HOUSTON—I had no idea what to expect when I agreed to interview hip-hop legend Scarface back in September. A child of the 1980s, I was a keen listener of the Geto Boys and their hood tales of trappin’ in Houston, getting women (to put it mildly) and pullin’ out the chrome on niggas who stepped to them sideways. Each of the original four members of the group had their own distinct style. But Scarface was my favorite.
His opening verse in “Damn It Feels Good to Be a Gangsta” sealed it for me. But it wasn’t just the song, though. The video that opened up with the drum cadence that slapped and him driving into the shot in a beige, drop-top Benz with Bill riding shotgun and the American flag appearing into the screen during the first 10 seconds was pure hip-hop artistry.
While I didn’t understand the video’s symbolism and lyrics as an 11-year-old boy, I felt it. A brotha from the hood telling white folks all that’s true in the world was something I could get with. But I could never see Scarface beyond the hood, which is why I was so unsure of who I’d meet on that Thursday afternoon.
Around 20 minutes after 1 p.m., Brad Jordan, candidate for the District D seat on Houston’s City Council, walked into the restaurant, finishing a conversation on his cellphone before greeting me. It was soon very clear that Scarface was in the house, the same one I saw in that video when I was 11 years old some 28 years ago.
He got right to the point: District D is the hood and most of the people who aren’t voting are hood people who need another hood person who’ll represent them on the city council. One of the first things he’d do, Scarface told me, is to work with community colleges in the city to help people in his district learn a skill so they could get to work.
“Houston Community College offers trades, apprenticeships,” he said. “You can teach them to do anything, other than stand out in front of the fuckin’ store and drink beer and smoke weed all day. That’s that lost generation. I address the people in the streets because I know all they need is guidance. All they need is somebody they can relate to. That’s it. I’m one of those people in the streets. I’m a street nigga like a motherfucker.”
I’ve interviewed a lot of politicians on the campaign trail over the years, but I’ve never heard any politician, no matter how “hood” they are, actually refer to themselves as a street nigga. But Scarface was adamant that that is what was missing from the city council: representation from the block.
So I followed up with the most logical question I could think of in that moment.
“What type of acumen do you feel a street nigga could bring to a political role?” I asked.
“Imagine if you had somebody that actually stepped away from the game and saw what it was in our community that we were lacking,” Scarface said. “In our community, we’re lacking structure. In our community, we lacking opportunity. In our community, it’s nothing in there for us to do.”
For much of our interview, Scarface would not delve into the intricacies of policy, how he’d implement them or even what his campaign strategy was. Or, not in the traditional way you’d expect a candidate running for office to explain such things. Instead, he spoke of the grievances of white supremacy and a lot of street smarts he feels translate cleanly into politics.
“Man, listen. If I told you that I wanted to open up a nail shop in the community and I went to the bank to get a loan, you and that bank would laugh at me,” he said. “But if I was a foreigner and I went in there and told them that I wanted to open up a nail shop, [it’d] be all good. See, we going to stop that. All of these businesses that’s opened up ain’t opened up out of nobody’s pocket, they only make us do that. These people got loans to open up this shit, man. They refuse to give black people loans. Like I said before when I sat down: everybody’s ashamed or afraid to address the elephant in the room. What’s the elephant in the room? Racism. Systemic racism. You won’t lend me no money because of the color of my skin. It ain’t because I don’t have a fucking 800 credit score. You don’t want me to rise, Chase. You don’t want me to rise Bank of America, Wells Fargo.”
I asked him about housing and economic issues he’d address if he won the council seat, but he really didn’t get into the nuances of policy. His campaign site does address housing, education and jobs. All things being equal, it looks like a typical site of someone running for city council.
I asked him about what he’d do to slow gentrification.
“I don’t mind it,” he said. “You welcome to come in, but just don’t drive the prices up. You know what I mean? I don’t mind white people in my neighborhood; just don’t come in there thinking that you going to drive up the cost of...make those houses unaffordable now. That’s usually how shit go, right?”
