Willie D Speaks about the Industry.
Was that just Willie D that I spoke to? The Geto Boys Willie D? It took a few seconds for the moment to set in, but there’s no doubt I was speaking to Southern Hip Hop royalty. Here I was on a Thursday afternoon, early May 2012, conversing with a certified legend in the rap game. A pioneer and lead member of one of the most relevant Hip Hop groups since 1988; Willie D of the Geto Boys still has that passion for not only his music, but an undying love for his community too. He’s willing to go beyond the bounds of conventional wisdom when being outspoken in his opinions about the music industry, society, racism, our government and the American justice system (or injustice system), amongst other things. For the few people who’ve never listened to the Geto Boys, or those who just don’t respect their style, lyrical skills and/or content, you must be on crack! I won’t even fall into the trap of referring to their music as “gangster rap” like the traditional media has, but you need to get in tune. Especially the youth whose ears have been turned out by the 21st century dope boy music flooding air waves. Yes, the Geto Boys speak on harsh issues and rugged living conditions that affect millions daily only because they’ve grown up in it and have survived to tell the story.
He’s the Paul Pierce of rap. Truth is what Willie D speaks and after 24 years in the music industry you still hear the fearless, humble and assertive attitude leaving his lips. The same approach that’s laid the solid foundation for numerous hit records. Check the resume. Recognize the intricate role Willie D, and fellow group members Scarface and Bushwick Bill, played in helping to put what’s coined as the ‘Dirty South’ on the map. Praise is due to Rap-A-Lot Records CEO, J-Prince, for having the vision and presence of mind to bring the Geto Boys together in the late 80’s. The game has never been the same since. After an hour of gripping conversation, I could tell the veteran emcee Willie D had a lot on his mind so I let him unleash his persona that’s synonymous with a success driven, hood raised, versatile talent who refuses to fold. Here’s a sample of a true geto boy’s mentality.
Take a look back for a moment and consider all the people who came in and out of your life and all the music that’s made you feel good when you listen to it. Now tell me who or what pushed you the most and made you take music seriously as a primary focus in life?
Stevie Wonder. He was the one who made “Songs in The Key of Life”. (He laughs). His music was inspirational for somebody like me growing up in the hood and always around a lot of negativity. It gave me some kind of hope. It had me feeling like a change would come so to speak; that circumstances weren’t so dire that I would do something to end my own life, or go out on a murderous rampage.
From the age of 11 to 17, you focused a lot on boxing and became a Golden Gloves Champ. Much respect due for that accomplishment, but who as artists influenced you to make a transition from sports into entertainment as an emcee?
It would have to be Run-DMC who sparked my interest. At first, I was just a fan like everybody else and really had no desire to rap. I was just a customer. I was in the neighborhood listening to Run-DMC with the fellas. A friend of mine announced, “Me and Willie can do that.” I looked at it more so as a challenge. (You could hear the competitive tone in Willie D’s voice as he continued) I LOVE challenges. I went into my house. He went into his and an hour later we both took turns reciting our rhymes. We started raising eye brows. That’s what sparked it. So I just took those few bars I wrote and added onto them in the next few weeks. I still wasn’t doing it to make a living off of it. It was entertaining to the dudes in the neighborhood. I still considered it to be a hobby. I didn’t have my sights set on rapping for a living until I was 17. I was coming close to that decision where I’d either turn pro, become a pugilist, or be a rapper. At that point I started entering a lot of rap contests and I realized I was just as good on the mic as I was in the ring. I was getting that attention from being at the top with others that were doing what I was doing. I picked rapping over the boxing, because when I was younger I used to get headaches even after I knock somebody down, or knock them out in the first round. I would get a headache later on that night. I was a little paranoid of getting my senses jarred, you know what I mean?
So you were hesitant due to possible brain injuries from a long lasting boxing career?
Right. There are examples of fighters like Ali and other fighters I knew whose speech is slurred and they’ve lost control of their motor skills, so I didn’t want that happening to me. I never feared dying in the ring even though I knew it was possible. I never thought anyone was good enough to kill me in the ring, but I did consider the cumulative amount of blows and the effect it could have on my brain.
How has J-Prince affected your life and who is he to you as a man?
