Is Scarface’s ‘The Fix’ Southern Hip-Hop’s Last Pre-Trap Classic?
At the dawn of the 2000s, there was no solo southern rapper with more clout and respect than Scarface. The Houston legend born Brad Jordan had risen to fame initially as one of the Geto Boys, who parlayed late 80s notoriety and early 90s chart success into . 'Face struck out on his own with 1991s Mr. Scarface Is Back, establishing himself as one of hip-hop's darkest storytellers. Gangsta-ism was already well-established, but Scarface gave the bloody street tales an injection of soul and pain. On classic albums like 1994s The Diary and 1997s Untouchable, he cemented his status as the standard-bearer for southern hip-hop--even as newer acts like OutKast and UGK rose to prominence.
And as the new millennium pushed southern hip-hop into glossier territory, Scarface himself was making a major change. He would be named president of Def Jam South in 2000. The Texas rhymer was now on hip-hop's most famous label and was refocusing. He declined to do any press to promote 2000s Last of A Dying Breed, released on Rap-A-Lot Records. Face would later return to Rap-A-Lot on a tentative basis, but in 2001, Face wasn't looking back. He went to New York City to record The Fix and the Big Apple affected how he approached his art.
"The Fix was recorded where hip-hop was born," Face told Complex in 2013. "I recorded that last majority of that record where hip-hop was born. Me being a student of the game really made me step my shit up like, ‘I’m not going to make a sucky album.’"
"I was at the most comfortable point in my life when I recorded The Fix," Scarface explained in an interview with HipHopWired in 2012. "And I caught the beginning [of] Kanye. When Kanye was first enthused about making beats. So he was just feeding me all kinda dope-ass shit to rap to. Kanye is like semi-responsible for the success of that album."
Scarface's change of scenery, label and collaborators meant that his first album for Def Jam was going to be something of a departure from his previous efforts. Face's classic sound was firmly indebted to superproducers like Mike Dean, Tone Capone and N.O. Joe. For The Fix, Scarface would work with newer kids like Notts, The Neptunes and Kanye West, who were all riding high on commercial successes at the time. The Neptunes had spent the majority of the early 00s as fixtures on the charts; having produced hits for everyone from Jay-Z to Britney Spears. Notts had enjoyed his most visible success with Busta Rhymes' Extinction Level Event, and Kanye was the hottest new producer in music following his breakthrough success with Jay-Z's multiplatinum album The Blueprint. These were chart-busting producers and for such producers to dominate a Scarface album was a new direction.
Nonetheless, The Fix opens in decidedly traditional fashion. The Mike Dean-produced intro is classic Scarface moodiness, and "Safe," with it's rollicking beat from China Black, features Face doing what he does best: offering grimy perspective on the mindset of street soldiers. "I done been there, done that. Seen a whole neighborhood destroyed by the government being tipped off by one rat," Face raps. "They didn't even catch him with dope, but gave him 35 years because a nigga done spoke..." Scarface always gives street game and "Safe" is one of his most underrated moments.
Kanye West's distinctive early 00s production is evident on "In Cold Blood." Ye reimagines Gladys Knight & the Pips "And This Is Love," with Scarface once again delivering the kind of psychoanalytical introspection that made him famous. "Guess Who's Back" is one of Kanye West's best early productions. Over a gorgeous sample of "Sunrise" by the Originals, Face, Jay-Z and Beanie Sigel all bring their respective A games. It's a track where all of the Roc-A-Fella fingerprints are obvious, and Face still sounds totally in his element. It's a microcosm for The Fix as an album--this may be Face2K, but it's still Face all day.
Lee Stone and Nashiem Myrick's flip of the intro from Donny Hathaway and Roberta Flack's "Be Real Black For Me" forms the laid-back foundation for Face's "My Block," an ode to growing up in the South Acres/Crestmont Park area in Houston, TX. “I remember writing that song on the floor in the studio while Busta Rhymes was next door," Face told Complex. "I wrote ‘My Block,’ and ‘In Cold Blood’ and a whole bunch of other songs in that little studio right there. Just me and my engineer. I really liked the beat for ‘My Block.’"