District D is home to the University of Houston, Texas Southern University, and Texas Medical Center, Midtown just to name a few. But its most famous community is the Third Ward, home of Beyoncé. Overall, the district is more than 50 percent black, 28 percent Latinx and 11 percent white. There are 15 people running for the District D seat that was vacated by Dwight Boykins, who is running for mayor of Houston. That District D city council race is set for a runoff.
I asked Scarface to talk about his opponents and what makes him different from them.
“I don’t have nothing to say about none of them,” he told me. “ All I can say is I’m not trying to be friends. I’m not trying to be friends with the corporations. I’m not trying to be friends with how the city is ran. I’m not trying to be friends with how the state is ran or how the country is ran. I want to be friends with the people. I’m definitely against the establishment, because the establishment is rigged to fight against me and everything I do.”
Houston-based Democratic political strategist Mustafa Tameez told The Root that one of the challenges Scarface will run into is that the name recognition could help him make the runoff but may not help him win the seat with older voters who didn’t follow his hip-hop career.
“The average voter in the city of Houston electorate is 63,” Tameez said. “This race has a lot of neighborhood people running. As someone who is a personality, a celebrity, he does stand out. That has value in politics when you have 15 people running. The question becomes ‘Who are you in the runoff with?’ Houston politics always runs in two phases. First phase is you gotta get into the runoff and the next part is how you win the race depends on who you are in the runoff with.”
The Houston Chronicle endorsed one of his opponents and there seems to be no media coverage suggesting that he has a shot to win the city if he does make the runoff. Tameez says he is backing Houston Community College President Carolyn Evans-Shabazz, who he says has good standing in the district.
The most recent former rapper to run for public office is U.S. Rep. Antonio Delgado, who ran a successful race from upstate New York amid race-baiting tactics by the GOP to dredge up some of his old songs, calling him a “big city rapper.” But Delgado is a Rhodes Scholar and Harvard-trained lawyer who did not leverage his hip-hop background during his House race.
That is not the type of candidate Scarface wants to be.
“If you looking for a polished politician, then I would definitely be your last choice,” he told me. “I don’t even want to be in that seat as a polished, you know, bullshitter. I think that politicians are bullshitters. You the main reason why the community is in the situation that it’s in, because you’re a fucking hand-pick. You want some money. You don’t really give a fuck about these people. You want the money. You want the insurance. You want the this, you want the that. I already got some money.”
Most people I interview are pretty open about what they do for a living, but Scarface didn’t want to talk about his post-hip-hop career.
Me: “Since you stopped recording full time, what have been some of the ventures that you been involving yourself in? Do you have any businesses here that you’re-
Scarface: I have some things that I do pretty well.
Me: Like what?
Scarface: I’ll never tell.
A basic Google search shows he is on the Legends of Hip Hop tour.
The more I spoke with Scarface, the more he made clear this was not going to be a typical interview, so I tapped into what is really driving him to run for city council. For him, it’s about black empowerment and getting black people to feel they don’t need to slump in a perpetual state of defeatism against white supremacist violence, be it police brutality, racist policymaking or white people, who he feels gentrify black communities and look down on the people they are displacing. White people must account for Jim Crow, redlining, and all of the past racial violence that is politically and economically displacing the poor black people he wants to represent.
“It’s still going on, bro. And we ain’t saying shit,” he said. “What are we afraid of? Fuck ‘em. Let’s fight. Let’s stop being docile like cattle. Mothafucka, I don’t believe in turning the other cheek. Mothafucka, if you hit me I’m going to beat the fuck out of you, like you’ve never seen before. I’m not scared of you. I am not my grandparents. I will kill you, OK? That’s the mentality we need to have from now on. Fuck them. If you don’t fuck with me, I don’t fuck with you. You don’t want to be around me, I don’t want to be around you. So don’t come around me. That’s where I’m at, bro. If you don’t want to be around black people and you a [white] supremacist, a nationalist or a Nazi, mothafuck you and yo mammy, too.”