J-Prince put his money where his mouth was. (He laughs again with a thankful tone) He’s great at finding talent, but talent comes a dime a dozen. Right now, there are millions of unsigned artists calling themselves rappers and most of them will never make it. Some have bad attitudes. Some are bad when it comes to handling business. Some don’t have the motivation and drive, and quite frankly some of them aren’t prepared for the opportunity. J-Prince gave us an opportunity we were ready for, whereas a lot of other people were like “We believe in you”, but never put the money up on it. It benefited him too, but we give him all the credit in the world for having the vision and seeing it through. If not for that opportunity, maybe I might’ve pursued boxing and got my head knocked off, become a pugilist like all great champions. All great boxers at one point succumb to being humiliated. Or maybe without boxing and music, I’d get caught up in the streets and get murdered, or I’d murder somebody and get life or lethal injection and get killed by the state.
Taking into consideration the past 20+ years in the music industry, traveling and doing shows, selling millions of copies; there has to be countless memories that you’ll go to the grave with. As of today, can you pinpoint your best experience as a member of the Geto Boys?
I would have to say when “My Mind’s Playin’ Tricks On Me” was released in 1992. That was before all the money came into the picture; when we performed at arenas in front of large crowds of 15-20,000 every night. Those were some GOOD times.
I’ve listened to your music from back in that era and for some reason I always compare the old school to the new school, so here I am wondering if you feel there are any artists out there who really don’t belong in the rap game. If so, call them out.
I’m not the kind of dude that’ll call someone out who hasn’t done, or said anything to me. Personally, I don’t even subscribe to that “old school, new school” thing. First of all, I ride classics. An old car has no value, but a classic car can sometimes be more expensive than the new cars. I consider myself to be a classic. Of course there are artists that have no place in the game, but this is America and we live in a capitalistic society where we can do anything and make some money off of it. A lot of these guys in the game are doing it for jokes. For shits and giggles. Not just the rappers, but the businessmen, the entrepreneurs and writers, some of which shouldn’t be in the game at all. For example, some of the radio stations and record store owners, even magazine company owners who are only in the game for the money and won’t uphold the integrity of the game because they don’t care about it. The radio just wants to play what’s “hot”. You give a magazine a record to review and they only listen to the #1 hit and write a review on the whole album based on just one song. That’s crazy! The rappers do have a say, but can’t do much without the money machine backing them, and the marketing and promoting machine that’s out there pushing the product. If you don’t like what you hear or what you see in the videos, don’t blame the artists. Blame WorldStarHipHop, or You-Tube. Blame BET, MTV, or your local video station. That’s where the power is. Blame the radio stations if you don’t like the music they play. Artists know that if the publications and media stop covering them, it’s over for them TODAY. I can’t stand when people put the blame on the rapper. NO! After you blame everyone else, go and blame the fan because the fans are the ones paying for it. What you spend your money on says a lot about you.
Outside of being a legendary emcee, define Willie D as a man.
Willie D is … a man of his word, caring and also faithful. I’m not just one way, or on one plain. I can go left (Willie laughs as if he was referring to a left hook from his boxing days) and I can go right, or even up the middle. I can’t say that I’m just one type of person.
What’s it like talking to classrooms and gyms full of students who know you for your status in the music industry? What do you talk to them about?
I don’t speak much about the music industry. I talk to them more about life, because making good music can only do so much for you. I talk about money, responsibility, babies, the responsibility of caring for babies, education and how important that is, even voting and how important that is too. See, a lot of people are brainwashed into saying that voting doesn’t mean anything because it doesn’t count. Well, if voting doesn’t mean anything, then why do you think they spend so much money to stop certain people from voting. (In reference to felons, free or not) If someone’s ever prosecuted for a crime, first thing the Feds do is follow the paper trail. If they want to know what’s going on with you, the first thing they look into is your finances. Even if you’re accused of a murder you didn’t commit, they’ll look into your finances. You notice how people say “money is the root of all evil”? Well don’t think it’s a coincidence or just a saying because it’s real.
Describe Scarface’s personality and your chemistry with him on a creative level.
