Still from Lil Boosie's "Top to the Bottom" video

Still from Lil Boosie's "Top to the Bottom" video (August 11, 2014)

Although introspective gangsta rapper Lil Boosie has just a few bouncy party hits to his name, he has remained a Baltimore favorite long after his rap stardom snuck away.  But save for his 2010 song ‘Better Not Fight,’ in which he runs through a list of cities that love him, including Baltimore (along with Little Rock, Milwaukee, Savannah, St. Louis, and the entirety of North and South Carolina), his importance here is hard to prove. It only passes the not-exactly scientific “car windows” test: The frequency in which one hears Boosie deep cuts blasting out of car windows rolling through the city hasn’t wavered since he peaked in 2007 with ‘Zoom’ and a quotable guest verse on Foxx’s ‘Wipe Me Down.’

On Saturday, Boosie, who has no radio hits right now and no album out (or even planned) inexplicably headlines the 1st Mariner Arena. Finally, tangible proof that Baltimore loves this guy. 

Local rap and R&B station 92Q promoted the show by declaring Fourth of July weekend “Red White and Boosie weekend.” This is his first tour since he was released from prison earlier this year.

The legal issues of the squeaky rapper, born Torrence Hatch, began in 2008 when he was arrested for possession of marijuana and a handgun. They continued when he left his home on house arrest, violating his probation. Meanwhile, Boosie’s 2008 song ‘Dirty World’ explicitly called out corrupt Louisiana police who viewed him as someone to take down due to his populist appeal, subversive rap sloganeering, and street cred. His family’s website BoosieJustice.com suggested songs like ‘Dirty World’ turned Boosie into someone targeted by police.

These allegations hold some water: The murder charge, which he picked up while in prison, began with the specious claims of a criminal offered a plea deal to name names. Leading up to the murder trial, the Louisiana District Attorney mentioned using Boosie’s rap lyrics, which detail both the highs and lows of street life, as evidence in his trial (last week in an unrelated case, New Jersey’s Supreme Court ruled that lyrics could not be used as evidence). Ultimately, Boosie was found not guilty of first-degree murder in May of 2012, but remained in jail after that because he was charged with intent to distribute drugs inside jail. In December of 2012, his attorneys successfully argued that the intent to distribute charges were the result of a setup.

Around the time of Boosie’s March 6, 2014 release, a sobering meme got passed around Facebook, countering the celebrations surrounding the MC’s return. It was a photo of Eddie Conway, minister of defense for the Baltimore chapter of the Black Panthers, who after 44 years in jail for the murder of a police officer he didn’t kill, was released just one day before Boosie. Below the photo, it said, “I am Eddie Conway. I was a leader of the Black Panther Party. I hold 3 degrees and served 44 years in prison for a crime I did not commit. Did you know I was also released yesterday? Anyway, welcome home Lil Boosie.”

The implication was clear: Here was Boosie, a thuggish rapper praised and celebrated by the masses, while a civil-rights hero finally, triumphantly, arrived home after decades of incarceration to little-to-no fanfare. But Boosie is a political prisoner too: someone the police paid close attention to once he became successful and long before that, like so many disenfranchised people in this country, a victim of the drug war. The story at the start of March should’ve been two less black men are in jail.

The meme, however well-intentioned, doesn’t get it or doesn’t want to get it. People in Baltimore identify more with Boosie than Conway because, like Boosie, for most of them, it is their simple existence, not even their organizing, that makes them a problem. Boosie’s lack of sentimentality and brutal, literal lyricism resonates. From 2006’s suicidal ‘Going Thru Some Thangs’: “Stressin’ on some major shit/My momma aging and my grandma and my baby sick/ This hatin shit, got me one step away from clickin.” 

Further evidence of Boosie’s hold over Baltimore: Two of Baltimore’s on-the-verge rappers, Lor Scoota and Young Moose, both heavily indebted to Boosie’s street-pop hooks and confessional songwriting, are opening acts at the Arena show. Lor Scoota’s mixtape “Still N’ The Trenches 2” features a Boosie homage titled ‘Going Through Some Thangs,’ while his song ‘Bird Flu,’ has recently been remixed by Washington, D.C. Boosie disciple, Shy Glizzy. 

Young Moose has the same swaggering humility as Boosie. Moose’s song ‘Posted,’ from his mixtape “O.T.M. 2” currently has a little over 115,000 views on YouTube, and doles out the sort of details that David Simon could appreciate when he admits to being ripped off: “Then we started trapping because we had to make it happen/ A junkie nigga robbed me but that wasn’t gonna keep on happening.” He is an imperfect though determined d-boy. Another Moose song, ‘Fuck Da Police,’ consciously invokes Boosie’s ‘Dirty World.’ On the track, Moose rails against the cops, not simply because they are cops, but because the system an arrest puts him through further limits his options.

Baltimore has adopted Lil Boosie, it seems. His humanist music matters because so many here are hindered by the same kind of corruption and confront similar choiceless choices. Last week, Boosie released a new song titled ‘Crazy’ that happens to build on Moose’s thoughts and, indirectly, addresses the Conway meme-sharers: “They say my music make the goons keep gooning/ What about the government that don’t give us no opportunity, huh?” ‘Crazy’ also suggests mainstream record labels are their own kind of prisons and boasts that his children make honor roll.

In an ideal world, perhaps Boosie would be an opening act along with Scoota and Moose, and Eddie Conway a headliner, educating thousands right after they pondered Boosie’s pain and partied to his hits like “Top to the Bottom.” But this is a dirty world, as Boosie himself raps, and a cultish MC and a few of his local disciples appearing at our arena, usually the domain of pop rappers, pro wrestling events, Disney on Ice, and big-name rock ‘n’ rollers, is a victory for the voiceless worth celebrating as well.