two years ago i was surprised to find my name in the advocate, the largest newspaper in baton rouge, louisiana’s capital city. i say surprised because i’ve never been to the american south nor have i ever had a louisiana-related piece published in english.
the article in the advocate referred to a piece in our local newspaper in southern sweden. i had written about baton rouge rapper lil boosie’s album, “superbad: the return of boosie bad azz”. my review was translated from swedish into english and published in its entirety on the advocate’s website. without reading too much between the lines, i got the feeling that the author of the article, marissa frayer, found it a bit funny that a swedish newspaper had taken note of a rapper from baton rouge.
in a way she was right. the majority of sydsvenskan’s readers are far away from louisiana and the reality that lil boosie and similar rappers portray. however, the sound of hip hop has been an important part of swedish pop culture since the mid-80s.
i was 10 years old when i started listening to hip-hop. the first records that i played over and over on my cassette deck were beastie boys’ “license to ill” and run dmc’s “tougher than leather”. 25 years have passed since then.
at the end of the 1980s, when artists like n.w.a. introduced america to sides of los angeles never shown in hollywood movies, it didn’t take long before the music could be found even in the small town in sweden where i grew up. the records didn’t top the charts and didn’t leave any greater impression on swedish mainstream culture at the time. but they could be found for those who looked, and we were more than a few.
regardless of interest –music, art, fashion, film, or design – swedes are used to searching, sort of like a gold prospector or a hip-hop producer looking for that perfect beat at a flea market. for those in sweden with an interest in alternative culture, the grass is always greener on the other side. how could it not be, when the home-grown supply constantly reflects the mere 9 million people who live here?
for those who fell in love with hip-hop, gangsta rap, and romanticized ghetto realism in the 90s, the mid-2000s were no fun at all. the 50 cent who had made a name for himself on mixtapes, sipping bacardi “in da club”, quickly turned into a just another pop artist. and even though the game waved the blood-red flag on the opposite coast, many chose to look south instead; to cities like new orleans, houston, and atlanta. to local subgenres such as bounce, screw, and crunk.
with new capitals on the hip-hop map it didn’t take long before artists like lil wayne and t.i. had grown so big that they became associated with the top of the billboard charts rather than their hometowns. but one rap star remained loyal to his local area, friends, and colleagues even after southern rap had turned into big-time selling pop music: torrence hatch, commonly known as boosie bad azz or lil boosie.
i’m pretty sure that it was hannes hogeman who introduced me to lil boosie’s razor-sharp voice and fiery verbiage. initially, i was surprised that hip-hop – especially gangsta rap – was the main soundtrack at the offices of tres bien. but when i think back, it makes sense.
some people would argue that our musical taste is cemented when we’re between the ages of 15 and 20. from then on, our teenage heroes and preferences accompany us as a benchmark in our continued music consumption. what makes us choose one hero over another is hard to tell. the decisions we makes as teenagers are rarely rational or well considered. teenagers choose the things that feels dope and fresh, whether we’re talking clothes, music, or books and magazines.
some people found their heroes and heroines in sci-fi movies, the nba, or champions league; others found theirs on the catwalk in paris, a rock club in manchester, or among the books at the library. we found ours in american gangsta rap.
in october 2006, new york times journalist kelefa sanneh described lil boosie as someone who possessed the five characteristics that every rapper needs: “a memorable voice, a bad attitude, an infectious love of trash talk, a regional reputation, and a record deal.” earlier that year, lil boosie had released his major record label debut “bad azz”. bedroom-dancing fans had made an internet hit out of “do tha ratchet”, one of many singles that year that turned local songs into national and global youtube anthems.
lil boosie is often compared to tupac shakur, and “set it off” may very well be the hip-hop world’s harshest verbal threat since 2pac’s “hit em’ up” from 1996. what sets him apart, aside from the multifaceted lyrics, is his unique ability to completely take over the songs in which he makes a guest appearance, much like a deep-south version of busta rhymes. it doesn’t matter who the original artist is. the only thing you remember from songs such as “wipe me down” is lil boosie’s raspy voice, which sounds as if he has just gargled tear gas before stepping into the microphone booth.
torrence “lil boosie” hatch grew up in southern baton rouge and describes his childhood as familiar under the circumstances. his mother was a middle school science teacher. his father struggled with substance abuse. “i was a regular badass kid, playing sports, rippin and runnin,” lil boosie told chris richards of the fader magazine, in april 2008.
but when his father passed away of a brain tumor in 1997, boosie changed. the bad behavior escalated. his music and the writing interests – which he develeoped browsing through his mother’s books and poetry collections – became outlets through which he could deal with and express the emotions that threatened to boil over.
it wasn’t long before lil boosie started making his mark on his hometown. at 15, he worked with local hip-hop hero, and later mentor, c-loc. after a while, the buzz about the promising rapper reached local entrepreneurs melvin “mel” vernell, jr. and marcus “turk” roach. under the supervision of legendary ugk rapper pimp c, the duo had launched the record label trill entertainment in an attempt to match the success enjoyed by cash money/no limit in neighboring new orleans a few years earlier.
in 2000, when boosie was forced behind bars for the first time after being caught by the police in a stolen car, trill entertainment bailed him out and gave him a record deal. this wouldn’t be his last battle with the authorities or his last visit to prison.
in the song “i remember”, lil boosie reflects on his life. over a laid-back beat with an funky synth loop, he notes that he has never forgotten his past, neither the good nor the bad times. the bare-chested days under the hot summer sun, his grandfather preaching in the church, his first robbery, his father beating his mother, his first time being released from jail.
he sounds like an old veteran reflecting on his back-in-the-days from the perspective of old age. at the time, however, boosie hadn’t reached his mid twenties yet.
gangsta rap has, since day one, been based on a more or less balanced mix of fiction and street realism. it’s obvious that people sitting at the top of the entertainment industry, running multi-million dollar companies, don’t have time to hustle on the streets, and that many of the stories and events they talk about in their lyrics are fictional. but at the same time there is an obvious connection – sometimes historical, sometimes current – to a criminal world that is most definitely real. unlike martin scorsese, robert de niro, francis ford coppola, al pacino, and other legends that very credibly have portrayed a criminal lifestyle in movies, many of the biggest gangsta rappers have never totally distance themselves from that world.
before the former prison guard rick ross proved the contrary, a thug life was considered almost a necessity in order to give the stories strength and credibility. but playing a role credibly is obviously not the same as living that role all the way.
i sometimes think that we in the media and other outsiders find it more difficult to separate the roles than the rappers themselves. the fact that there are certain departments and individuals in american law enforcement assigned to monitor the hip-hop scene probably says as much about the american police force and other outside prejudices as it does the actual need for such actions. and the fact that several of the greatest stars of the hip-hop world are serving, or have recently served, time in prison, could just as well be considered evidence of a fucked-up american justice system as a lack in judgment of the artists in question. the truth probably lies somewhere in between.
but in hindsight, i’m not convinced that the bad-azz attitude that kelefa sanneh talked about in the new york times is something to recommend for the rapper who wants a stable career. for torrence hatch it meant that he was forced to witness the release of his fourth studio album from behind bars. since september 2009, lil boosie has been serving a four-year sentence after being convicted, for the third time, of marijuana possession and violating the terms of his house arrest.
on june 17 2010, things got even worse, when hatch was accused of being involved in the murder of terry boyd, 35.
lil boosie is accused of hiring michael “marlo mike” louding to kill boyd, who was shot to death on october 21, 2009.
in an interview with on wax magazine on september 14, martin regan, lil boosie’s layer, denies these accusations.
“there’s an individual that’s claimed that torence hatch is the person that sent him, hired him to go and kill somebody. it’s my appreciation that this individual has, at this point, withdrawn that statement and simply admitted that this isn’t true. this particular fellow that we’re dealing with has killed three or four people.”
if that wasn’t enough boosie was sentenced to 8 year in prison on november 29 this fall after he pleaded guilty to three counts of trying to smuggle drugs into dixon correctional institute and the louisiana state penitentiary.
in addition to all this, investigators are trying to prove that lil boosie may have been involved in five other killings linked to the 18 year old louding.
lil boosie himself denies these allegations and claims that the district attorney hiller moore iii has a personal vendetta against him.
“i’m here ‘cause of the songs i made, before i was indicted, about the police in baton rouge and what’s going on here,” lil boosie told xxl magazine in an interview from the louisiana state penitentiary in may 2011. “there’s a lot with our record label, that the system don’t like… they took my hard drive out of my house after i got arrested. i have albums for days in there. they still haven’t returned it. they’ve had it for damn near a year now. i need that music.”
boosie’s other lawyer, jason williams, believes that the d.a. is trying to convince the public that there’s a series of cases but without any actual charges. “there’s one case he’s charged with,” williams told cbs earlier this year. “but that’s the level of injustice this office is going to go after an innocent man. in the one case, there’s not a single bit of evidence that involves lil boosie other than the fact that he’s a young black male that did well in baton rouge.”
in september 2010, lil boosie released his fourth full-length album “incarcerated”. lil boosie and his record label colleague, webbie, play two of the main characters in the damon dash-written movie “ghetto stories”, which takes place in baton rouge and was released last year on dvd.
onwax magazine published a long interview with lil boosie’s mother connie hatch earlier this fall. check out onwaxmagazine.com/owm/?p=21214 to hear her view of the story.
lil boosie’s murder trial starts april 30 2012.