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Brad “Scarface” Jordan: ‘Behind The Desk Experience’ Delivers Big In The Bay [Review]

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brad scarface jordan behind the desk experience delivers big in the bay review

“I didn’t come here tonight just to hang some f*ckin’ drywall”

These were the words of Brad “Scarface” Jordan, a prodigal son of Houston hip-hop for over three decades, boasting onstage in San Francisco’s Regency Ballroom while delivering his brand new live set, The Behind the Desk Experience. This 2024 US tour, featuring this resilient Texan OG fronting a seven-piece live band, arrives in the tailwind of his absolutely phenomenal episode of NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert, which last November catapulted Jordan back into the zeitgeist with an emotional bang.

On this rainy NorCal Saturday night, the sage wordsmith would take the Bay Area fans on a deeply personal journey through trials, tribulations, spiritual reckonings, fallen family, and voices in his head—all dictated through the voluminous Scarface songbook. Backing him up was a collective of live musicians: a trio of vocalists, two keyboardists, and a lead guitarist, with the sturdy squadron powered by a dynamic bass-drums battery. An intimate audience of mostly grown-folk (including my 81-year-old mother visiting from Philly) was treated to nearly 100 minutes of hip-hop heart medicine, the rapper exploring crucial and classic cuts from his canon, dating back as far as his seminal 1991 solo debut Mr. Scarface.

 

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“Do you feel me now?” he asked the crowd several times throughout the set, where he unspooled extended readings of the tracks from his Tiny Desk Concert, among numerous others. “Mary Jane” (off 1996’s The Untouchable) arrived early and set the tone for the evening; later, Tupac Shakur collaboration “Smile” saw the entire room break out in a buoyant singalong, sending up the dearly-departed, beloved Bay Area icon with love.

The irresistible piano-bounce of “My Block” from 2002’s The Fix received a raucous reception, recalling a time when Scarface was at the top of the rap game food chain. Lots of fans turned back the clock 20 years, kickin’ the timeless tales back at the emcee while making copious rap hands into the air. “Seen A Man Die”, a deep rumination on losing someone dear, was ably augmented by the gospel-infused backing vocals. The stirring number revealed an emotional quotient and reflective perspective that connected the performer onstage to the hushed, captivated crowd in a powerful manner. This energy was only enhanced as Scarface revisited treasured memories of the smoked-out studio sessions, recording this landmark meditation on mortality.

Between lyrically dense street stories of yesteryear, an occasional jammed-out vamp featured the bandleader shredding a southpaw Gibson Les Paul. Throughout the engaging session, the erstwhile hood philosopher reflected on his storied life and colorful times with humor, candor, and gratitude. More classics seemed to follow like haymakers, one after the next: “Money Makes the World Go Round”, “Jesse James”, and “Hot Seat”. After a heated stretch of bangers, Jordan once again strapped on the axe and dug into a greasy take on blues standard by-way-of Bobby Womack, “Nobody Wants You When You’re Down and Out”.

 

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Late in the tremendous performance, we heard the undeniable guitar chords of Isaac Hayes‘ “Hung Up On My Baby” waft through the air, and in an instant, the mostly subdued crowd erupted in stoke. Aglow, Face busted out Geto Boys‘ iconic horrorcore anthem “Mind Playing Tricks On Me”, spitting his own lyrics plus the memorable final verse of his late partner Bushwick Bill. “Let’s wake him up!” exclaimed Jordan as he urged those assembled to summon the spirit of the little big man.

The Rap-A-Lot Records veteran and Geto Boys co-founder is forever revered as an elder statesman of Southern rap culture, among the earliest emcees to be referred to as “your favorite rapper’s favorite rapper”—a popular euphemism employed by tastemakers to describe a particularly sharp, intellectual, captivating master of ceremonies. Face was a brave pioneer in the 1990s, unafraid to confront then-taboo topics like mental illness and suicide, and over the course of his career he’s steadily remained an artist who wears fear, nightmares, sins, and demons on his proverbial sleeve.

Though Scarface has always discussed the precious gift of life and his own mortality, back in 2021 the rapper was looking death in the eye. In March 2020, he contracted COVID-19 early on in the pandemic; it quickly damaged his lungs, and his kidneys extensively. While his lungs eventually recovered, his kidneys did not, he was placed on dialysis and was worsening by the week. In June 2021, his son Christopher Jordan donated a kidney to his father to save his life. Scarface swiftly recovered, announced his (short-lived) retirement, and went on a celebratory farewell tour in 2022.

Then, somewhat out of nowhere, came the magical Tiny Desk performance, a viral moment that cut across generations and had people tearing up all over the interwebs. Soon the man they call Facemob wanted back in on the scene he helped create and nurture, and having lived through this scary health challenge, the cat just longed to get back up onstage and do his thing to adoring throngs of ride-or-dies. With that, he and his team dreamt up Brad “Scarface” Jordan: The Behind the Desk Experience, rehearsed a super-tight band, booked an ambitious tour, and took the show on the road in relatively short order. The climax of a beautifully-human comeback story from one of the greatest to ever do it.

Scarface — Tiny Desk Concert

words: B.Getz

For Brad “Scarface” Jordan: The Behind the Desk Experience tour dates and tickets, head here

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