There are a lot of rap groups trying to be bad these days, but few can match the bad rap the Geto Boys have earned.
First, there was the dust-up with Geffen Records last year, in which the label refused to distribute the group's last album, "The Geto Boys," because label executives were uncomfortable with raps like "Mind of a Lunatic," a first-person account of murder and rape.
Then there's the situation with Wal-Mart and K mart, neither of which will touch the group's current album, "We Can't Be Stopped," because of its foul language and violent lyrics. And that's despite the fact that the Geto Boys' "Mind Playing Tricks on Me" has been the nation's top rap single for weeks now.
And if business worries weren't enough, the group got dragged into court earlier this year when a pair of accused murderers in Dodge City, Kan., claimed they had been "hypnotized" into violence by a Geto Boys album. (The allegations were thrown out.)
It's not the sort of reputation many rappers would seek out, to be sure. But the Geto Boys, who were in Baltimore yesterday on a publicity tour, seem largely unruffled by their bad publicity. "It works for us in a way," admits Scarface. "The more negative hype we get, the more records we sell, know what I'm saying?"
Adds Bushwick Bill, "We'd rather be hated for what we are than loved for what we're not."
But what are the Geto Boys? They are not violent and depraved as their raps suggest, but writers who draw on violence and depravity in the outside world.
Take, for example, the notorious "Mind of a Lunatic."
"My first two verses are talking about Charles Manson," explains Bushwick. "Read 'Helter Skelter' -- word for word, it's there. Scarface's part is talking about what angel dust's [PCP] effects will do to you. It's a psychological profile, see?"
So why'd they tell it in a first-person rap? Answers Bushwick, "Be honest. Would you really like the album if we were to say, 'I saw this,' and 'I heard that'? It's stronger to say 'I did.' "
It's not just done for dramatic effect, though -- it's also an expression of the anger this group feels. "This society, it hurts me, man," says Bushwick. Even though the 21-year-old rapper found religion after being shot by his girlfriend in May, he still finds plenty about life that is not heavenly.
"It's not fair that everybody has to be segregated," he says. "It's not fair that teachers are getting low income to where they get frustrated to where they don't even want to teach.
"That's what [we're] doing in our lyrics. We're giving the kids the knowledge of what's going on in the street, so that they can stop what's going on and maintain a better life. We talk about the drugs and the violence because it's there. When these things cease to exist, that's when we'll cease to talk about it.
"But until then, I can't candy-coat an unsweetened world. I just can't do it."