Mr. Scarface is back—and he’s running. On Saturday, the rapper and former Geto Boys member, whose real name is Brad Jordan, will face off against local educator Carolyn Evans-Shabazz in a runoff election for a seat on the Houston City Council.
As Scarface, Jordan established himself in the ‘90s as one of the greatest and most controversial rappers of all time. Despite his fame, though, he entered the race as a long-shot candidate. On June 5, the incumbent council member for District D, Dwight Boykins, filed paperwork to run for Houston mayor, and Jordan posted a question on Instagram: “Should I run for Houston City Council??” Three days later, he officially announced the formation of his campaign in another Instagram post. District D was a particularly significant choice because the area includes his childhood neighborhoods of South Acres and South Park: “I grew up there, I know a lot of people there, I know what the issues are,” he told the Washington Post shortly after entering the race.
Though rap has been politicized for decades—both by artists like the Geto Boys and by politicians denouncing their work—it hasn’t produced much electoral success so far. Jordan’s former Geto Boys partner Willie D also ran a brief campaign this year for Houston’s District B City Council seat but dropped out after failing to file the paperwork for official qualification. In the past, Chicago rapper Rhymefest has run for city alderman, 2 Live Crew’s Luther “Uncle Luke” Campbell has run for mayor of Florida’s Miami-Dade County, and Lords of the Underground’s Dupré “DoItAll” Kelly has run for an at-large City Council seat in Newark, New Jersey—all races that were unsuccessful.
Yet the stage for more rappers to achieve political success has already been set (for better or worse, depending on the case): Current New York Rep. Antonio Delgado is a former small-time rapper whose artistic career was attacked by his opponent during the 2018 midterms; the fact that this didn’t prevent Delgado from winning is only one of the many signs that rap has come a long way from being the political pariah it once was.
Jordan entered the race as one of 15 candidates, and although his campaign received much local attention and favorable coverage, he was not the favored candidate by any means. But on Election Day, while Evans-Shabazz won the vote plurality, Jordan came a close second place within 600 votes, forcing the race to a surprising runoff, a result even Jordan himself was taken aback by. (Boykins, who’d abandoned the seat, finished in fourth place for mayor and missed taking part in the runoff in that race.)
The council race is a tight election now, with Evans-Shabazz still projected in the lead, but so far Jordan has made a strong showing, attracting both national attention and a groundswell of local support: In recent weeks, he’s racked up endorsements from various unions and PACs as well as the Houston Chronicle editorial board. He has also proudly touted campaign donations from figures like Ice-T and Kevin Durant.
His platform, as detailed on his campaign website and in various interviews, focuses heavily on job creation, programs for underserved youth, infrastructure repair and storm preparation, encouraging the development and growth of native small businesses, and improving quality of life for senior citizens. While he has shied away from digging deeply into policy specifics, he’s emphasized those points repeatedly and cited his own community work within Houston, especially in helping those affected by Hurricane Harvey. From a broader viewpoint, Jordan has also emphasized the necessity of reparations, defended the rights of law-abiding gun owners, and spoken out against President Donald Trump. As political inspirations, he has cited his old friend Ron Wilson, a musician-politician who served in the Texas Legislature, as well as former Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson, the first black mayor of a Southern city and a leader well remembered for his public works projects.
The District D election has already proved a remarkable come-up and career pivot for Jordan, who grew up in a working-class family and supported himself from a young age by selling drugs, later joining the rap game at the age of 17. As a member of the Geto Boys, he was at the vanguard of the emergence of Southern rap as an earth-shaking musical force in the early ’90s. Along with other provocative groups like 2 Live Crew, the Geto Boys were regularly excoriated by public figures for their brutal, unsparing visions of street life, even as they racked up commercial success and general acclaim, and pushed the boundaries of what could be said in a rap song. The group’s biggest impacts landed with “Mind Playing Tricks on Me,” a sober meditation on mental health, as well as gory shockers like “Mind of a Lunatic,” but the Geto Boys were also often explicitly political: While exploring issues like the war on drugs, systemic discrimination, the military-industrial complex, and police brutality, the group would often nail leaders like Ronald Reagan (“City Under Siege”), George H.W. Bush (“Fuck a War”), and Bob Dole (“Point of No Return”), who had called them out personally during his 1996 presidential campaign. Jordan continued this work in his extensive solo discography, on highly praised albums like The World Is Yours and The Fix, and remained a prominent presence into this decade, appearing on songs by everyone from 2 Chainz to DJ Khaled (both of whom donated to his campaign).
But that part of Jordan’s identity is no longer paramount—he appears to have left rapping behind completely. “I ain’t droppin’ no new shit, man,” he told fellow Houston rapper Slim Thug on The Connect Podcast just last month. “I can’t rap no more.” His campaign has refrained from using the Scarface name in any material, and while news outlets still invoke it as an old nickname, Brad Jordan is what he is primarily known by in this race.
That seems appropriate, since, beyond his music, name recognition, and past outspokenness, what really seems to have boosted Jordan in this race is his lifelong roots and his involvement with his hometown over the past few years, as he’s gradually shifted his focus to community building. For Jordan, it seems to be about what he can bring to his hometown as a citizen, not a celebrity: He’s currently the co-founder and chairman of the Positive Purpose Movement, a nonprofit group with the goal of “eradicate[ing] unemployment and underemployment through education, empowerment, and enrichment.” Last year, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and Councilman Boykins declared June 26 “Brad ‘Scarface’ Jordan Day” in recognition of his long career and ties to the community.
Saturday’s runoff between Jordan and Evans-Shabazz will likely be a close result again. But no matter what happens over the weekend, Jordan will have built some political clout, gained campaign experience, and formed a platform to carry out in the future, setting up a solid foundation for his post-rap public service career, which he already hopes will take precedence as his ultimate legacy.
Support our 2020 coverage
Slate is covering the election issues that matter to you. Support our work with a Slate Plus membership. You’ll also get a suite of great benefits.Join Slate Plus