Act a donkey
Lil Boosie’s life these days seems to consist of the following: flying from smallish city to smallish city, performing in front of large and loudly appreciative crowds, receiving four-figure cash payments for said performances, and recording noisily scene-stealing guest-appearances on other rappers’ songs. This sounds like a pretty good life to me, but Lil Boosie might beg to differ. Late last year, I flew to Orlando to interview and shadow Boosie for an as-yet-unpublished King magazine profile, and I’m not sure I saw him smile once the whole time I was there. Boosie was in a particularly bad mood that day because the hotel had fucked up his reservation, but I got the impression that even in the best of circumstances he regards virtually every situation with coiled suspicion. Before performing that night, he spent about a half-hour sitting in a minivan outside the venue, waiting for someone to show up with a huge knot of bills for him. Every once in a while, one of the drunk kids outside the venue would realize that Boosie was sitting in the passenger seat of this minivan, gesturing to friends or yelling something inaudible at the window, and Boosie would just stare straight ahead silently, refusing to acknowledge their presence. I asked him if he always waited to get paid before going onstage, and he just glared at me, not saying a word, like I’d just asked the dumbest question in the world (which, admittedly, I probably had). And when someone did show up with the cash, he kept everyone waiting while he counted every bill two or three times. When he walked onstage, though, he was another person entirely, all rangy energy and loud, squeaky bravado. But back in the van half an hour later Boosie went right back to that cold reserve. (Trick Daddy’s crew was pulling up as we were leaving, and one of Boosie’s boys made this observation: “Trick crew got ice.” He got another death-stare for his trouble.)
Interviewing Boosie wasn’t an easy task because Boosie doesn’t much like talking. He was, however, very clear about one thing: He’s in rap to make money. He might like doing shows, but he sure wouldn’t do them for free. On Da Beginning, his new mixtape, Boosie presents a different image, but it’s not really a contradictory one. On “Doing This 4 U,” Boosie talks about feeling personal connections with his fans: “The only things that makes me happy / Is rocking a show and being a daddy.” He’s built up an audience in large part by doing shows in every scrappy hole-in-the-wall club in every decent-sized town across the Southern states. Boosie didn’t recognize me as being a part of his public, and he wasn’t particularly interested in professing his dedication to his craft in front of me. But Da Beginning finds Boosie in a more personal and candid mood than I’ve heard him before. Boosie’s released some untold number of mixtapes, and I haven’t heard them all, but previous introspective moments from Boosie have only served to reinforce his kid-gone-wild image. “Daddy Love U,” from Bad Azz Mixtape, Vol. 2, starts out as a heartfelt ode to his three kids, but then it ends with this line: “At eleven, I’m gon’ go get my son a Ferrari / At seven, I’m gon’ get him head at his birthday party.” Yee. There’s nothing quite that glaring on Da Beginning, but most of what Boosie says here is still some very serious negative-worldview stuff, the sort of stuff you might be talking about if you grew up with diabetes and abject poverty in a small and dangerous Southern city. “Dirty World,” for example, is a vaguely political song, but not a call for change or anything. Instead, it’s a laundry-list of reasons why the world is fucked up: school shootings, the Iraq war, poverty, women going after your money, fans bootlegging mixtapes. Amid all the laments and threats, though, Boosie also includes songs to his mother and God and the girl he loves. It’s that old Tupac/DMX thing, where all this convoluted stuff comes out unmediated, with no hope for resolution.
Boosie’s most distinctive feature is, of course, his voice, a high-pitched nasal squeal that makes him sound like a pissed-off five-year-old. Boosie’s speaking voice sounds nothing like that, and when I asked him about it, he said that people who rap in their regular speaking voices aren’t being creative; I sort of get what he means. You pretty much either like Boosie’s voice or you hate it so much it makes your teeth hurt. I like it. It’s an expressive instrument, one equally capable of conveying exhilaration and abject fury. Over and over on Da Beginning, Boosie sounds like he’s on the verge of explosion from sheer recording-booth exertion. Bad Azz, his last proper album, had its moments, but he didn’t sound heated on virtually every track the way he does here. Most of the beats on Da Beginning come from his label’s in-house second-stringer BJ, who favors bluesy guitar runs and slow, crawling handclaps over his colleague Mouse’s clubby synth-rap stuff. And so Da Beginning, more than anything I’ve yet heard from Boosie, sounds steeped in Southern rap history, part of a lineage that Boosie’s self-sufficient Trill Ent. label has mostly avoided, UGK connections or no. Da Beginning isn’t a great work or anything; it’s too long and messy and badly mastered, too loaded down with anonymous guests and unfinished song ideas. (And yeah, Boosie’s voice can get a little trying after an hour or so.) But it does show a fierce and powerful young voice moving toward something bigger. I wouldn’t be shocked if this guy had a great album in him somewhere down the line.