Fresh off of his work with Busta Rhymes, Virginia-bred producer Notts showcases his distinctive thump on "Keep Me Down," a chance for Scarface to call out those who "don't really want a nigga to climb." The somber piano segues into Kelly Price's mournful vocals on "What Can I Do?," Scarface's ode to struggle in the face of adversity. The melancholy tone is quintessential Scarface, and his labored baritone echoes earlier tracks like "I Seen A Man Die." Price also makes an appearance on the Kanye-produced "Heaven," another emotional track that connects faith, love and commitment in a way that is rarely so effectively depicted in hip-hop tracks. The tone gets darker midway through, as Face switches his scrutinizing gaze to politicians and oppression. It's one of Scarface's best moments in a career that's full of them.
Scarface and Nas spar on "In Between Us," the most East Coast-evoking track on the album--despite it being another production from Face mainstay Mike Dean. With Face once again sounding confrontational ("I know ya hate me, dontcha?") in the face of envious acquaintances and Nas musing that "it's not your enemy that gets you--it's always your own people" against pizzicato strings and some muted guitar.
A great song from superproducers The Neptunes, "Someday" is one of the strongest tracks on the album, with a glorious Faith Evans chorus and Face's most pensive lyrics. "See I'm a sinner in the 3rd degree/Ain't afraid to admit it, cause I seen niggas worse than me/Who am I to judge a man when I'm a man myself/In the dark, trying to get me some help." There's an undercurrent of spirituality throughout The Fix and no song epitomizes that better than "Someday."
The bouncing "Sell Out" seems like a self-aware middle finger to any longtime fans who might balk at the slickness of The Fix. The message is clear: "don't let these smooth samples fool you--I'm still Scarface." Whatever you think about Face's approach, know that it's just that: Face's approach. "The homies know that Face stayed true," he raps, acknowledging that his game hasn't changed.
West Coast vet WC makes an appearance on the bouncing "I Ain't the One," a reimagining of the classic N.W.A. track. It's just good ol' fashioned shit-talking and it's a great way to close out an album that has so much anger and introspection with a clear-eyed middle finger.
Despite the slick production throughout, The Fix isn't an album that panders for commercial appeal. It's the sound of a hip-hop veteran secure enough to stretch his sonic parameters--and the results are incredible. Scarface has remained one of the hip-hop's most consistent album-makers, but that can be a double-edged sword in terms of how casual fans discuss his legacy. That consistency can make it easy to gloss over just how flat-out brilliant his very best albums are, and that's certainly true of The Fix. Released on August 6, 2002, it would become Face's most commercially successful album and one of the few to land the coveted 5-mic rating from The Source.
The Fix also stands as arguably the last major album from the generation of southern hip-hop greats who took the region to the mainstream in the 1990s. Bookended with the Geto Boys' We Can't Be Stopped, it signifies a decade that started with a few regional outliers gaining ground on hip-hop radio and on rap video shows and ended with southern rappers dominating the pop charts. OutKast would release the genre-bending, Grammy-winning Speakerboxxx/The Love Below a year later and Jeezy would unleash his Let's Get It: Thug Motivation 101 in 2005, but The Fix was the last moment before a new generation of trap rappers became the dominant voice of southern hip-hop.
But it wasn't the last gasp from Brad. Not by a longshot. Scarface has remained a fixture and remained as inspired as ever; dropping albums like Made and Emeritus over the next several years and now standing as an almost-30 year veteran of the game. Face is one of hip-hop's most revered legends and it's not hard to understand why; he's navigated countless shifts in the genre and remained true to what always made him great. And The Fix proved that, regardless of the times or the sonic approach, Scarface is always who we thought he was.
And thank the rap gods for that.
Watch the Video For Scarface's "My Block":
Watch the Video For Scarface's "Someday" with Faith Evans: