Return Of The GAfter nearly five years in prison, many hip-hop fans didn’t think Boosie Badazz would ever be coming home. Now he’s gearing up for the release of his sixth solo album.Words Dan RysImages Diwang ValdezEditor’s Note: This story originally appeared in the Spring 2015 issue of XXL Magazine. Don’t miss our cover stories on Meek Mill and Rick Ross right here.
The sun has already set in the West Georgia sky when Boosie Badazz rolls up another cigarette of Bugler tobacco and barks to his driver to turn the music louder. A low, wavy beat fills the speakers of his white Cadillac Escalade and Boosie, rolling the window down slightly from his spot in the Escalade’s left middle seat, lets the instrumental wash over him. A minute passes, then two as Interstate 85 flies past in the darkness outside before anyone speaks again.
“Got me for wire fraud,” Boosie calls out. “Got me for four-sixty.” His cousin and road manager, Louis “Shaw” Givens, types the line into a Note on Boosie’s iPhone 6, which continuously glows dully in the car’s darkness. “That’s just my call of duty,” Boosie continues as Shaw, crumpled into the Caddy’s back seat amid bags of clothes and candy wrappers, types away. After a few minutes go by, Shaw hands the phone to Boosie, who looks over the words before returning it Shaw, ready to continue. “Grandma told me with a lot of money comes a long line,” Boosie spits. “People think they can come get it.”
It’s after 8 p.m. on a Wednesday in February and Boosie, wearing a blue-green jacket with snakeskin sleeves and jeans to match, is work shopping a song that could wind up on his new album, Touch Down 2 Cause Hell, due to be turned in to his label in less than a week. The usually spacious Escalade is packed with people and luggage, leaving little room to maneuver for the next nine hours. Boosie and his crew are making the drive through the night from Atlanta to his hometown of Baton Rouge. But until then Boosie keeps working, rapping his verse softly to himself before telling Shaw to crank up a new beat, this one a version of Fetty Wap’s bubbling single “Trap Queen,” which Boosie plans to remix. Before long the writing process repeats itself, moving slowly but steadily as the Georgia countryside melts into the blackness of the Alabama night.
The 32-year-old Baton Rouge MC can be tough to track down these days, but Boosie, a.k.a. Torrence Hatch, is used to being labeled a wanted man. The State of Louisiana wanted him so bad they hit him with conspiracy, drug possession and first-degree murder charges during an extended legal drama that saw him locked up for nearly five years, at one point staring down the death penalty. In 2008 Boosie was arrested with a bag of weed, a blunt and a gun in his car, leading him into a nightmare of court cases and jail time that made it feel like he might never taste freedom again.
But now Boosie Badazz is back again and dealing with a rap game that has a traditionally miniscule attention span. He’s hopped on records with Jeezy, T.I., Rick Ross and Meek Mill and released a mixtape, Life After Deathrow, last October while teasing fans who have waited a half-decade for the rapper to wreak havoc on hip-hop again only for delays to continue to push back his album. Now with Touch Down 2 Cause Hell, his sixth solo LP and first in five years, finally on the horizon, can Boosie deliver on the hype? And after so much time away, will anyone care?
In 2000, a 17-year-old Lil Boosie released his solo indie debut album, Youngest Of Da Camp. A year later the young rhymer signed with Trill Entertainment, a local Baton Rouge-based label backed by UGK’s Pimp C alongside Melvin “Mel” Vernell Jr. and Marcus “Turk” Roach, the company’s current CEOs. Over the next six years Boosie put out another solo LP (For My Thugz, 2002) and two collaborative albums with fellow Trill MC Webbie (Ghetto Stories in 2003 and Gangsta Muzik in 2004) before dropping his major label debut, Bad Azz, on Trill/Asylum (via Atlantic Records) in 2006. As Boosie’s reputation grew around the South, he landed on tracks with Jeezy and Ross, churning out regional bangers like “Zoom” with Yung Joc and “Wipe Me Down” with Trill labelmates Foxx and Webbie. Before long, Boosie’s unapologetic street stories and his high-octave rasp got him recognized as one of the area’s best rappers.
