A couple weeks ago I was taken aback when the homie at Rap Music Hysteria! brought up some concerns he had about the new directions in Boosie’s post-incarceration output. I’m usually skeptical about comebacks of any kind, it’s too easy for even the most gifted artists to lose the magic when there is a break in their creative flow, but everything I’d heard from Boosie since he completed his sentence showed promise. I remember watching the “Show the World“ video when it first came out and before verse one I could tell he wasn’t the same man – dark, sunken eyes, prison yard muscles inflating a black sweatshirt that would have hung on old school Boosie like a muumuu, and a facial expression somehow even more resigned yet hopeless than before his penitentiary stint, even when he smiled.
As the music continued to flow, it was clear that Boosie’s transformation was not skin-deep, and I welcomed the new developments with excitement and respect. He was doing what so few rappers are able to do – age with grace. He hadn’t abandoned on his old style, but he didn’t resign himself to it to the point of awkward self-imitation. Sure the music was less fun than his younger material, but I would have been more concerned if it was. As people mature, I expect them to become interested in more mature subjects. In place of the levity (to use my man’s term) of old Boosie was a captivating sense of fervency and fortitude that I found just as compelling as his previous (relative) lightheartedness. As far as I could tell he was doing exactly what a 32 year old rapper should be doing: taking what he’d learned from his youth and distilling it into a new creative fuel that could sustain a whole second wind of quality material free from the self conscious style-morphing or played-out drudgery so often found with rappers in his age group.
So when I read homie’s post I wanted to stick up for Boosie, I thought everything was rosy! Then I listened to the song he posted from his then forthcoming post-prison debut album and I was suddenly much less confident in my opinion. I’m even less confident now that Touch Down 2 Cause Hell is on the shelves. I’d hoped that “All I Know” wouldn’t be representative of the album as a whole, just a tinge of grandiose accessibility insinuated among 18 tracks rooted in the grounded intensity that Boosie has always excelled at. But the homie’s concerns have proven valid. There seems to be a clear shift toward appealing to a more mainstream demographic in this effort; the production flashy, reverby, and polished, the features seem to be chosen by either hot-right-now standards (Young Thug, Quan) or established-name standards (Jeezy, Rick Ross, TI, Chris Brown) and not by who would actually be a good compliment to his style (even the two Webbie features feel like they were done out of some sense of obligation than any real chemistry between the two), and, as Si Mane Price points out, there is a total lack of regional identity on this album, which has always been one of Boosie’s strong points.
Boosie Badazz – Spoil You (feat. T.I.)
I just finished Scarface’s new book and he talked about how making The Fix was such a liberating experience for him: he got a fat advance before sessions even started, he was working with a label he’d respected his whole life (Def Jam), he had “the best beats, the best studios, and the best engineers at my disposial”, he could spend “thirty or fifty grand on one track” if he wanted, he worked with all the hot producers of the time (The Neptunes, Kanye West), he almost got a damn Stevie Nicks feature on “In Between Us“. Everything was luxuriously presented to him like a casino buffet and he got to record a whole album feeling fully supported and free. But The Fix is not Scarface’s best album. I’d take The Diary over it any day, and it’s interesting to hear him talk about his process in making that album:
There was never a moment where we sat down and said, This album is going to be this, this, and this, and it’s going to fuck motherfuckers’ heads up for real! It was never like that with us. We just knew I was cold, N.O. Joe and Mike Dean and my uncle Eddie were cold, and all of the musicians that we brought in to work with us were bad motherfuckers. I’d get fucked up and record and see what came of it and then take that and see what we could do with it.
The process shows though heavily on both of these albums, for better and for worse. The Fix was recorded in an upper echelon New York studio and it fucking sounds like it. The Diary was recorded at his house with his friends and it fucking sounds like it. I’m sure the process for The Fix was more enjoyable for him, but it did not result in better music.
Touch Down 2 Cause Hell is Boosie’s The Fix, and while I’m happy that both of these extremely talented artists reached a level of success where they can create in the lap of luxury, the music definitely suffers. I don’t wish that Scarface had to always record on painkillers, Miller Lite, and pounds of weed because he’d recently broken his hand punching through a wall, and I don’t want Boosie’s process to be any more arduous, but isn’t there a way for these artists to have some room to breathe without them getting all self conscious and wanting to prove themselves as “great rappers” in some abstract sense? The journalists certainly aren’t helping. The Fix got 5 mics in The Source, and Touch Down 2 Cause Hell is receiving more favorable press from the mainstream rap media than any of his previous efforts. I’d like to think that Boosie just needed to get that album out of his system or prove a point before returning to his previous self-assured disposition, but I’ve watched too many rappers start down this road and discover that it’s one-way. As a human being, I’m happy Boosie has arrived at the comfort level he has earned, but as a rap fan I’m sad to see what I’ve always loved about him fade away.