When Bushwick Bill was a member of horror-core rappers Geto Boys, he and the group were all about shocking people.
With their graphically violent lyrics, uncompromising attitude toward censorship and politically charged songs such "F--- a War," released during the peak of the highly popular U.S.-led war with Iraq in 1991, Bushwick and the gang made their name.
Now that he's taking a solo turn on his own label with the recently released No Surrender ... No Retreat, Bushwick's still shocking, though this time he's sharing the spotlight with some unconventional attention-grabbers.
"I look for people that are not trying to look or sound like me," 31-year-old Bushwick (born Richard Shaw) explained from his Houston home. "I want artists to tell their story and share their life experience. All I have ever done is put out what I know, and that's the kind of things I want my artists to do."
The album on his newly formed Lickle Geto Boy $ N' Cents Entertainment is less a solo album and more a showcase for his newly formed label. The veteran rapper populates the album's 19 tracks with such up-and-coming artists (and label mates) as rappers D-ology, Three Hard Headz and Dual Persona, as well as R&B singer Nate G.
Bushwick also wants to use his experience in the music industry to guide his artists away from bad business deals and the pitfalls that fame often brings. It's an idea some artists on the label say attracted them to signing with Bushwick in the first place.
"That's exactly what I was thinking when I signed with Bushwick," rapper D-ology (born Darryl King) said from his home in Houston last week. "He comes from an artist's standpoint and he's a good guy with a good heart."
D-ology, 30, who appears on the song "Five Element Combat" (RealAudio excerpt), also said that he signed with Bushwick because he appreciated what he was doing musically.
"We wrote 'Five Element Combat' right there in the studio," Doligy said. "That's how I like to work, right off the top of my head with some good music backing me up. I just walked in the studio, [producer Tim Hill] was playing the bassline, and we wrote it right there."
Bushwick, who doesn't play any instruments, worked with producer/multi-instrumentalist Tim Hill as a conduit to his vision of an album that contains thick g-funk on "Who's the Mack," straight-up R&B on "Let's Give Love Another Try," funky-but-smooth instrumentals, such as "Let Da Rain Come Down" (RealAudio excerpt), and rugged hip-hop on "5 Element Conflict."
Gangsta-rap fans may also be surprised by No Surrender ... No Retreat, because it is dedicated to former Fort Bend County, Texas, assistant district attorney Gil Epstein -- the man who Bushwick says sat him down and showed him he was wasting his talent by abusing drugs and alcohol.
In 1991, Bushwick lost an eye after he convinced his girlfriend to shoot him while he was threatening to harm the couple's child.
Epstein was gunned down in 1996 during an attempted robbery outside the Jewish Community Center in Houston. Bushwick credits Epstein with setting him on the right path.
"I'm very happy with where I am right now," Bushwick explained. "I've got my life in order and I'm living my dream by having my label and working on music without people telling me what to do."
Bushwick first made his mark in the national hip-hop scene in 1988 as a member of gangsta-rappers the Geto Boys, an ensemble that also included Scarface (born Brad Jordan) and Willie D (born Willie Dennis). The Geto Boys' raw, violent lyrics pushed the envelope of gangsta rap and earned the group notoriety when Geffen Records refused to distribute their self-titled 1990 release.
In 1991, the Geto Boys hit #24 on the Billboard 200 albums chart with We Can't Be Stopped. The album featured a graphic cover photo of Bushwick's injuries following his shooting and spawned the hit single "My Mind's Playing Tricks on Me." He also appeared on 1993's Till Death Do Us Part and 1996's The Resurrection.
No Surrender ... No Retreat is his third solo album, following 1992's Little Big Man and 1995's Phantom of the Rapra.
"I'm really proud of this project because I did it all myself," Bushwick said. "I remember reading on the back of George Clinton albums, 'Produced, arranged and conceived by George Clinton.' Prince did that too, you know. I did the same on this album."
Besides promoting his current album, the only other thing Bushwick said is on his mind right now is his effort to free himself from his contract with Virgin/Noo Trybe/Rap-A-Lot.
On Sept. 9, he filed a $20 million lawsuit against Virgin Records, Noo Trybe Records, Rap-A-Lot Records, a Houston comedy club and five individuals who he said attacked him and pulled a gun on him Aug. 28 over his efforts to free himself from his old contract. The $20 million figure covers Bushwick's injuries and the royalties he alleges he is owed by Virgin/Noo Trybe/Rap-A-Lot.
Representatives for Rap-A-Lot did not return repeated calls seeking comment. Representatives for Noo Trybe and Virgin have offered no comment on the suit.
The case is still in litigation, but Bushwick said he doesn't think he's asking for anything out of the ordinary.
"All I really want is to be left alone," he said. "I've got a family to feed and I've got to work to feed them. My contract with Rap-A-Lot was never-ending and had me working for everything against royalties. I've got to support myself and my family, which is why I'm trying to do this on my own."