But a hammer blow of legal issues stopped him before he could truly break out. In 2009, the weed arrest landed Boosie behind bars on a four-year bid, which doubled after he was busted trying to smuggle drugs into prison. That was compounded by a 2010 indictment on first-degree murder charges which left him facing death row if convicted. Boosie would eventually beat the murder charge and win his release on March 5, 2014, sending him home with enough material for 1,000 new songs.
“When I came home I was strong, man, I was focused,” Boosie says. “All I did in jail was rap. I had songs in my head; any beat you put on I got a hook for it, no matter what beat it is. I just came home flooded.”
Boosie arrived to a hero’s welcome: a live-streamed press conference in New Orleans, a restructured label deal with Trill and Atlantic and a level of fame that had been multiplied by the voracious onset of social media. He wasted little time announcing that his comeback album, Touch Down 2 Cause Hell, would be the best double disc since 2Pac’s All Eyez On Me. But after pushbacks and postponements, issues that Boosie chalks up to shady producers and “assholes” playing games with paperwork, 2014 came and went without a full-length album. Instead, Boosie came with a mixtape, Life After Deathrow, at the end of October, 18 tracks of triumphant proclamations of freedom and bitter smackdowns of those who didn’t believe it was possible.
“It was just reality rap; real to where you can feel it,” Boosie says about the tape. “It’s me going through more pain in my delivery with the music. I had a lot to say.”
Hip-hop fans, especially in the South, are ravenous for Boosie Boo, and his celebrity has grown exponentially in the mainstream since he first got locked up. Super Bowl-winning running back Marshawn Lynch adopted the nickname “Beast Mode” from a 2004 Boosie track of the same name. LeBron James has tweeted about being “locked in” listening to the MC’s songs. The return of ratchet music in the past two years, ushered in by the inescapable sounds of DJ Mustard, has its roots in Boosie’s lyrics.
“When I left [and went to prison], every time I turned on the radio it was about models, bottles, Bugattis,” Boosie says the next afternoon, a bright and clear Louisiana day. “It was all about the fancy things, and that’s what was winning.” The MC is lounging on the couch of his hotel room at the Hyatt Place off I-10 wearing dark camo print jeans and a green leather jacket emblazoned with his Jewel House clothing company’s logo, drinking hot tea to soothe his throat. His 13-year-old daughter Ivionna, the oldest of his seven kids, lies listening on the bed nearby while Bad Azz Entertainment artist J Day rolls up more Bugler cigarettes. “Since I’ve been home, I feel like it’s cool to go gangsta again,” Boosie continues. “It’s cool to rap about your lifestyle. If you’re thuggin’ like that, it’s cool to rap about that and put it on the radio.”
If authenticity is what hip-hop hangs its hat on, then Boosie is the poster child for reality rap. His lyrics are unflinching, his concepts jarring only in the sense that they can hit a little too close to home.
“What I’m gonna bring back is talking about the single mothers and what’s really goin’ on, what’s in the hood,” he says, getting animated particularly when the talk turns towards his album. “I’m gonna talk about that real shit. And sometimes it might get violent, but when the violence comes out, that’s to scare you. You can’t take it as negative because it’s so versatile, and it’s real.”
It’s hard to overstate Boosie’s importance to the state of Louisiana, and to Baton Rouge in particular. Down here he’s the biggest celebrity around; his lyrics resonate more on these blocks, reflect the struggles that locals witnessed him defeat, transcend art by stating truth. But now he has a new story of struggle and despair to tell, one that has opened him up to a bigger audience and made the wait for TD2CH so excruciating for fans.
“I would say [this is] the best album I ever did, as far as real music,” he says, listing Chris Brown, Jeezy, T.I., Rich Homie Quan and Webbie as artists slated to appear. “It’s dark, man, it’s all kinds of things. I think that’s what’s gonna grab people—how versatile and how real the album is, with the storytelling and all that put together.”
While he’s benefited from fortuitous industry shifts in his favor, Boosie has also had to deal with an unexpected x-factor: social media. For most artists, that means engaging fans on Twitter or maintaining Facebook and Instagram accounts. Boosie was locked up as Twitter was taking off in a world before Instagram was a verb. As Boosie’s myth grew, his music was able to reach further than ever.
“Jail opened me up to social media,” Boosie says now, reflecting. “Jail opened me up to those who probably never heard of my music in Montana or somewhere up far away in another country, but they go on social media and they keep seeing Lil Boosie. I think that opened it up to a bigger audience who just gave me a trial.”
