Illustration by Anna Khachiyan
When Boosie Badazz shows up at his record label headquarters, you would think the fucking mayor arrived. In a red Polo windbreaker, jeans, and crisp white kicks, Boosie comes walking in as waves of cries of “Hi Boosie!” fill the otherwise dim halls of Atlantic Records’ midtown office. No sooner does he sit at a conference room table than a plate of food arrives and he’s shoveling in rice with the same enthusiasm with which he’s been feeding the streets with his music since Y2K. “How’s that food, Boosie?” someone yells from a cubicle. “It’s goooood,” he says, flashing his gold-capped incisors with diamond studs. Boosie is the dude corporations ogle at: an artist whose product oozes with street authenticity yet who seems to have finally shaken off the liability of keeping one foot in the trap. Also, he’s a nice guy.
Boosie Badazz is the South’s unsung hero. Raised in Baton Rouge and groomed in the streets, he’s the quintessential regional rap figurehead. His rhymes tell stories seemingly ripped from lurid newspaper headlines, detailing trap happenings over basslines that make perfect strip club soundtracks. Boosie began his career in the late 90s as part of the group Concentration Camp, trained by his cousin, former No Limit soldier Young Bleed. By 2001, he inked a deal with Trill Entertainment, led by the legendary Pimp C, and he has been Trill ever since. For most people above the Mason-Dixon Line, it’s hard to fully understand Boosie. You may rock with a song or two, like “Zoom” or “Wipe Me Down,” his biggest hits. You may know some of his Trill Family affiliates, like that loose cannon named Webbie. But his impact goes way deeper than that. Call him what you want—Boosie, Lil Boosie, Boosie Badazz—but the man born Torrence Hatch has been regarded as the Tupac of the South for over a decade.
As Boosie sits in a seat across from MTV’s Sway at his Touchdown 2 Cause Hell listening session, a trailer for his mini-documentary flashes on screen, showing Boosie in 2009 as a skinny young man wielding guns and acting up. Present-day Boosie shakes his head at 2009 Boosie: That was the year that marked a hiccup in his criminal record, almost costing him his life. It was the same year Boosie dropped his fourth album Superbad: The Return Of Boosie Bad Azz. The album debuted at number seven on the Billboard charts and yielded the turnt cut “Better Believe It” with Webbie and Jeezy. A week after his album’s release, Boosie pled guilty to marijuana possession, a third offense that led to two years in prison. What happened after that became a domino effect of court cases, jail time, and more brushes with the law while fighting it. While awaiting his sentence, he violated probation, leading to a doubling of the initial sentence. About a year later, Boosie was indicted for the first-degree murder of a man named Terry Boyd. A year after that, in 2011, he was sentenced to eight years in prison on more drug charges.
While concurrently fighting first-degree murder and drug charges (the former he pled not-guilty, the latter guilty), Boosie sat imprisoned on death row awaiting D-Day. His fan base swelled, kicking off a “Free Boosie” campaign that built up his legendary status. At the same time, Boosie actually inched closer to freedom: His lawyers cut his jail time by suggesting he was set up by a drug ring, coaxed by his severe addiction to codeine. As for the murder charges, he beat those in 2012, left solitary confinement, and spent his last year in population preparing his first moves of freedom. I had the pleasure of speaking with Boosie a year ago, within weeks of him leaving prison. He was anxious and still a little traumatized. His prison experience was animalistic, marked with harsh treatment, oftentimes stemming from corrupt and jealous prison guards. “Prison is no place for a human,” he would reiterate to me. He was dead set on packing in his five-year absence from the world within twelve months.
We caught up almost a year to that date, and he’s a whole new man. He’s tired—a combination of working every day since he left jail and being a father to seven kids who travel with him everywhere. He’s angry—from heightened police brutality to watching young artists like Bobby Shmurda fuck up before they truly touch fame. He’s focused—complete with a roster of artists, a clothing line, a book, a potential tobacco deal, and a documentary in tow, not to mention a new album.
