Until this weekend, Boosie Badazz had been the Lionel Messi of the rap game for me. I was certainly aware of his existence, I knew that for many people he was a superstar, maybe even a god, and I wasn't about to argue with them. For all I knew they were right, that was the point - I just didn't know. Messi's not really in my world beyond the occasional ESPN highlight sideways-glimpsed at a bar or the quadrennial excitement of the World Cup. Similarly, you can't work in hip-hop and flat-out not know who Boosie is, but in 2010, when he first began his prison stint, I was just really starting to write about music, and I had only recently fully emerged from my east coast rappity-rap cocoon. He was largely a rapper who was doing some thing over in some other place, and I was comfortable living with him on the periphery of my rap conciousness.
If Boosie had stayed in jail I could have easily gone my entire life without listening to an album from the man. He would have gone down in my cranium as a historical figure, a hastag and a handful of songs heard by osmosis. But when he got released and I saw the excitement, when I heard some of his interviews and was intriqued by Boosie the person, not Boosie the Twitter slogan, I promised myself I'd listen to his new album when it finally dropped, purely for professional and anthropological reasons. And then Touch Down 2 Cause Hell actually, finally arrivedand I procrastinated, devoting my time and energy to Rocky's new album instead. And then Surf dropped and I procrastinated, devoting my time and energy to Chance and company's new album instead. I was on the verge of throwing in the towel - would never hearing a Boosie album really that big of a sin? - but on Saturday night the angels of my better nature prevailed and I finally pressed play.
It took me 15 minutes to make it past the "Intro." That beat sounds like someone took a choir of angels and dragged them through hell, with Boosie sounding perfectly and furiously in control over his newly-formed army of demons. Yes, that's a good thing. In fact, it was so good I was nervous about continuing with the album - what if it was all downhill from here? Nope. Twenty seconds in the next track, "Windowz of My Eyez," and Boosie's rapping about the pain of trying to kiss his children through prison glass. Boosie sounds like a more vocally flexible Young Jeezy, like the angriest version of Pimp C, like Rick Ross if Rick Ross actually told the truth and could rap faster than an armadillo with its legs broken.
Two tracks deep and I was all in on Touch Down 2 Cause Hell, and over the course of the next hour or so, really more like two hours because I kept hitting the rewind button, I stayed in. Not everything was so gripping - telling a stripper to show some asshole for a cash roll on "On That Level" isn't exactly the second coming of Illmatic, and Boosie's more mainstream-leaning efforts like "Drop Top Music" featuring the aforementioned Bawse don't quite connect - but those were far more exceptions than rules. I read GZA's complaint that hip-hop wasn't real anymore in between listening to this album and Boosie struck me as a rapper GZA would underestimate without realizing that Boosie was fighting the same fight. If Touch Down 2 Cause Hell has a theme, it's reality. Boosie lays out all the highs and lows of his extraordinarily highed and lowed life, and whether it's a snitch on the block or another rapper, there's no bigger sin than dishonesty. And so we get songs with the depth and honesty of "Hip-Hop Hooray" and "Black Heaven," songs that people who'd never really sat down and listened to a Boosie album (you know, like me before this weekend) would be surprised to find coming from a rapper known to the average hip-hop head more for his crimes than his music.
At this point in my life (a 32-year-old dad vaguely employed by the internet) I don't particularly care about where an artist comes from, what subgenre of subgenre of subgenre the music could best be categorized as, what liking or disliking any rappers says about how cool I am. These days I'm purely on my Dead Prez shit; if I feel it I feel it, if I don't I don't, and feeling something when I listen is the only thing that really matters. I'm feeling this album, and I know that just now discovering Boosie puts me on an opposite trajectory from much of hip-hop, when he's got fans who've been intensely loyal for over a decade and many of the people who tweeted for his freedom find themselves less interested in his new music than the drama of his prison time. Even just saying I'm discovering Boosie is like Columbus saying he discovered America; the only thing he discovered is that the land had been discovered by others long before him.
Still, I know there might be others out there like me, those who've never really taken the time to listen to a Boosie album, or just haven't gotten around to listening to Touch Down 2 Cause Hell yet because everyone's talking about ALLA and Surf and the car needs new brakes and they're planning summer vacations. To those people I say trust me, a listen will be worth your time. I can't say whether this album is better or worse than his previous albums, but if it's worse, then I really have been missing out on something extraordinary all these years. Boosie is free and making music. Act accordingly.
[Nathan S. is the managing editor of The DJBooth and a hip-hop writer. He also occasionally talks in podcast form and appears on RevoltTV. His beard is awesome. This is his Twitter.]