The Geto Boys came up out of the Houston hip-hop scene in the mid-80s under the guidance of Rap-A-Lot Records owner, James Prince. The members of the group changed a few times until about 1988, when the lineup of Bushwick Bill (formerly known as Little Billy), Akshen (who would later change his stage name to Scarface), Willie D, and DJ Ready Red, released 1989’s Grip It! On That Other Level. The album was a critical and commercial success, landing at #19 on the Billboard Hip-Hop charts. The song Mind of a Lunatic from that album has been credited as being an early influence on the rap subgenre known as “horrorcore” that focuses on lyrics that feature especially violent acts, disturbing imagery, and a general slasher film vibe.
In 1991, the group released their third studio album, We Can’t Be Stopped, famously featuring a photo of Bill on a gurney in the hospital after being shot in the eye during a struggle with his girlfriend during a suicidal bout. The cover of the single for Mind Playing Tricks on Me is from the same photoshoot.
The album would be the group’s best-selling LP, reaching #5 on the hip-hop charts, and was certified Platinum. Mind Playing Tricks On Me would reach #23 on the Hot 100, their only single to reach this high on mainstream charts. The album would solidify the group’s reputation as horrorcore artists with violent songs like Chuckie, but would also show their deeper, darker side with Mind Playing Tricks On Me.
The song deals with the feelings of PTSD, paranoia, depression, and general dysfunction of living in a high-crime, low-income environment. Written mostly by Scarface for a solo project, the lyrics reflect his own struggles with mental health issues, including suicide attempts that resulted in time spent in a psych ward during his teenage years.
MPTOM has been credited as being one of the first rap songs to really discuss mental health issues and has been cited as inspiration for artists like Kid Cudi who regularly raps about his own struggles with depression.
On a personal level, this is one of the definitive rap songs of my youth. I wasn’t a huge Geto Boys fan, but this song hit different for me. I don’t know if it was the sharp contrast to the gangsta rap that glorified a life of crime that was so prevalent at the time, or just the groovy, funky beat, but I really loved bumping this song on my Sony Discman hooked up to my tape deck. And the video was an all-timer, too. Needless to say, I was very happy when I found this 12″ single in an antique store.