying to get money. It’s always something, so it just never stops. So I go through the same thing any human being goes through.
You had this quote in your book that stood out: “I’m only just now learning to be a normal person.” What does that mean?
It’s always been me and the rhyme. It’s always been me and the thought. I don’t have a lot of friends that I hang out with because that’s not in my life. I don’t have enough ability to trust. Everybody had and has an alternative motive when it comes to dealing with me, and that’s the way I look at them. I try to figure out their angle in the introduction of the conversation. Like, what the fuck does this bitch want from me? What the fuck does this dude want from me? That’s why I feel I’m kind of coming out my shell now. I can hold a conversation with somebody without shutting all the way down. Like it been times where I can shut down and not come out of my room for weeks.
Do you still battle with mental health problems now? How did getting in shape affect that?
That’s when you come to the conclusion of whether you want to die or not. I changed my mind. I don’t want to die.
You look like a different person. What did you do to get in shape?
Working out, I used to go five days a week running. I’ve been taking it easy right now ’cause I got sick with pneumonia. But I got back in the gym last week.
Where are the rest of Geto Boys now?
I don’t know. I don’t care. I’m done. I’m out.
What young artists are putting out quality music?
J. Cole, Kendrick Lamar, ScHoolboy Q, Isaiah Rashad, let’s not forget Odd Future, Tyler and all of them. These niggas are talking that good shit. Tink, Dreezy, DeJ Loaf, like, she raw as fuck to me. There’s some good shit out here but there’s some good shit not out here. From the mathematics to whatever was created by us, it was always mimicked by him and stolen and bought, just pushed in the direction that set us up to fail.
The 90-year-old muthafuckin’ executive who doesn’t give a fuck about Black music: him, he, them, they. Shit, ultimately he’s going to get to make that decision, but I don’t feel comfortable with him making that decision. How do you get to get that?
You’ve talked about failing as a parent but striving to be a part of your family’s lives now that you’re a grandparent.
I fucked up. I did. I fucked up bad. I missed my kids growing up because of this shit right here. Now I’m there. Whatever I need to do, I’m going to be there. Try my best.