Rap and controversy are like two once tight school buddies who have grown up and grown apart. But occasionally you can still catch them together doing their thing. Of course art and entertainment shouldn’t be controversial just for the sake of being controversial. But then again if they don’t produce any reaction, they’re not much worth. Yet as time goes by, controversy over art and entertainment eventually dies down and the painting is ready for the museum, the music is ready for the oldies station. By being controversial from time to time rap music makes sure it still is a major soundtrack to teenage rebellion. Parents are protesting? It must be interesting. For the artist himself, there’s a nice sideffect to controversy: it helps selling records. Just ask N.W.A, Ice-T, Ice Cube, Public Enemy, the 2 Live Crew (back when rap and controversy were enjoying a long-lasting honeymoon), or ask Eminem for a more recent reference.
In rap you can use controversy to get a message across and you can use it to sell records. Some people might divide rap music into conscious rap and gangsta rap along that line, but that’s too simplistic. Enter Willie D, a rapper who is most known for being the shouting and hollering third of the classic Geto Boys line-up, alongside Bushwick Bill and Scarface. But there’s more to Willie D than a loud mouth. Here’s a rapper who can argue. Listen to any of his early work and you’ll hear the man of respect who is quick to school any fool. When he raises his voice, it’s to make sure he’s completely understood. There were a lot of minors grabbing the mic in the history of rap, but only a few (good) men. Willie D was one of the few. A rapper who lyrically beat some sense into people who he thought weren’t coming correct: discriminating radio stations, the media, the Grammy’s, Geffen Records, Rodney King, the KKK, the police, politicians, protesters, promoters, ‘Parents Against Rap’, preachers who look out for their own benefit, and basically anyone talking loud and saying nothing. Willie D was a loud talker himself, true, but he had something to say. Before Southern rap was today’s choice, Willie D injected some much needed common sense into the rap game. He may have used both excessive force and language, but the good outweighed the bad and the ugly.
“Controversy” came out when Willie D wasn’t even a member of the Geto Boys. Shortly after Rap-a-Lot owner James A. Smith would change up the Geto Boys line-up and include Willie D as a member. That’s why on “Controversy” you’ll find a version of “Do It Like a G.O.” with original GB members Juke Box and Prince Johny C. After Smith has sent his soldiers on a no-sell-out mission in “Do It…,” Will takes the torch and sets fire to some of those already burning issues. In “Fuck the KKK” he takes on the cowards in white sheets, opening:
“They said this song was forbidden, it couldn’t be written
As you can see them muthafuckas were bullshittin’
Many feel the Klan would hush ’em
But I snatched the pen and said fuck ’em
Wrote the rhyme, put it in time
My mind, it ain’t blind to their kind
Muthafuck a goddamn KKK”
But being hated for his skin color doesn’t prompt him to go the same route:
“Hatin’ another man for his skin complexion
But I’m focused in another direction
Straight out the ghetto into rap
They saw blacks gettin’ over and tried to hold us back
Fuckin’ with me, what for?
Cause I ain’t slammin’ a guitar?”
He concludes: “Every racist in America can suck my dick / and while you’re doin’ it, listen to this”. And while he knows he might get some laughs for his choice of words, he’s quick to point out: “You listen to me with a chuckle / but you don’t get old bein’ a stupid muthafucka”. No, you don’t. What Willie D practices in apart from hitting the nail on the head with rhymes like these, is trying to write each verse about a certain topic. For example, when exposing his victims in “Kick That Shit”, he uses one verse for one certain type of wrong-doer.
The main theme of this album is ‘bring it on’. Before rappers were asked to keep it real, Willie D already kept it real, as displayed in the song that bears his name:
“Get down for my crown in a second
I ain’t the average fake muthafucka on a record
Live the life that I sing about
Make a stupid-ass move and you’ll find out
I don’t give a fuck where you come from, son
I ain’t takin’ shit off of nobody, cause I’m (Willie D)”
He continues to mix intimidation with education in “Put the Fuckin’ Gun Away”, which by no means is an anti-gun song. As he says in “Do It Like a G.O.”: “I’m not Malcolm X or Farrakhan / After this one I guess I’ll have to pack a gun / So if you wanna fuck this brother / you better be ready, muthafucka”. “Trip Across From Mexico” (which uses the same sample as the current Wu-Tang comeback song “Protect Ya Neck 2”) tackles everything from ungreatful friends to lying politicians. “5th Ward” might sound familiar in terms of its concept. It’s a classic ‘I’ve made it, now I got to give some back’-type joint:
“When I left my neighborhood to make this big break
I promised my road dogs that I’d dedicate
A super jam to the hood that’s sharp as a sickle
So here it is, 5th Ward, better known as the Nickel
Everybody know my hood, they say it’s no good
But they don’t talk that shit in my neck of the woods
We ain’t got the homes and fancy rides
So the only thing we have to fight for is our pride”
The rest of the album is pretty much dedicated to women. First he disses them in “Bald Headed Hoes” and “Welfare Bitches,” then he claims he needs them badly in “Kinky” and “I Need Some Pussy”. Unfortunately there exists a much funnier and funkier version of “Bald Headed Hoes” than the one included on the album. “Welfare Bitches” is classic Willie D: He addresses a serious topic in a basically funny manner – without ever losing the serious undertone. To top it off, the closing of “Controversy” is called “Fuck Me Now”, which mimicks track, rhyme style and attitude of Kool Moe Dee’s “How Ya Like Me Now”.
So, was there controversy surrounding “Controversy”? In the Geto Boys’ “Fuck ‘Em” Will says there was: “Parents confiscating my tapes / sending letters and shit, talking ’bout how they hate / the album “Controversy” they’re rebellin’ / I don’t give a fuck, cause the shit still sellin'”. That’s quite frankly how rap music stayed in the forefront of international interest for so long.
But of course dedicated rap fans don’t buy albums because they’re controversial, they buy them because they have good rhymes and beats. That’s why I still listen to albums like this one: The controversy may long be over, the rhymes and the beats are still good.