That album, Touchdown 2 Cause Hell is his sixth, and, after years of feverish anticipation it’s finally here. As he sits in his listening session hearing the project he crafted mostly during that final year stretch in jail, Boosie is proud. He pieced the album together with tape recorders from the commissary plus burner phones and notebooks. The first words he utters on the project’s intro are “Minor setback for a major comeback.” The album is timeless: Literally, it sounds like it was frozen in time, neither dated nor futuristic. It’s simply Boosie. From pointing out corrupt politics to acknowledging the lack of support while he was behind bars, to fatherhood and even speaking about his diabetes, Boosie created a musical memoir. Could this be the album that places Boosie on all parts of the map? Possibly. His celebrity fortunately-slash-unfortunately stretched further while he was away.
But he’s out now, vehemently says that he’s never going back, and above all he’s happy. When you’ve got a second chance at life, you damn well better be.
Noisey: Last month marked a year since you've been out of prison. What's this last year been like?
Boosie Badazz: It's been beautiful. Just me coming home was beautiful, but it's been successful also. Like, I haven't took off a weekend from doing shows since I've been home. So I've been blessed with a nice deal, a clothing line, my life story is written—that's going to be a big thing after this album. I couldn't ask for a better year.
You and I spoke actually within a week of you getting out, and I remember you discussing how you had to pack in everything you missed as soon as you got out. Are you still grinding like that?
Yeah, I basically pushed myself with that mentality of, “Damn, I missed a lot.” I probably do need to get my ass some rest, but I still got that hard grind like I feel like I missed so much. And that takes me to better places in life, grinding so hard. I just gotta mix that in with my health and taking better care of myself because everybody needs sleep, you know?
Has it taken its toll on you?
Sometimes I do. I can't say I don't. Sometimes I do, but I got a basketball team of kids that gotta get fed, so that plays a part in it also.
How many kids do you have?
So you do have a basketball team! What's the oldest and the youngest?
The youngest is five, and the oldest is 13.
How do you as a father make sure your kids know not to live out what they hear in music?
I've made my kids strong-willed and strong-minded where they know music from reality. They're not going to listen to nobody. That's how I feel with my music, that's all with raising kids. They were raised around music their whole life, you know? So, the way I raised them, music artists won't affect the way they carry themselves. That comes with parenting also.
Have you found it hard to be an artist and a parent?
It's a lot. You know, lately I've just been taking them with me. Like when they come with me, “We're going on a trip! We're going everywhere!”
All seven of them?
Yup! That brings a lot of fun it also. A lot of whoopings too, but that brings a lot of fun in it. I'm not going to get to a point where I say, “It's either this or this.” If I gotta spend time with them, I'm going to bring them with me.
So you're basically cutting your turn up time considerably by bringing your children…
Right, right! My only turn up time really is on stage. I'm a daddy and I'm a businessman also. If I'm not getting paid, I'm not going nowhere. It's business! I could see if it's a giveaway to help some people out, but as far as clubs—nah. This is business.
It feels like not a lot of artists understand that.
So you said something about your clothing line.
In a few months, how much money did you make from that? Several million, right?
Yeah, it was like retail four million dollars.
That's a lot.
[Laughs.] I'm co-owner, though. I don't own the whole thing. I'm co-owner, but that shows you—Boosie is a brand. Not even with the hellafied designs that everybody else has, we're talking T-shirts, jackets, and caps. So sometimes, now you see it's not really the clothes, it's the person. So we're going to take this Jewel House thing as far as we think it can go.
You’re living in Atlanta now. How has that been since leaving Baton Rouge?
I like it, because it's different from Louisiana. I'm not the only one riding around in foreign cars. I'm not a target, you know? I feel like I'm going into a city where people don't have a grudge against me, as far as law enforcement. We don't have a history, and they respect superstars out there. And it's a music capital, so that's where I need to be. Everybody is rocking with everybody making music, and that's a place I need to be.
You left for Atlanta like a month after getting out of prison. Did you feel like when you got out, the FEDS were watching you?
I'm a target, you know? I'm Boosie. I'm Boosie Badazz in Louisiana. I beat murder charges, I beat all kinds of charges and was convicted on charges also, and I'm a highly touted rapper to make it out that environment. So with the past, I had to go. I wanted to start fresh.
How did it feel this year to watch so much happening with the police and Black men?
