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Ghetto Blasters BY CARTER HARRIS UR MANUFACTURER and distributor do not condone or endorse the content of this recording, which they find violent, sexist, racist, and indecent.” And so runs what may be the first disclaimer of its kind ever to grace the face of an album cover. The words are courtesy of Geffen Records, which pulled out of a deal with Rick Rubin’s Def American this year to distribute the latest album from The Geto Boys, a brazen four-man posse from the Fifth Ward of Houston, whose lyrics make those of Miami rappers 2 Live Crew seem like the soundtrack to Sesame Street. \(According to Def American spokepeople, the disclaimer remained on the album because it had already been printed by the time Geffen pulled Geffen’s president Ed Rosenblatt called it “the worst thing I’ve ever heard” and, citing possible connections between this kind of music and murder rates in America’s largest cities, decided not to distribute the album. Yet Rosenblatt’s moral discretion does not extend to his distribution of acts like the white heavy-metalers Danzig and Slayer, whose albums include such songs as “Criminally Insane” and “Altar of Sacrifice” a fact that has critics wondering whether the Geto Boys’ race was a factor. In the wake of the recent prosecution of 2 Live Crew for obscenity and the closing of many concert venues to rap groups around the country, critics are calling the Geffen decision one more example of a widespread campaign of racism aimed at silencing the voices of young black rappers. It’s the “latest round with white supremacy,” said Public Enemy publicist Harry Allen of the Geffen incident. And Geto Boys rapper and group member Bushwick Bill, speaking by phone from his home in Houston, adds: “Yeah, it’s racist you don’t think they’d be doing this to no white artist, do you? Just look at Andrew Dice Clay or Guns ‘n’ Roses. On ‘One in a Million’ they say shit like, ‘Niggers and cops get out my way.'” Ironically, but not surprisingly, the attacks on rap have not silenced it but rather led to greater visibility and ultimately higher sales for a number of rap artists, like 2 Live Crew, which was a relatively unknown and little-respected group by the standards of most rap artists until the court case. The realization that shock sells has led many rappers, who generally get little regular radio play anyway, to try riding the shortcut to success by making their music as blatantly obscene, Carter Harris writes for the San Francisco Bay Guardian, where this story first appeared. violent, or sexist as possible. The Geto Boys themselves hardened both their music and their image for this latest album and, although the Geffen decision not to distribute it may very well be racist, it has also garnered the group a lot of publicity. Eighteen month ago the Geto Boys were a little-known rap act in Houston, whose first album, Making Trouble, included relatively tame cuts like “Ghetto Boys Will Rock You” which sampled Queen’s “We Will Rock You” and “You Gotta Be Down,” which actually encouraged listeners to turn crooks in to the police. Ironically, but not sur prisingly, the attacks on rap have not silenced it but rather led to greater visibility and ultimately higher sales for a number of rap artists. Although the album featured a couple of harsh cuts as well, its tone and style was entirely different from their latest. The current album, a harrowing mix of pressure-cooked beats and lyrical pornography replete with gratuitous acts of violence against “hos” and “niggas,” the only inhabitants of the group’s created world, serves up a no-one-spared batch of “gangsta” mash that has earned them the reputation of the harshest rap act to date. The album has sold 200,000 copies and made the Geto Boys one of the most controversial news items in rap, drawing criticism not -only from right-wing groups like the Parents Music Resource center but also. from rap critics and fans, including many sympathetic to other gangsta rap acts. “The Geto Boys have no redeeming artistic value whatsoever,” said rap deejay “Benny B” Nickleberry. And, in the December issue of the rap magazine The Source, publisher David Mays called the Geto Boys “a relatively harmless novelty act that goes to any and every length to be a blatantly violent and machoistic as possible.” By all accounts, the Geto Boys’ sudden popularity has less to do with the maturation of their music or their staying power as talented musicians qualities that have sustained other controversial rap acts like Public Enemy and Too Short than with their ability to exploit the latest musical fashion. Though one can hardly knock them for their business sense, the result musically is an album heavy in sensationalism and light in substance. The Geto Boys’ transformation was aided by Def American president Rick Rubin, a shrewd money-maker who appears to have his finger on the pulse of cultural consumption. In the case of the Geto Boys, whose recent album was actually a remake of an earlier version called Grip It On That Other Level, Rubin was as careful in helping to recraft their image as he was in reengineering the music. In addition to smoothing out the beats and mixing in some catchy electric piano riffs, two new cuts were added: “Fuck ‘Em” a seemingly forced I’m-an-angry-black-man-and-don’tgive-a-fuck song -and “City Under Siege,” the only seriously political song on the album: The previous album jacket, printed in color with the four group niemberS’ casually hangin’ placed by four separated, black-and-white mug shots featuring the meanest scowls the Boys could muster. Also, their name, formerly Ghetto Boys, was changed to the slang Geto Boys, apparently misspelled to play up the gangsta image. Had all of this been part of the group’s act from the beginning, it might not look so :contrived now –but even so, their music would probably still smack of artificiality, What’s lacking is the so-real-it-hurts-rage, which makes the songs of gangsta acts like NWA so powerfully alluring and repugnant at the same time Even when the Geto Boys’ beats are at their dopeSt, ‘pounding hard and steady through the bellows of rappers Willie Dee and BuShwick Bill as in “Assassins” or “Mind of a Lunatic” the seemingly forced extremity of the lyrics, detailing psychotic ‘killing sprees, rape and graphic assassinations, undermines the very extremes one is supposed to experience in the best of gangsta rap. Bushwick defends his rap, saying: “Those aren’t things we do or support. We’re just showing what’s out there. Lines like that in `Mind of a Lunatic’ are about the things we see On the street and in movies -Freddy, Charles Manscin, JaSon.” But what’ S completely absent in the Geto Boys’ songs is any critical viewpoint or alterna tive voice to justify the flood of violence. Even the worst horror movies sometimes include an element of parody, but with the Geto Boys there’s no parody, no humor nothing but scenes of cold, heartlesS brutality against victims whose total lack of development in the song leaves them more faceless than the stereotypical dumb Ablondes of the worst Hollywood cinema. T A TIME WHEN groups, like the Boys are investing in and reifying the gangsta image for profit, at least one rap :arnst Who helped define that image is moving beyond it, expanding his artistic portfolio in increasingly creative ways. Ice Cube, an integral member of NWA who 20 JULY 12, 1991