Scarface is a Com-Plex MotherFucker! Period. When we get into the studio, it’s like what we do comes so natural. I don’t even think about it until after we recorded. Then I’m like ‘damn, we did THAT shit!?!’ Both of us, we did the writing for the Geto Boys. You hear the shit Face says. I’ll be like ‘Yeh, that right there is tight’ and then I’m doing my thing and we’re creating, but we don’t get caught up in the moment of creation. We could make a whole album in a week if we wanted to; at most spend 3-4 weeks in the studio to knock one out. I don’t think we’ve really had the chance to absorb what’s being done, but then when we’re done with the creative process we’ll sit back and I’ll say ‘You heard that? Only Face could’ve said that.’ That’s someone I know I can count on. If we were ballin’ I’d say to the coach, ‘Give him the ball.’ I can count on him ‘cause he’ll either get the 2 points, or he’ll go to the free throw line for 2. We’re going to score with this motherfucker right here!
What about Bushwick Bill and his personality? The nature of your chemistry?
Bushwick isn’t really involved in the creative process. Mostly, Face and I would write something for him and he’d go into the booth to record and it’s done. As far as it goes with his personality, Bushwick is wild! Ain’t no other way to say it. He’s wild.
If you were in charge of Hip Hop and rap music, what’s the first change you’d make?
If I was in charge? Man, that’s a good one. Can I get a phone call? (He begins laughing) Is this “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire”? (I join in on the laughs after Willie’s subtle reference to the TV show) I’d like to get a lifeline. Wow! Damn! What’s the FIRST thing I’d do??? There are a lot of changes that need to be made, but what’s the most important thing for Hip Hop? (Imagine Willie D in deep thought striking a philosophical posture) I’ll need a pass on that for now. (We decide to move on, only to address it later)
You went from boxing to rapping and your lyrics generally speaking are considered provocative. What is it about your lyrical content that makes you provocative?
Straight-forwardness. I’d say some shit that would get me investigated. As long as I know it will help the people, maybe help somebody that feels like they don’t have a voice, somebody that might be suffering through something. If I know it’ll help the people going through hard times, I’ll say it. I’ll say something that might cost me a record deal. I’ll say some shit that’s unpopular like, “She makes me wanna motherfuckin’ kill her”. A lot of people don’t want to hear that stuff and are turned off by that. (Willie D made reference to the “opinions” of so-called Hip Hop heads)
I might write a song called, “If I Was White”, saying, “I wonder what it would be like, Shoot and kill a n***a and call it a night”. You understand what I’m saying? I’d have to also say I’m controversial. The first thing people say is “Why does he say that? That’s going to make people upset.” There is a major problem out here so I spoke on it. (You could hear his desire to help in the preservation of his bloodline and heritage) At the same time, I’ll do a song called “Niggas & Flies”. Contrary to popular belief, the word “n***a” is NOT a synonym for black. N***a is an attitude. The second I say something about it, then it’s unpopular. People end up telling me, “Don’t put us on blast like that!” I respond by saying, “Motherfuckers need to know what’s up!”
After 7 solo albums, what do you think is your #1 daily obstacle?
Being real in a fake ass world.
In your verses, is it art imitating life, or life imitating art?
In our verses, it definitely would be art imitating life. My music is MY LIFE! Anything that I talk about from the sex, to the drugs and abuse, conflicts, war, politics, ect…
Be critical of yourself and without taking into account record sales; what was your best solo album?
“Controversy” (released, 1989) is my best album to date, for the simple fact that the production was better, it was real raw and the topics were diverse. I talked about everything. All the things I’d been in up to that point in my life. (With a sense of pride and accomplishment) Those were the first tracks I made and put out.
Since you were born in 1966; let’s just say in that same era you were a teenager in the Civil Rights movement. Which philosophy would you associate yourself with? And why?
I would’ve definitely leaned more towards Malcolm X. Americans don’t understand anything other than blood and money, plus I can’t picture a motherfucker hitting me in my head with something and me not swinging back. If I don’t do shit else, I’m gonna bust your fuckin’ skull in. I’m gonna Kill your ass! They can arrest me, but not without me kickin’ YOUR motherfuckin’ ass, and nobody else. I’d take the same approach and philosophy America has. America doesn’t sit down and talk with anybody. When you fuck with, or inflict violence on America, America responds with violence. They don’t sit down and talk and ask “Hey, why are you doing that to us? Can’t we all get along and hold hands?” I’m a child of America, so I’m going to speak in a language that America understands.
