Scarface: Emeritus (Album Review)

The day when an esteemed professional retires is normally a time filled with proud reflection. In Scarface, we witness a legendary emcee coming to the end of a decorated career not with contentment, but with disdain for what the music industry and Hip-Hop culture have morphed into.

It’s undeniable the scene has drastically altered since Face’s national introduction to fans on 1989’s Grip It! On That Other Level, but the Houston native never lost his keen eye for analyzing the psychosis of street life. Andnow on his reputed final opus Emeritus (Rap-A-Lot), Scarface aims to leave a definitive statement to close his twenty plus year career.

A humorous, long-winded J-Prince intro launches the LP. In it, the respected Rap-A-Lot CEO reflects in detail on his recent legal troubles and a favorite topic of Scarface and himself, snitches. After taking the millionth shot at their hated rival Lil Troy, the album transitions into the funky, Papa Rue assisted “High Powered.” Here, ‘Face easily meshes the beat with the persona of a vengeful hustler looking for revenge against a snitch rival.

Cool and Dre contribute an orchestral soul sample to “Forgot About Me,” a sleeper candidate for the best all-star collaboration of the year. Lil Wayne delivers a concise verse in terms of flow and direction, while Bun B ups the ante further by effortlessly alternating between standard rhyme scheme and rhyming couplets throughout his verse. Face shows no problems keeping upon his turn, as he speaks on his defiance to assimilate to fleeting Hip-Hop trends: “I can breathe into the hood and they can feel my pain / And even though they try to change me / I remain the same”.

Political commentary also maintains a voice on Emeritus. With a serviceable Bilal on the hook, “Can’t Get Right” has Scarface dexterously connecting inner-city poverty/violence, the Iraq War, and the economy. Over the bluesy Nottz production of “Still Here,” Scarface details how he survived the perils of the ghetto, but also offers detailed stories from the nameless many that didn’t.

Houston’s finest next takes aim at the futility of street life with “It’s Not A Game.” Face takes the listener to the underworld by crafting graphic verses that alternate between third and second person while chronicling the physical, psychological, and spiritual price of hustling.

The mood of the album picks back up on “Redemption Song” and “High Note.” Scarface uses the former to educate the new school on his resume and pedigree as an elite emcee over a plodding but catchy piano rhythm. On the latter, a violin-powered sample provides the backdrop for Face’s tongue-in-cheek boasts of how his sexual prowess leads to women hitting Minnie Riperton-esque notes. Long-time fans will appreciate the raunchy tradition of this song that harkens back to previous Face entries like “F*ck Faces” and “Goin’ Down.”

For the finale, Scarface deconstructs Scram Jones’ classic boom-bap production on the title track “Emeritus.” Comfortably discarding any remnants of humility, Face boldly defines his own legacy and placement in Hip-Hop history.

Aside from an occasional track that falls into mixtape quality territory (“Who Are They,” “We Need You”), Emeritus is another example of why Scarface is Hip-Hop royalty and whose music will be sorely missed from the culture.

Nearly all announced “retirements” have been short-lived; media gimmicks devised to lift sales. But in Scarface we have a man who since the beginning has lived Hip-Hop on his own terms. He never compromised his art to accommodate contrived, asinine trends, even when it was conducive financially. If this is truly the end, Scarface has not only earned the honorable title of Emeritus, but defined the word for his Hip-Hop peers. Well done, Mr. Brad Jordan, well done.

Scarface Featuring Lil Wayne & Bun B

"Forget About Me"