Scarface’s album “The Diary” rarely gets mentioned when people speak about Hip-Hop from the golden era and that’s pretty strange since it was a platinum selling LP. With Mafioso Rap coming to the fore in the mid-nineties, “The Diary” fitted perfectly into the Hip-Hop genre during the emergence of Puffy and Biggie’s suit-wearing, wannabe Italian-Gangster-Movie takeover. Taking his name from the 1983 Brian De Palma film, Scarface, a one-time member of the Geto Boys finally surpassed them with his third solo album, and this release marked his first big hit and his acceptance by the mainstream.
“The Diary” begins and ends cinematically with the classical “Intro” and “Outro”, but with the sound of a machine gun also featuring during the opening track, you know this LP will be more “Scarface” than “Carlito’s Way”. And that’s one of the main issues with this album, the topics do vary a bit but the Mafioso content almost overtakes the more subtle, heartfelt songs – and even though the majority of the LP is listenable, there are quite a few instances of mediocrity. The song “The White Sheet” for instance contains a corny chorus (“rat-a-tat-tat, ’til ya ass hit the motherfuckin’ floor… here comes the white sheet”), there’s also the slightly contrived “Jesse James”, the average “One”, “G’s” with its lacklsutre chorus, and the all-out tacky Hip-Pop track “Goin’ Down” with its corny “Red Balloons” interpolation.
The stand-out tracks are without a doubt the old-school “The Diary”, the upbeat “Mind Playing Tricks ’94”, and the two singles “I Seen A Man Die” and “Hand Of The Dead Body”. But like I’ve already stated, these great songs are marred by weaker tracks like “No Tears” (and the others I’ve listed above) not to mention the same-same lyrical content. If I focus solely on my favourite songs, there is mention of charity in “Mind Playin’ Tricks ’94” and in “I Seen A Man Die” there’s a depressing yet poignant narrative about life, death, and the afterlife – so it’s not all Gangsta-violence in this album…
The classic track “Hand Of The Dead Body” (featuring a still credible Ice Cube) is also a great track and it speaks about double standards regarding violence by the media, highlighting their contradictions when it comes to violence in black music over violent content in Hollywood movies. This particular song is still as enjoyable as it was back in the mid-nineties, listening to it today instantly takes me back to a sunny 1994 – watching this video on Yo! MTV Raps on a Cathode Ray TV set…
Aside from these four brilliant tracks however, the rest of the album isn’t without its problems. The overall content at times feels very contradictory – Scarface like many popular Gangsta Rap artists includes some very negative lyrics including some ethnic self-hatred. For instance he calls his fellow black people “monkey motherfuckers” in tracks like “Jesse James” and that for me is hypocritical – I thought Hip-Hop was the “only means of communicating with our people” (a line from “Hand Of The Dead Body”) – but if all you’re going to say to your “brother” is how you’re gonna “blow out their brains” whilst hurling derogatory slurs at them, then what’s the point in your criticism of the media? The album also contains various contrivances such as the line “what’s my motherfucking name?” which is supposed to sound threatening but sounds more like an angry amnesiac. This was less of an issue in 1994 but over two decades later it has now become one of the most overused lyrics in Hip-Hop history.
The production throughout the album is satisfactory and complementary but can also sound slightly tedious – in fact apart from the fantastic “Mind Playin’ Tricks” it’s all very Gangsta-esque. Scarface’s unique yet simplistic flow which tonally goes up each line then down for the last word also gets repetitive, but that’s not to say his style is dull in any way – Scarface’s vocals perfectly complement these songs which are head-nodding, violent at times, yet somehow mellow and relaxed.
“The Diary” has been both overrated and underrated over the course of its life, it was extremely overrated during its release (it was given perfect ratings from both The Source and XXL magazines) but these days it seems almost forgotten. To be completely honest, the album hasn’t really aged that well – apart from songs like “I Seen A Man Die”, it’s filled to the brim with “Gangsta” contrivances, and as a complete piece of work, it doesn’t flow from beginning to end as well as I remember. But, having said that, for an example of both Southern Gangsta Rap and Mafioso Rap (especially with its hint of consciousness) it’s a notable piece of work from Scarface – one of the genre’s southern pioneers. “The Diary” is one of Scarface’s better albums and it features some classic tracks that I look back with fondness since they remind me of 1994, but to any newcomer who hears this album for the first time, unfortunately it might sound slightly dated.