What are your thoughts on the Trayvon Martin case and the Stand Your Ground law?
I stand my ground. You stand your ground. It sounds like the Wild Wild West. The Stand Your Ground law doesn’t even apply. Since we’re here now, let’s talk about it. Stand Your Ground to me implies that I’m where I am and nobody can start fuckin’ with me. If they do then I can use violence. That’s me standing my ground. (In a somewhat angered and frustrated tone, Willie D puts himself in the shoes of Zimmerman) It’s like if I get out of my vehicle and start fuckin’ with somebody, go riding around looking for someone to target, then getting out of my car, then provoking a confrontation and then killing somebody. The man is lying. The government wanted him to turn in his passport, so Zimmerman gave them an old passport. They asked him how much money he had in the bank and he said he only had a couple hundred, but he had a couple hundred thousand in the damn bank. The audience on the internet will find out about that. Let’s not forget the man’s been in trouble with the law a few times. Anybody who’s been in trouble with the law; everybody in America will shut the door on them and won’t give them the benefit of the doubt. I understand that the record was expunged, but you know it happened. He doesn’t have just ANY old type of record. He has a record of putting his hands on police, but he has police on his side saying what a wonderful guy he is. (Willie D mocks the police’s view of Zimmerman saying…) “Oh, he shouldn’t have done it. He shouldn’t have killed him”. Now they’re saying he’s probably innocent. Thing is, in this country there are a number of people who have it in their minds if a similar situation happens to them, they have to make sure that Zimmerman gets off because ‘I don’t want to find myself in the same situation’. People support Zimmerman because he is a PAWN, not because they really think he’s a good guy. They’re trying to protect him so they can protect themselves down the line. They don’t like Zimmerman. Keep in mind that Zimmerman is not white, but a lot of the hate groups support Zimmerman. They don’t like him, but they’re standing up for him because they’re trying to protect themselves when future crimes against blacks happen.
I’ve listened to “Black Cop” by KRS-One and with this dialogue you have me wondering what your opinion is of African-Americans deciding to become cops?
It’s important to have black cops and black people in positions of authority. Hopefully there are some who are going to be fair. Black people aren’t looking for any preferences. We’re looking for fair treatment. It’s important to have black people working in law enforcement. The problem is, the chump black people that work with the law who turn a blind eye and perpetuate crimes against their own people and do nothing about it. They turn, walk away and act like it never happened. You always hear about a white cop, and sometimes a black or Hispanic cop shooting black men and their defense is always, “I feared for my life”, or “I thought he had a gun”. That’s the only defense they need. They “feared for their life”. That means if I was a racist, redneck bigot, I could go to court after I go out and kill any black person I want and say “I feared for my life”. It doesn’t matter what the circumstances are. I’ll get off because I have a whole law enforcement organization and a country that’s trained to support me. The whole system is fucked! Like no matter what you do, we’ll get you out of it. Then we’ll suspend you with pay which is really like a paid vacation and you’ll be inconvenienced, having to go to court and pay a few fees. I can almost guarantee you that most of the police funds go to protecting dirty cops, or providing for the survivors of cops killed in the line of duty. There’s a terrible mentality out there like, “We can do this and get away with it.”
Other than the Geto Boys, who do you consider the best emcee alive?
Ain’t no best emcee alive! (Said with a flawless confidence) If it would be anybody, it would be me! This is what I feel about it. There are too many emcees out there with different styles and you could narrow it down to what region the emcee is from, what style you have, ect… We all know that you can’t judge based off record sales alone. You can sell a bag of shit if you package it right! Record sales don’t decide who the best is. There are people who get their name out there more and get more exposure, but there are a lot of artists such as myself who are better than the artists who get all the exposure and who’ve sold way more than I could ever dream of selling. But, you don’t hear those other names that end up out of sight and not heard. It really all comes down to who is your personal favorite. Z-Ro is one of the coldest rappers alive, but when I say Z-Ro’s name people are like “Huh?” They don’t know. If they’re not from Houston, or from the South, they don’t know. Maybe Z-Ro will or won’t get to the point where he’s selling millions of records and becomes a household name, but as he gets out there more, at some point the people will hear and notice that he’s one of the best. For now, if they mention his name it’s for speeding, or him doing 90. (Willie D laughs) But right now, it’s real hard thinking of another rapper out there better than Z-Ro. At the same time you have artists who do political rap, reality rap, Me-Me rap meaning ‘I’m this, I’m that, You’re not, I’ve got this and that and you never did’, and then you have the dance rappers; the ones who have a different dance for every album. That ain’t shit to me. Those are the kind of artists that can easily be replaced.
