In 1986, hip-hop was still struggling to establish a beachhead in Texas when three rappers from the Fifth Ward formed a group called The Ghetto Boys. “It was us against the world,” said Willie James “Willie D” Dennis, another Fifth Ward native, who joined the group two years later. “Nobody believed in what we were doing, not even our own family members. You’ve got to keep in mind that becoming a rap star was like something reserved for people that were on the East Coast or the West Coast.”
All that changed in 1991 after the group, now calling itself The Geto Boys and with a new lineup consisting of Willie D, South Park’s Brad “Scarface” Jordan and Brooklyn transplant Richard “Bushwick Bill” Shaw, released their fourth album, We Can’t Be Stopped. The album, best known for its lead single, the hypnotic “Mind Playing Tricks on Me,” went platinum and firmly dispelled the notion that the Third Coast couldn’t produce rap groups on par with Public Enemy and N.W.A. “We wanted respect for Fifth Ward, South Park,” Willie D recently told me. “We wanted respect for the state of Texas and the South—period.”
The Geto Boys became one of the most respected rap groups anywhere, pioneers of Southern hip-hop who have influenced everyone from UGK to Lil Wayne. In 1999 they earned a new fan base thanks to Mike Judge’s film Office Space, which made memorable use of their songs “Damn it Feels Good to Be a Gangsta” and “Still.” Their last studio album, 2005’s The Foundation, reached number three on the Billboard hip-hop chart, proving the group could hold its own against a new generation of rappers.
Since then, fans continually ask Willie D and Scarface, who each maintain a strong presence on the Southern hip-hop scene, to record new Geto Boys material. “I’m gonna tell you something crazy: if we did a new album right now, it would probably be even better [than the last one],” Willie D said. “I’ve actually gotten better, and so has Scarface.” He attributes the group’s longevity to their willingness to deal with timeless themes like poverty, family life, death, betrayal and heartache. “That stuff is never gonna go out of style,” said the 48-year-old emcee. “That’s real, that’s life. Reality don’t get old.”
Fans might have to wait a while for that next album to materialize, but in the meantime they can catch Willie D, Scarface and Bushwick Bill together again on their Office Space Tour this month. The group will hit 22 cities across America in June and July, including the place where it all started. “The special thing about performing in Houston is the hometown camaraderie, the love,” said Willie D. “It is the appreciation that you get from the fans, the pride that you see in the fans’ eyes, the enthusiasm that you see from the fans. Their celebration is different because in their minds we belong to them. They created us. We come from where they come from.”
The Geto Boys Present: The Office Space Tour June 11 at 7:30. $25. House of Blues, 1204 Caroline St. 800-653-8000. livenation.com