While significant buzz had been building around Houston rap group the Geto Boys from their earliest days, the trio arrived worldwide with their third studio album, 1991's We Can't Be Stopped. Boasting one of the most painfully raw record covers of all time (a semi-staged photo of Willie D. and Scarface wheeling their bandmate Bushwick Bill down a hospital hallway, wounds from a very real gunshot to the eye still fresh and in full view), the musical content was just as unvarnished as that horrific image. The drug dealing, street violence, and graphic sexual content that flowed through earlier albums showed up even more sharply, and as the group's infamy grew, they doubled-down on unrepentant vulgarity and confrontation. They went after a music industry that was trying to erase them on the ferocious title track (as well as on the more light-hearted "Trophy"), bucked religious groups, censorship-happy government agencies, and even their original label, which considered their records too offensive to distribute. A hurricane of energy and aggression, the trio sound emboldened by the controversy and take on their detractors with middle fingers waving in the air. Crude production and sometimes imprecise flows just add to the rough-hewn power of the record. Raw production gives Bushwick's horrorcore prototype "Chuckie" the same queasy, low-budget eeriness as the horror movies that inspired it, and the wobbly funk samples and overblown drums just bolster Willie D's screamed threats ("Homie Don't Play That") and Scarface's larger than life gangster storytelling ("Another N***a in the Morgue"). Nowhere does the group cohere as strongly as on what became a ubiquitous anthem to paranoia and psychosis, "Mind's Playing Tricks on Me." Built around an eerie Isaac Hayes sample, each of the three emcees contribute inspired verses about mental breakdown, suicidal thoughts, and the shaky grip on reality that those involved in street hustling can fall prey to. A perfect storm of heavy performances and dark production, the song conveyed desperation and swagger in equal parts and would remain one of the best and most lasting hits of '90s gangsta rap. Even somewhat dated filler tracks or cartoonish sex raps (Bushwick's plodding "The Other Level") can't detract from the overall experience. As rap entered its late-'80s/early-'90s golden age, the Geto Boys were one of the first visible Southern rap acts to break through into a mainstream dominated by East and West Coast players. We Can't Be Stopped remains their most visceral work, rising to platinum success against the odds and inspiring innovation in the genre with its powerful and distinctively Southern perspective on what rap could be.
We Can't Be Stopped Review
by Fred Thomas