Where do you see yourself 10 years from now?
Assuming that I’m alive. Shit, I don’t know man, to be honest.
Do you envision managing artists and running your own label?
I’m already managing artists and actors too. There are so many things that interest me, I can’t even begin to tell you what I’ll be doing, but it’ll be something involved with entertainment.
If you were in Obama’s shoes as President, what would be your primary agenda?
If I was Obama I’d go up in that motherfucker and shake shit up with law enforcement. I’d change that shit because it’s racist. I’d get in there and change that shit overnight. I’d get on that shit immediately. That would be my first task. The whole criminal justice system is totally racist. I would change it. I’d roll my sleeves up. Not saying that I would get shit done, because a lot of the politicians have their hand on the scale. They get the money from the special interest groups who help fund the building of more prisons and if you build prisons then you need someone to put into them. That’s what I’d do; just shake it all up. Everyone from the cops, to the prosecutors, to the judges, to the fuckin’ wardens, all of them motherfuckers. You need to shake things up. Everything about the way this country functions has something to do with the judicial system. It starts in the buildings downtown. A lot of people overlook those judges. They might be in municipal courts, wherever. They get those nominations and get appointed to a position for life. Hell naw!!! Nobody should be in a position where they can go unchecked for life. I’m mean really?? What kind of job do you know where no matter what your performance is, you get to keep your job and also get a raise annually??? (A scent of disbelief fills the phone) Even when you fuck up, you still get to keep your job. They shouldn’t have these positions for life. The shit is corrupt. It’s totally corrupt! To be honest, if I tried to be in his shoes, I would prepare myself for death. I’d have a mean ass gang of motherfuckers around me that I trust, so when they shoot, they better REAL good. The powers are so corrupt and so strong that it wouldn’t be in my best interest. It just wouldn’t.
So let’s go back for a minute and re-address that question from earlier and end the interview on this note. If you were the overseer in charge of Hip Hop, what would be the first change you’d make?
It would have to be something involved with the money, because money rules everything. Money decides what is going to happen. Whoever has the money has control of their destiny. Like I said, in this country people don’t respect anything other than money and blood. If I have the money then I can make changes, otherwise without money, you’re just spinning your wheels. Nobody will listen to you.
So maybe a Union would be a good start so you’d have a powerful organization that can represent the artists to make sure they get paid right and they don’t have to sell their souls to make a buck. A Union that would focus on keeping the integrity of the art form and artist, so the artist doesn’t go out like a sucker. So they make a good living. With that, the artist doesn’t have to go to the studio and make a record just to keep a buzz, or get a buzz going. It was all good until 50 Cent broke into the game and sold 10 million records and word got around that he generated his buzz off mix tapes. It was cool for a minute. Then the established artists started to make mix tapes and give those tapes away. Those established artists fucked up the game for the up and coming artists. What they did is over-saturate the market and now you might have a guy on the street pushing mix tapes with up and coming artists along with tapes featuring established artists. Most of those new artists won’t get on, because people go for the name that’s familiar. The established artists fucked the mix tape game up! It doesn’t have the same punch it had. Now everybody’s trying to do some quick shit just to get on, or to stay relevant and they’re giving away free music, fucking the whole game up! I mean think about it. What if Cadillac gave away free cars? If they gave away free cars, there would be no need to buy a car. Lower profits for Cadillac and the manufacturer. If you put enough pressure on the government, then they’ll do what they do with most everything else and protect the artist’s intellectual property. By doing what? You know how America does; they hit a motherfucker in the pockets. That would stop all of that shit. That would stop the piracy. The same fan that used to walk into the store to buy a unit has decided to stay home now and download albums. There are multiple layers to the shit, but if there were repercussions for downloading free music then people wouldn’t do it. People will try a lot of shit, but ain’t nobody trying to give away money or go to jail.
Written by Bill Oxford