Hip-hop loves Scarface, the Al Pacino flick that just turned 20. The movie, about a self-made Cuban immigrant who becomes a drug kingpin, has become part of gangsta rap's DNA. Its morally repugnant rags-to-riches narrative, explicit detail about the drug trade, and sense of paranoia, blood lust, and greed make up the genre's de facto formula.
So leave it to Def Jam, which built itself as much on marketing as music, to mark Scarface's anniversary with a compilation of drug-rap songs. The album draws from rap giants who make clear, as the movie does, that drug dealing is anything but glamorous. Jay-Z's "Streets Is Watching," Raekwon's "Criminology," and the Notorious B.I.G.'s "Ten Crack Commandments" are clinical takes on how conscience and unforeseen circumstances can make the coke life hell.
Naturally, Scarface the rapper's contribution may speak to Scarface the movie's influence the most. His extraordinary 1991 song "Mr. Scarface," which samples Pacino dialogue from the film, may be the most psychotic rap anyone's ever written, with its cold-blooded killings, unfiltered rage, and necrophilia. Even now, the song is shockingly violent, the equivalent of the film's chainsaw beheading. Like that scene, "Mr. Scarface" and other songs here won't lose their edge anytime soon.