Sunday, January 23, 2011

January 23: Geto Boys, "Mind Playing Tricks On Me"

Artist: Geto Boys
Song: "Mind Playing Tricks On Me"
Album: We Can't Be Stopped
Year: 1991

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN (will open in new tab)

Within almost every genre, there are a number of different takes on the base style, and it is within this range that one often finds singular groups that push a sound to the extreme in one way or another.  Whether it is the way in which thrash pushed the limit of heavy metal or how a number of artists raised the question of "what" could be considered jazz, this diversity in sound is one of the few consistent factors across both genres and decades.  Though in some genres, these differences are bit more difficult to see, they are always there, and within the hip-hop community, there has simply never been another group that sounded quite like the Geto Boys.  A group that can truly be seen as ahead of their time, they began to rise to notoriety in the late 1980's, and they made their name due to the controversy that occurred when Geffen Records refused to release their debut record due to the content within.  Though not as aggressive or violent in the same way as the rising "gangsta" rappers, Geto Boys were far more strange, if not outright disturbing than any of their peers.  The level or paranoia and clear psychological issues has rarely been explored as it is though their rhymes, and it is this aspect that pushes their music into a category all their own.  Though these traits can be found across their catalog, few songs better define the group than their 1991 classic, "Mind Playing Tricks On Me."

As "Mind Playing Tricks On Me" opens, the mood is instantly set, as the sample of a crackling record, combined with the songs' core sample, creates a dark, deep groove, and one is almost immediately drawn in completely to the sound.  The song is built around a piece of Isaac Hayes' song, "Hung Up On My Baby," and the downward guitar progression, contrasted by the strangely sad bassline helps to give "Mind Playing Tricks On Me" an amazing amount of sonic movement.  In between verses, more of the sample is played, and there are few interludes that sound more ideal for a song than that which one finds here.  Furthermore, the way in which the drums are placed gently over this sample is nothing short of perfect, and it is this aspect that gives the song more attitude.   It is this contrast between the somber, slow groove of the sample and the more fast paced, dry sound from the drums that pushed "Mind Playing Tricks On Me" beyond the rest of the groups' catalog, and helped to push the single all the way to the top of the "rap singles" charts in 1991.  The overall greatness of the song also lives in the fact that while the samples and rums are so fantastic, they are not overbearing at any point, and it leaves the main focus on the emcees, which is a trend that would become largely reversed over the next few years in hip-hop music.

While they are often overlooked for their rhyming talent, the fact of the matter is, there have never been other artists that can even come close to the style that one finds in the trio or emcees that comprised Geto Boys in 1991.  With all three bringing a different sound, yet sharing a disturbed, almost scary lyrical approach, it is within songs like "Mind Playing Tricks On Me" that one can quickly understand why the songs of Geto Boys are often referred to as "horror rap."  Each of their voices hits as hard as the other, and there is a level of seriousness and proximity to the words they speak that makes one almost uncomfortable, as it seems as if the lyrics hold some level of truth.  As previously stated, the level of outright paranoia that the group displays on "Mind Playing Tricks On Me" is second to none, as each of the three take the listener on a strange journey into their own psyche.  In the opening verse, Scarface rhymes on the visions he has in his sleep, culminating with the lines, "...I can see him when I'm deep in the covers, when I'm awake I don't see the motherfucker..."  Willie D continues this idea in the next veruse, pondering whether the "being" that he feels is watching him might be one of his former victims, and the listener is left feeling rather uncomfortable.  In the final verse, Bushwick Bill goes all out, speaking of stealing candy from kids to beating down a person that was never there, and the borderline insanity that the three convey is nothing short of indescribable, and th authenticity in their verses is what places Geto Boys into a musical category all their own.

There is no arguing just how unique an approach Geto Boys have shown throughout their career, and in many ways they still stand as the only group to properly perform the style that they largely invented.  Even after two decades, the overall creepy mood that one finds on "Mind Playing Tricks On Me" can still be felt, and it never loses its power, even after countless listenings.  The way in which the three emcees paint this disturbing picture of a psychological disorder is hauntingly vivid, and there is never a moment where one feels the group is being disingenuous.  Furthermore, the song never feels as if it is a "novelty" song, and as the years have passed, it has been hailed as one of the most influential songs in the entire history of the hip-hop genre.  "Mind Playing Tricks On Me" has been name-checked in countless other songs, most notably in Ice Cube's, "When Will They Shoot," and Notorious B.I.G.'s "One More Chance," and the fact that these two hip-hop icons have done this cements the songs' place as a true classic.  Furthermore, pieces from the song have been sampled by Outkast, and even rock groups in the years since its release, and there is simply no denying how vital a piece "Mind Playing Tricks On Me" was in the overall evolution of hip-hop music.  Though it is without question one of the darkest and most truly unsettling songs ever recorded, there is simply no denying the impact and innovation that one can hear on Geto Boys monumental 1991 single, "Mind Playing Tricks On Me."

No comments: