Scarface’s ‘The Untouchable,’ Twenty Years Later

Today marks the twentieth anniversary of Scarface’s fourth solo album, The Untouchable. The album, released on March 11, 1997, via Face’s longtime home Rap-A-Lot Records, was Scarface’s first album to hit the top of the Billboard album chart. Face was already a certified legend–one of the first Southern MCs to get the full-throated co-sign of East Coast hip hop purists–and The Untouchable album also had a hit single in “Smile,” Face’s poignant collaboration with Tupac, who had been shot and killed in Las Vegas seven months prior to the album’s release.

A few years ago, I had the pleasure and the privilege of working with Scarface on his autobiography, Diary of a Madman: The Geto Boys, Life, Death and the Roots of Southern Rap (Dey Street, 2015). It was an incredible process, just getting to know Face and his world and to be trusted with helping him tell his story. It also gave me a great excuse to spend a lot of time with his deep catalog of truly classic material (and I’m not talking quick hit instant classics; I’m talking real street talk hip hop shit with soul built from the ground up–often with Mike Dean riding shotgun–to truly stand the test of time). One month, it’d be nothing but The Diary on repeat. The next month would be all Last of a Dying Breed, a really strong album that Face actually remembers as being incredibly weak. (He adamantly refuses to revisit his old material. As he puts in in the book: “To me, making music is kind of like being with a woman in that way. When you’re writing the songs and making the beats, it’s like you’re in love with her, but as soon as you’re done, it’s like you’ve had her, the passion’s gone, and that’s it. You don’t even want to be around her anymore and it’s on to the next one.”) And then, I’d be stuck on The Untouchable, pounding away at the keyboard with “Southside” looping back to back to back. Flames.

To commemorate the twentieth anniversary of The Untouchable, here are some passages from the book where Scarface writes about his process and working on his most commercially successful solo album to date.


I always know when I’m about to go into album mode. There’s just a certain mood that I get into—a certain vibe. I can just feel that shit. It kind of takes over my body and my emotions and becomes a way of being. It’s damn near like going into character because that’s what it takes—a full commitment to the process and the message and the words and the whole feel… When I sit down to write, I want to be the voice for every un- derprivileged kid who feels like there isn’t any hope out here. At the same time, I want to let everyone who doesn’t know what it feels like to face a lifetime of hopeless bullshit to immediately understand that pain and that anger as soon as they hear my voice and listen to my songs. And I want both of those kids—the one who knows the pain all too well and the other one who’s only experienced anything ap- proaching that kind of pain through my music—to know that the shit that I’m putting on my records is the truth. That I know all of this shit  rsthand and all too well. That’s just how I was raised. I was taught to write your heart, and if you’re not crying when the song’s done, then you didn’t write the right song. And I’ll be damned if I don’t try to write the right song every time out.


We started working on the album that would become The Untouchable in early ’96. I was smoking a whole lot of weed and doing a lot of drugs. I’m talking a lot of drugs. I think of that album as my weed-and-Ecstasy album because I wrote the whole thing high on weed and recorded everything while I was rolling on X. Ecstasy was just starting to become common then, and you were just starting to see mother- fuckers walking around Xed out with their jaws clenched tight as shit. Mike [Dean] had gotten into it and he started telling us about it, and shit, we didn’t think twice. We just wanted to get high.


The night we recorded “Smile,” a buddy of mine had been standing outside on Sunset Boulevard when Pac drove by with Eddie Griffin. They saw him, busted a U-Turn, and said we should come meet them at the Hilton. So we walked over there to have a few drinks and after a while, Pac was like, “I’m going to come pick you up to do this record.” I told him I was with it, so he cut out and we went down the street to chill for a bit. We’re hanging out, and then this motherfucker pulls up in a black Hummer with all kind of sirens and shit on it. And he hits that loudspeaker like, “Brad Jordan, come out with your hands up!” Man, shit. I’d been smoking that good L.A. weed, too, so I didn’t know what the fuck was going on. I turned to one of my boys, like, Yo, what the fuck did I do? My man was like, “Don’t trip, I’ve got you.” And we head downstairs and it’s Pac in this fucking commando Hummer. That motherfucker had me going, too. He wanted to go to the studio, but of course, I wasn’t about to go anywhere with his ass. I never knew who kept giving him cars. I thought everybody knew that motherfucker couldn’t drive. I got my own ride and met him over there. We jammed like a motherfucker and ended up laying down “Smile.” That was the last time I ever saw him.


I was in the middle of the fucking desert on the way back to Houston when I got that call that Pac had been shot. I got the news and sighed, like, Again? It wasn’t like it was the first time it had happened. He was always getting into something. It had gotten to the point that when you got news like that about him, you almost didn’t even think about it. It was fucked up for sure. Nobody wants to get shot or wants to hear about their people getting shot. But you kind of just knew he was going to make it. He was Pac! It had started to seem like he was damn near invincible with all of the shit he was always getting into and all of the stories he lived to tell. Shit, when I first got the news he’d been shot, my first thought wasn’t Oh, shit, what happened? It was, Shit, Pac’s really about to be loose now! You know, Pac wasn’t the kind of guy you wanted to shoot and then have him back out there on the streets. I just knew he was going to be all right and he was going to be even more wild once he recovered. I just knew it. So I was concerned, but I was certain he was going to pull through. He always did.
And then he didn’t, and seven days later, on September 13, he was dead. I was in Houston when I got the call that he had died. That can’t be true, I thought. It has to be a rumor. No way Pac is just going to die like that. I just couldn’t believe he was gone.

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