Well I've been making songs about what the police were doing. I just feel like they got technology now and they can get this stuff on camera. People been dying at the hands of people who I feel like wake up on the wrong side of the bed. It probably don't be that person in them to do that stuff, but they wake up on the wrong side of the bed—that's what I be thinking—and they take it out at work. But I been talking about this, I guess people just finally seeing it. It's just certain communities fight for what's right, and certain communities look over it. And once it gets national attention, then that's when everybody goes crazy with it. But that's not nothing new.
No matter what in your music, you've always managed to insert it somewhere. Do you feel like artists have that obligation to at least speak on it? Especially black artists, I mean if they didn't have a record deal—or even if they did have a record deal, to your point—they're the biggest targets.
I feel like most rappers are not going to speak on it. Some speak on it, but some speak on it because they care, some speak on it because they're just riding a wave. I'm one of those people who speak on it because I care about people being mistreated. I care about the people saying they're protecting us not protecting us. That's a big zero. When we go to jail, we do hard time. I don't care who you is, when you do something like that, I feel like people gotta start going to jail for it, man. If they start getting 40 or 50 years, maybe they'll wake up like, “I better taser him this time.”
When they commit crimes—even if they do get charged with something—they just lose their badge. They don't lose their life, they don't lose anything else. They don't go to jail.
It's not fair. It's not fair at all.
So all together, your prison experience was a pretty terrible one, right?
Yeah, man. I was on death row! I was fighting a death row case, so they put me on death row for three and a half years. And I'm fighting this case, and I was locked down 23 hours, 45 minutes a day.
Yeah, I was in a cell 23 hours, 45 minutes a day. I only get 15 minutes out to shower and use the phone in that same 15 minutes.
How did you not go completely insane?
I don't know. I just maintained that I'd be free one day. I just kept it in my head, prayed to God. I ain't gonna let them break me.
When you knew that you had 12 months left, did you have more freedom?
Yeah, when they let me out after I beat my murder case, they came to me and asked did I want to go in population. I'm like, “Hell yeah!” Because you know by you being a celebrity, you can say that you want to stay on lockdown, but hell no! I'm going in population. I got my GED, I completed all these courses, so I even came home a couple months earlier! Then I was able to touch my people who visit. I was given a job in the kitchen, I was just given more freedom.
Talk to me about your recording process in prison. How did you do that?
Well it was all kind of ways. I was getting tape recorders, I was getting the guards to sneak me in iPhones. Whatever I had to do!
So you're recording on some burners too and sending them out!
Yup! Sometimes you've got to break the rules to make money, that's just plain and simple. And that's what I was doing! I'm not going to say I went to jail and did right. I'm not going to say that, because I was going through a lot and I needed to be high half the time. I was going through a lot, but it made me value life more. It made me value my career more. It smartened me up. I was doing stupid stuff out there. Even though all these murders and all this was bogus, I was doing stupid stuff to lead people on as far as flashing guns every time you see me on DVDs. You know, that was stupid ass shit! Now I look at it like, “Damn, why was I doing that?” But it was fun then. But once they stack a lot of that against you, once you get in some trouble, that'll make people look at you like, “Hey, he's far from a saint!”
The interesting thing is that when you went in, Boosie was already a brand. Now you have some artists out today who have barely become brands, got their first single and now they're in or they're facing jail time. How does that make you feel just watching the next generation of hip-hop artists, not even giving themselves a chance to actually experience life at any level?
I feel bad for them, but I never count nobody out. I always feel like somebody can come back and make a comeback. But I feel bad about it. Even in ‘09, I was nationally known, doing 300 to 400 thousand records, shows in Alaska and everywhere. But, once they put that lock on your wrist, it's hard to get out. Like my grandma always said, “Trouble is easy to get in, but it's hard to get out.” And I hate seeing people in that situation. I hate seeing Bobby Shmurda in that situation. I got pissed off when I saw it on the TV, because we're already targets and we just can't be slipping! They really have hip-hop police, they really have people who despise what you do, and how you get rich off what you do. When they feel you're a star, people be out to get you, and it's up to us as street dudes not to get caught. It's up to them to catch us. So I just hate to see people get in that trouble like that, because I know what he's going through.
What about artists who convict themselves with their lyrics?
