Rapper 'Scarface' Evolves Into Community Servant

On June 5, 2019, rapper Scarface, whose real name is Brad Jordan, posed a question to his Instagram followers: “Should I run for HOUSTON City Council?” Followers showered his post with almost twenty-seven thousand likes and four thousand supportive comments. Three days later, “your favorite rapper’s favorite rapper” again took to social media to say, “It’s official. I’m offering myself for service as the next Houston City Councilmember for District D.” With this announcement, the rapper Scarface died and Brad Jordan was reborn. The OG hip-hop diagnostician will now attempt to translate his social commentary to political action in America’s fourth-largest city.

Brad Jordan came of age in the late 1980s in District D’s South Acres neighborhood. He experienced severe anger and depression and was briefly hospitalized following a suicide attempt engendered, in part, by growing up in Houston when the city became an epicenter for the Reagan administration’s War on Drugs, and District D neighborhoods like Jordan’s were targets of a local interdiction campaign called Crack Down on Crack. While Jordan spent time as a small-time pusher of “rocks on the block,” the dope game was far from his main focus. Hip-hop, the fresh and vibrant musical form that originated in the South Bronx in the late 1970s and began taking on regional forms by the late 1980s, consumed his interest and time. Jordan honed his skills in beatboxing, turntablism, and emceeing, and in 1987 began recording under the name DJ Akshen. In 1988, he connected with Lil’ Troy, the owner of Short Stop Records, to record a 12” single titled “Scarface.” With the lucid storytelling style that would define his rap career, Jordan’s central character brags about his drug dealing capers, linking these activities to the exploits of Tony Montana, the protagonist of the movie Scarface (1983). When Troy went to jail, James Prince of Houston’s Rap-A-Lot Records tapped Jordan to join his reconstructed Geto Boys. Original group member DJ Ready Red had produced “Balls and My Word,” his own homage to Tony Montana, for the Geto Boys’ 1988 debut album. When he joined the Geto Boys in 1989, Brad Jordan shed the moniker DJ Akshen and instead embodied hip-hop’s favorite film with his new rapper name: Scarface.

The Geto Boys’ most famous lineup — Willie D., Bushwick Bill, and Scarface — put Houston and the broader South on the map with Black-southern-reality raps that were both politically conscious and laden with misogynoir.As a member of the Geto Boys and as a solo artist, Jordan’s lyrics displayed technical mastery and critical reflection on social issues, earning him both critical acclaim and commercial success.Jordan counts three platinum and four gold records among his 12 chart-topping studio albums. He beat out JAY-Z, Eminem, Prodigy, and Talib Kweli to win “Best Lyricist” at the 2001 Source Awards. In 2015, BET honored Jordan with its “I Am Hip-Hop Award.” He has a loyal fan base and remains relevant after more than thirty years in the hip-hop industry.

This is the Brad Jordan most have known. However, the rapper has beenon a decade-long journey of transformation culminating in his current bid for public office.

One catalyst for this transformation was his growing disillusionment with the music industry, especially the exploitation of artists and the industry’s retreat from musicianship. A 10-month jail stint for unpaid child support in 2010 transformed and enriched Jordan’s thinking about the criminal legal system. Age and experience also factored into his transformation; at 48, Jordan has had time both to reflect on his own life and to contemplate political solutions to some of the social problems addressed in his music.

Jordan’s transformation has been physical as well as mental. In 2014, his doctor cautioned him that his lifestyle and weight placed him in danger of stroke and/or massive heart attack. Jordan immediately began high-intensity interval training and portion control, ultimately shedding over 100 pounds. While still touring solo and with the Geto Boys, Jordan transformed professionally when he parted ways with Rap-A-Lot Records to produce two successful independent albums. He also authored Diary of a Madman: The Geto Boys, Life, Death, and the Roots of Southern Rap (2015), which relates his experiences of navigating manic depression, anti-Black racism, the music industry, and the vicissitudes of artistic success.

Jordan has also reinvented himself through service. When asked about his plans to directly assist neighbors following Hurricane Harvey in 2017, as some fellow Houston rappers famously did, Jordan told Rolling Stone, “I do a lot of sh*t but I don’t do it on social media because I don’t need to be praised for it.” He did, however, become the founding chairman of Positive Purpose Movement, a nonprofit community-based organization focused on disaster recovery, community cleanups, education, and re-entry employment. In June 2018, Houston mayor Sylvester Turner proclaimed June 26 Brad “Scarface” Jordan Day in recognition of his artistic and humanitarian accomplishments. “You know me as Scarface,” Jordan stated as he accepted this honor, “but now you get the opportunity to meet Brad Jordan. ... I really want to let y'all know that I'm getting ready to make a super impact in the community because that's the most important thing to me right now.”

With his candidacy announcement, Jordan tacitly communicates that his most useful contribution to his city and to District D is not nonprofit leadership or personal largesse. He offers his willingness to work within the political system to make city government responsive to Houstonians’ needs.

Located in south-central Houston, District D is home to over 200,000 predominantly Black and Hispanic (53% Black, 28% Hispanic) residents. Neighborhoods include the Third Ward, Sunnyside, South Park, MacGregor Park, the Museum District, the Texas Medical Center, University of Houston and Texas Southern University, and the Astrodome area.

District D communities have produced such notables as NBA hall-of-famer Clyde Drexler and rappers like the South Park Mexican, K-Rino, Gangsta NIP, Street Military, and DJ Screw’s Screwed Up Click.

District D’s athletic and artistic successes are only part of the story. Most of the district’s residents are working class, with half having more than a high school education or owning homes. Schools in District D are part of Houston Independent School District, and some were targeted for state takeover in 2017. The district is also home to many formerly incarcerated community members who face barriers to full citizenship. Many District D residents, like people in majority-Black and -Brown cities nationwide, lack access to health care, efficient public transportation, and healthy food options. In addition to neglect from city government, the district also suffers from state-sanctioned violence. For instance, the 2016 police shooting of Alva Braziel occurred in District D. In the same year, county officials attempted to displace a number of Black men through a gang injunction targeting the District D neighborhood of South Union. These are the challenges that Jordan has highlighted in his music for four decades.

Brad Jordan had been considering a city council run for two years before incumbent councilmember Dwight Boykins’ recent announcement that he would not run for reelection.

Boykins’ mayoral candidacy created the ideal moment for Jordan to finally enter the contest and become one of nine candidates vying for Boykins’ seat. While Jordan has not yet published a platform, he has indicated that he wants to address the struggles that have long plagued District D. Citing challenges ranging from high unemployment to potholes to neighborhoods riddled with abandoned homes, educational disparities, and intracommunal violence, Jordan stated, “I wanna take it upon myself to fix the situation.” Riding a national wave of change, Jordan asserts, “The traditional way of doing politics is over now. Let’s come up with some real solutions. Let’s serve the underserved. That’s where I’m at right now.”

Scarface is respected across the world as a rapper who has remained true to himself and to the streets that made him. Now Brad Jordan must convince District D voters that he has the temperament, will, and political vision to handle their pressing municipal concerns and improve the lives of their communities. Jordan will have to prove that the analyses found in his music and his personal transformations translate well to politics. If he wins, Jordan could create a blueprint for other hip-hop laureates to apply both their hard-won cultural influence and their incisive political and social analyses to elected office.

About the Author

Maco L. Faniel is an educator, scholar, writer, speaker, and advocate from Houston, Texas. He is the author of Hip Hop in Houston: The Origin and Legacy. Follow him on Twitter @macofaniel.