This dark tale of ghetto paranoia, depression and anxiety wrestled the spotlight onto southern rap and earned The Geto Boys a place in hip hop’s hall of fame.
Rappers have never been afraid to embrace the darker subjects. Take Tupac and Biggie for instance. Two of the greatest ever, both shared a morbid and sadly prophetic preoccupation with their own demise. However while many rappers have dealt with death, few can match the blunt, brutal honesty of Houston’s Scarface. One of the most celebrated emcees to come from South of the Mason-Dixon Line, ‘Face first reached national attention as part of the group Geto Boys. Mind Playing Tricks on Me is probably the group’s best known song and it deserves the attention. Here Scarface is at his brooding, paranoid best.
Tricks on Me describes the mental effects of growing up in the ghetto. In order to survive in a hostile environment, the characters in the song are cynical and distrustful to the point of outright insanity. It’s a picture of a world where no one can really be trusted and threats, real and perceived, lurk around every street corner. The narrators see a world that they know is warped but are defiantly resigned to remain in. “My mama always stressin I ain’t livin right/ but I ain’t going out without a fight,” Scarface booms on the opening verse.
The effect of the hyper vigilance required just to get through daily life is paranoid delusion. A mysterious and foreboding figure stalks all three members of the group through the song. It’s never clear whether this represents death, paranoia or just the darkness lurking within a troubled mind but the shadowy presence ties three stories together. “He stood about 6 or 7 feet/ now that’s the nigga I be seeing in my sleep,” Bushwick Bill raps on his verse, describing this unknown enemy appearing and disappearing into the night.
Tricks on Me stands up because it describes something every human has experienced. Although it may be an extreme version, it captures that creeping feeling of anxiety borne of a mind struggling under pressure; “Day by day it’s more impossible to cope/ I feel like I’m the one who’s doing dope.”
It also sums up the damaging consequences of living with such a mindset. Friends become potential enemies, kindness becomes suspect, trust a unaffordable weakness. ‘Face describes how this attitude slowly sabotages the relationships around him; “I had a woman down with me/ but to me it seemed like she was down to get me/ she helped me out in this shit/ but to me she was just another bitch/ now she’s back with her mother/ now I’m realising that I love her/ now I’m feeling lonely/ my mind is playing tricks on me.”
Rappers are always keen to describe the bravado and brashness of life on the streets, but all to often they ignore the realities that come with that lifestyle. Mind Playing Tricks on Me is one of hip hop’s greatest attempts to correct this.