Right! I'm against that also. But sometimes when people are after you so much, they can take something that's not direct—it can be somewhat dealing with that—and they can make that and bring it into court and try to convict you on something. I just feel like it's out of hand now. That's because it's too many people getting rich off it! Shit, Johnny Cash said we shot a man down in Folsom Prison, just to watch him die! Bob Marley said he shot the sheriff! Freedom of speech is being cut right now. That's no longer a permanent rule, because somebody can say, “I'ma kill that nigga when I catch him!” and he can be killed the next day, but if they had beef, they would go indict him on him saying he could kill him the next day. Shit just happens! What if it just happened? But you know, once judges start ruling with them, it gets out of hand.
When you came back out and started making music, what was your mindset?
I was saying I'm going to bring that Boosie music back. I was gonna bring an album that didn't sound like nobody out. I didn't want to have one that sounds like records on the radio. I wanted an album that was touching people, that had dark music on it, that was just a versatile album.
Why did you really drop the “Lil” from your name?
I got tired of just people, grown men, like “What up Lil Boosie?” No, I'm grown. It should be Mr.! You know, I'm Boosie Badazz. I'm a dad, man. Just take the shit off! That's how I was feeling.
Why didn't you just go with Boosie?
I don't know. Boosie Badazz is just like, more people say Badazz when they see me than Boosie, so I just stuck with the Boosie Badazz.
Why was it important for you to get your GED?
Really I wanted to make my mama smile. And you know, I got kids! I can't say I got no diploma! I want to at least be able to tell them, “I did it!” But it was for my mama, man. It's only a few of my grandmother's grandsons that have graduated and my mama always talked about that when I was little. “You're going to graduate from high school! You're not going to be like this one and that one!” So I made sure she was there. I made sure she was able to see me with my cap and gown on.
I love it. Well now your daughter's starting high school!
Are you sweating?
Yeah, I'm sweating. I just want them to say this age forever! But nah, I just try to have good relationships with them where they talk to me about everything. I think that's the key with daddies and daughters. When you talk to them, it's better.
Do you make her carry your picture with her in her pocket so she can show the boys like, “Oh by the way—this is my dad!”
Oh, they know already! [laughs] They know already!
So are all seven of your kids in Atlanta as well?
I have a couple in Atlanta, and the rest of them in Baton Rouge. But it's finna be the summer, so all of them will be there. I basically take them everywhere with me when they come. I don't believe in separate times. If they're with me, I'm not leaving them with a nanny. It's daddy time y'all, come on! We can balance all this work in together.
Where have you brought them so far?
They've been everywhere, really. They've been all across the country. They like traveling, they like taking pictures. They've been waiting on this, you know? They've been waiting on this a long time.
So if your youngest is five—
He was born when I was in prison, after I went in.
And for three of those years, you didn't even get to see him, huh?
Yeah, I got to see him, but I got to see him through the glass.
So you only got to hug him after that?
What was that like?
I had built a relationship with him then. Like, he had gotten to a point when he was like two that he wasn't just looking at me. It was, “Daddy! Daddy!” So, by the time he was that age, he already knew.
Are any of your kids showing their musical side?
Yeah, my daughter makes music.
Yup! My son, the 11-year-old, he likes to rap. I'm just supportive of whatever they do. They're going to be signing people one day.
Which part of Boosie do you like the best? Outside of Boosie the father, because you seem to love that the best, but who do you love the best? Boosie the businessman, Boosie the artist, Boosie the author, Boosie the filmmaker—who's the guy right now that's giving you the most passion to keep doing this?
Um, I say Boosie the hustler because my hustle has gotten greater because my fame, my music—steady dropping mixtapes killing the streets. Everything I'm touching is doing good, and I'm making money besides music so that's always a plus. It's bigger than Boosie the music artist now, and that opened up all kinds of doors for me. So I'm just happy with the hustle right now. That's what I'm happier with.
Do you feel like it's easier for you now to stay out of trouble?
Yeah, because I value life more, I value my career more, I value everything more! Before jail I cared about it, but now I know what not to do. I know I'm not going to do this to put me in this situation again, so hell yeah, I'm way more careful and smarter.
Kathy Iandoli is a writer based in New Jersey. Follow her on Twitter.