Entire careers have come and gone in the time Boosie has been locked up, with extended prison sentences usually signaling the death of a rapper’s career rather than its launching pad. Only artists like Gucci Mane and Pimp C, street MCs who grew to iconic status in their hometowns, were able to weather multiple-year jail bids and emerge largely unscathed. But for a rapper who built a career on his own ability to keep things real, beating his murder charge and doing his time has inexplicably worked in Boosie’s favor.
“I always call him your favorite rapper’s favorite rapper, straight up and down,” says Courtney Scott, lead strategist at The Byan Group who was the General Manager of Trill for years and still works with Boosie. “You ask a lot of these street rappers who are out now who their favorite rappers are, Boosie’s gonna be on that list. And that’s because he’s kept it authentic, he’s kept it in the streets, and he’s been doing what people are now doing.”
With hype, of course, comes pressure, and Boosie is dealing with that the best way he can. Just about every weekend he’s out on the road performing at clubs and venues around the country and recording with everyone from Big K.R.I.T. to Snoop Dogg to E-40 to Rich Homie Quan. His health is a constant concern; Boosie announced in 2006 that he was diabetic (his team keeps his blood sugar monitored as often as possible) and he was hospitalized at the end of February for dehydration. But his confidence cuts through any trepidation.
“We’re gonna crush the game, puttin’ out this album and showin’ the world why everybody was sayin’ ‘Free Boosie,’” he says. “They weren’t sayin’ ‘Free Boosie’ just to say this. That’s what I tell most people who feel like jail made me famous. Hell nah. They were sayin’ ‘Free Boosie’ because I touch so many people with my music, and they knew that was missing and they wanted that back. People wanted me back, not just as a rapper, but as a father, as a friend. Not just as an artist. People love me for me, not just because I rap.”
Boosie may still be rapping about the streets and the struggle, but he’s also been working overtime to cultivate another guise over the past eleven months: Dad. As the father of seven children with four different mothers, all of whom live in Baton Rouge, juggling his career and family isn’t always the easiest task. But Boosie makes the most of it when he can; just before 10:30 this morning, the Escalade rolls up to Winbourne Elementary, where his 6-year-old son Ray Ray waits in Mrs. Proctor’s 1st grade classroom. Boosie, Ivionna and his youngest daughter, Lyric, are there for Winbourne’s Best Man’s Luncheon, a Valentine’s Day spin on a Bring Your Dad To School Day. Boosie sits at a short table with his three kids over a school lunch tray of chicken drumsticks and yams, asking about their grades and teachers while dentist’s office jazz plays softly in the background. “You got your daddy here this year,” he tells Ray Ray. “Remember I told you last year I’d be here for this one?”
Events like these are what Boosie missed while he was gone, and with his home base in Atlanta he only makes it back to Baton Rouge every few months. He keeps his kids with him as often as he can—whether it’s spending summers at his place in Atlanta or scooping them for a week-long work trip to New York—but the BR doesn’t offer much for someone like Boosie Badazz anymore. “When I come home people support me, and I’m grateful for that,” he says later, sitting in his hotel room again. “At the same time you’re gonna have a lot of envy in a lot of places like Baton Rouge; most of the hatred always comes from your hometown. But, you know, they love me here. I’m a king.”
No matter where he goes these days, there is always someone who wants a piece of Boosie Badazz. With Touch Down 2 Cause Hell finally nearing completion, Boosie has been eyeing an April release date [Ed. Note: Today Boosie announced the album will be out May 26] and getting his other hustles together; Jewel House, his record label Bad Azz Entertainment, possible reality shows and his own tobacco line, which he’s thinking of calling Boosie Blunts. He wrote a movie in prison based on his life that he’s shopping around, hoping to get moving on production before the end of the year. And then there are the unreleased songs, which he’s planning on flooding into the streets after Touch Down 2 Cause Hell is released. With a new lease on life, Boosie is redefining and diversifying his own hustle. But it always comes back to the music in the end.
“I feel like my music never gets old,” he says. “I feel like my music touches every generation. I’m just thankful for all the people who supported me when I was in my situation. And I’ma make that music that keep us alive. ’Cause we winnin’ now.”
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