He'd already spent a decade establishing a standard for storytelling, introspection and staking a claim as the original King of Southern Rap. In 2002, Scarface didn't have anything to prove to anyone.
Born Brad Jordan, Face had emerged out of Houston's 5th Ward in the late 1980s as a member of the refashioned Geto Boys. Alongside cohorts Willie D, Bushwick Bill and DJ Ready Red, Scarface (then briefly known as "Akshen") became one of Hip-Hop's most controversial acts, with their horrorcore-leaning 1989 album Grip It! On That Other Level; and the hit follow-up, 1991's We Can't Be Stopped—which saw the foursome whittled down to a trio following the departure of Red.
That same year Face launched his solo career with the acclaimed debut Mr. Scarface Is Back, and throughout the 1990s, he would cement his stature with landmark albums like The Diary and The Untouchable, becoming even bigger as a solo artist than he'd been with Geto Boys; and establishing a reputation for dark introspection, thrusting the genre known as "gangsta rap" into more cerebral and emotional territory.
At the dawn of the 2000s, change was afoot—for everyone. Rap music was now firmly and squarely planted in popular culture's mainstream; and southern Hip-Hop specifically had emerged as a commercial powerhouse, moving cities like Houston, Atlanta, Miami, Memphis and New Orleans from rap's periphery to centerstage.
In 2000, Def Jam South was launched, and Scarface was named President of the new Def Jam subsidiary label. At Def Jam South, the Houston rap icon helped launch the career of Atlanta rap superstar Ludacris and signed Young Jeezy. But it was also where he kickstarted the second act of his solo career.
As he set to work on what would be his seventh album, Scarface was in an undeniably good place.
"The state of mind I had when I was writing that entire record was...I was comfortable," Face tells RTB. "Def Jam had these people who went around like realtors. They called them 'beat brokers.'"
Face explains that he was introduced to a producer named China Black, who produced "Safe,' which opens The Fix. It set a template for what the new album was going to feel and sound like; and Face was clearly inspired. "Rapping [and] music is a challenge to me. And I want to keep it fresh. The minute I can't keep it fresh, and I can't keep the rhymes sounding...back then, how the rhymes sounded--then I don't wanna be like that, man."
On the album's opening track, Scarface walks the listener through life in his hood, depicting the pain and struggle of growing up facing the hardships of his community. It sets the tone perfectly for the rest of The Fix. For all of the well-noted polish on the album, Face's sense of purpose isn't diminished by gloss. It's elevated by it. The album is the perfect mix of his confident bravado and grim, soul-baring realness.
"I don't waste a rhyme," he says directly.
The Neptunes produced the Faith Evans feature "Someday," a somber single that featured Face musing on better days ahead and the perseverance and hope it requires to push forward.
"I remember going to Virginia Beach and fuckin' with the Neptunes," he recalls. "I know when we recorded it, [Pharrell] had a lady on it first, that sung it first. I don't remember her name—I'm sure Pharrell remembers her name because she was from Virginia Beach. That was the only song that I got...it wasn't a beat CD from Pharrell. Pharrell and his partners handcrafted that shit. Needless to say, it turned out to be big. It was a big record."
Among the other producers that Scarface connected with via Def Jam was a young, hot hitmaker named Kanye West. West was fresh off of his successes with Jay-Z's Blueprint album and other Roc-A-Fella Records/Def Jam projects like Cam'ron's Come Home With Me and supergroup State Property's self-titled 2001 album.
"I got tons of records from Kanye West," Face says. "Kanye's a dopeass rapper. I would put Kanye's beats up against anybody's shit. Like, Kanye had fuckin' smoke! 'In Cold Blood' on The Fix album? That's Kanye with that shit!"
On The Fix, Kanye and Scarface teamed up for some of the album's most memorable tracks, including "In Cold Blood," the Kelly Price-featuring "Heaven," and one of the most celebrated songs in Scarface's discography: "Guess Who's Back" which prominently featured Jay-Z.
"[Young] Guru was playing songs on the board," Face said of working with Jay. "A beat would play and Jay-Z would say 'go to the next one.' [He would] start vibing to a beat. Then he'd look at you and go 'ooooooh!' and he'd go lay the shit. [laughs]. Like that—it's over! That's Jay-Z."
Nas also prominently featured on The Fix, on the standout track "In Between Us." Scarface told RTB that he was intentional about putting two of New York's most iconic emcees on the album, because of the infamous drama between them at the time.
"I wanted to get Jay-Z and Nas on my album because they were feuding," Face remembers. "I wanted to bring these two together on a record and show the world that it's just rap. Why they were feuding, that's no my fuckin' business. I wanted to make the dopest fucking record that I could make and I feel like to make the dopest fuckin' record that I could make, I would have to have two of the best MCs of all-time on that shit."
"When I'm doing my shit, I don't give a shit what nobody else is saying in here," Face explained. "I know how I want my shit to sound. You? You make you sound however the fuck you want to make you sound. But me? I wanna sound like that. And that's what I worked for every time I worked on a record. I wanted to make sure it was that--what I wanted."
Released on August 6th, 2002, The Fix was the masterwork that kickstarted Def Jam South and served as the first shot for Scarface's second act. In the 2000s, he would go on to deliver remarkably consistent greatness, and The Fix establishes a standard. Scarface wasn't afraid to grow and change; he also wasn't going to be lost to trend-hopping and fads. Face was always and remains Face.
On his seventh album, the rapper born Brad Jordan proved that, at over ten years into his solo career, his craft and artistry were at an all-time high. With its perfect mix of commercial polish and street grit, The Fix serves as an example of both an artist at his undeniable creative peak; and a master craftsman reminding everybody just how great he really is.