When Scarface dropped The Fix on Def Jam South almost ten years ago (back in 2002) The Source gave it five mics, XXL certified it classic and many other media outlets added their praise to the choir. I bought the album because I thought it was dope as well, but five mics? Hell nah. In the words of Christopher Wallace, “Things Done Changed.”
A couple months ago I decided to pull my copy of The Fix out of my record collection again as my interest in it suddenly peeked again in a bout of nostalgia. Like I said, I liked the album, but no more than that. I just didn’t hear what made it a classic album. Until then. Listening to the album from start to finish, it dawned on me that this is a very grown-up rap album. Years before most rappers crossed into the realm of forty-year-olds and started talking about leaving their tales of crack sales (among other topics) to a younger generation since it didn’t feel natural to them anymore, Face had already done that without much fanfare. Brad Jordan is not the most technically impressive emcee, although he’s far from a hack lyrically either; just don’t expect verbal acrobatics or fast-paced tongue twisters from him.
What he does possess is a certain authority in his voice and even more important, tons of emotion in his performance. He has always been a highly autobiographical artist able to put his moments of intense personal doubt and pain into song (like on Jay-Z’s “This Can’t Be Life”), and The Fix doesn’t differ from that. Listen to the way his voice shifts in tone on the Kelly Price-assisted “What Can I Do”‘ and tell me this man doesn’t bear his soul on record.
Even more so than soul, this album is infused with blues, both in the literal sense (the guitar sample in “Keep Me Down”) and in the figurative sense with its lyrical content. Scarface doesn’t shy away from portraying the gangster lifestyle, he just doesn’t glorify it. You get the feeling you’re listening to a somewhat repentant hustler, who did what he had to do out of necessity but hasn’t fully come to grips with the hurt he might’ve caused. That being said, he still won’t hesitate to step to anyone crossing him or his loved ones the wrong way, but nowhere does it feel like tough-guy-posturing, this is simply a statement of who he is, no apologies. Except perhaps, to his Lord, the creator.
There is no shortage of gospel-tinged rap here. It comes with the territory of a man turning introspective and being honest about himself and his past, but as a young kid that didn’t come from a very religious background it was hard to relate to these religious confessions. Again, the feeling that perseveres through these tracks is one of a personal history. He’s not preaching to his audience or trying to convert them to his religion, he’s talking about his own feelings on spirituality and how they are part of who he is, resulting in something far more compelling than arguing how great his saviour is. These are spiritual tracks that speak to anyone regardless of their background precisely because they come from a personal space and Scarface takes his audience serious enough to believe they understand where he’s coming from.
A criticism that’s sometimes heard of this album is that two of its biggest moments, the Jay & Beanie featuring “Guess Who’s Back” and “In Between Us” featuring Nas, are tracks that feel too much like tracks done previously by them, so it’s like Scarface is featuring on those instead of the other way around. This vision seems to gloss over the fact that ‘Face has been doing tracks like that for a while, and even did them with those artists on their albums as well. There’s a mutual influence with these artists that has enriched all of their careers and glossing over that is a detriment to the accomplishments of the most prominent Geto Boy. The fact that Jay and Nas both featured on this album in the middle of one of the biggest beefs in hip-hop history is a testament to the well-earned respect Scarface commands in the rap community.
Scarface released this album through Def Jam South, an imprint he was heading at that time and had given him tremendous leeway and an impressive budget due to his successful signing of the multi-platinum selling Ludacris. As a result, the production credits are a who’s-who of whatever producer was hot at the turn of the century. Rather than let these producers guide him and pull him in an copycat direction, Scarface pulls the producers into his zone for beats that matched the whole of the album.
Nottz lays down the aforementioned bluesy guitar strums, Kanye drops soul samples that sound happy at first but have a sense of melancholy clinging to them and The Neptunes, then mostly known for club bangers, turned in a still recognizable but uncharacteristically laid-back beat. This was his seventh album, so ‘Face knew what he wanted, and his vision is the glue that holds this album together.
All in all, this is an album that deals with spirituality, regrets, doubt, pain and joy. It’s told by a man who has seen it all but hasn’t let it turn him into a cynic yet. I liked the more hardcore joints when I was in my late teens but couldn’t relate much to the spiritual and personal insights. Know that the big 3-0 is moving closer and closer. I now realize that both the hardcore and the personal joints are all the part of the same, more compelling picture. It took a while for me to realize this, but The Fix is definitely a classic rap album. Maybe this is the part where I finally realize I’ve grown up, and it wasn’t a job, a steady relationship or a mortgage, but Brad “Scarface” Jordan who gave me that.