Intensities in Ten Suburbs

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100 Years, 100 Songs: #84. Geto Boys – “Mind Playing Tricks on Me”

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on July 7, 2007

“Oh wait, that shit is on?”

These days we can afford to take introspection in hip-hop for granted. After DMX had a million consecutive #1 albums and Eminem somehow managed to become the biggest rapper in the world, and emo-rappers like Atmosphere and Sage Francis made the genre seem an acceptable hybrid, hearing rappers get in touch with their emotional side isn’t that shocking. At the turn of the 90s, though, when rap seemed to be either excessively lightweight (Hammer, Ice), blisteringly violent (NWA, Public Enemy) or clever but kind of jokey (De La, Tribe, “The Humpty Dance”) it’s hard to imagine how a song as heartfelt and vulnerable as “Mind Playing Tricks on Me” could’ve found rotation.

Divided into four verses between the three Geto Boys–first and third to Scarface, second to Willie D, and the fourth to Bushwick Bill–“Mind Playing Tricks on Me” is a harrowing look into the paranoid, suicidal mindset of the three rappers. As the single’s cover testifies, this wasn’t a put-on–Bushwick Bill had recently shot himself in the eye, somehow survivng the icnident to perform on the group’s biggest and (deservedly) best-remembered hit. But you don’t need the real-life framing to appreacite the veracity of “Mind”–the verses contain some of the most disturbing, piercing thoughts and images I’ve ever heard in modern pop music.

The narrative flow of “Mind” is practically unparalleled in hip-hop. After a mood-lightening false start, Scarface starts with his first verse, probably the song’s most externally fearful–a sweat-drecnhed tale of dark-alley anxiety (“Four walls just staring at a nigga / I’m paranoid, sleeping with my finger on the trigger”). Willie D joins him on it in the second verse, but comes to the song’s first revelation that all is not what it seems, when the crazy motherfuckers seeking vengeance on him (“Is it that fool that I ran off the block / Or is it that nigga last week that I shot?”) turn out to be a bunch of old dudes.

From there, Scarface returns feeling a lot more self-analytical. no longer paranoid about the people after him but about the forces conspiring in his own mind. His thoughts drift to religious crisis (“Every sunday morning I’m in service / Praying for forgiveness”), his spurned woman (“She helped me out in this shit / But to me she was just another bitch”) and even offing himself (“I often drift while a drive / having fatal thoughts of suicide”), but realizes that with his son to look after, that’s not even a possible escape. It’s by far the song’s most depressing verse, but intelligently, the Boys don’t leave it as their parting thoughts.

That duty instead is left to Bushwick Bill, who closes “Mind” with its least revelatory but perhaps most memorable verse. The story, which begins with one of the great opening lines in hip-hop (“Last year Halloween fell on a weekend / Me and Geto Boys are trick-or-treatin'”), tells of the trio “droppin’ them motherfuckin’ B’s” on some dudes under the guise of Halloween, only for Bill to come to his senses, “hands bloody from punchin’ the concrete,” and realizing “it wasn’t even close to Halloween.” It doesn’t give details into Bill’s psyche the way the other two Boys did, but it still speaks just as loudly, especially in the song’s classic finale (“daaaaamn homey / My mind is playin’ tricks on me.”) It’s the perfect, relatively low-key way but still incredibly vivid way to end such a nerve-wracking song.

The real coup of “Mind,” and the most immediately striking thing about it listening to it for the first time, is the choice of sample for musical accompaniment. Given the song’s crazed, fatalistic midnight vibe, you’d expect a horrorcore-style beat to go with it, or at least something like Ice-T’s “Midnight” or something off Elif4Zaggin. Rather, the song takes its groove from Isaac Hayes’ symphonic soul instrumental “Hung Up on My Baby,” a laconic, melancholy guitar hook that remains just sort of sad, instead of the dark, almost scary loop you’d expect. And it ends up working perfectly–its almost easygoing vibe reflecting that this is just the way life is for these three dudes, and that moments of fear and introspection like this aren’t particularly out of the ordinary for them–just sort of sad.Classic video, too.

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One Response to “100 Years, 100 Songs: #84. Geto Boys – “Mind Playing Tricks on Me””

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