It’s amazing how a narrative can be built around your life that creates an illusory image of someone you’re not. What I find even more amazing is that this actually works. When you think of reality television, say, the Love & Hip Hop series or The Real Housewives of Atlanta, you think of being addicted to endless drama that you can’t seem to turn away from. Deep down you actually love it, even though you know its not good. Most of us can agree that most reality stars are obnoxious, undeserving celebrities, with deep-seated emotional issues, who’ve achieved a false sense of fame by virtue of their drama. Though we criticize their behavior in conversation, conversely we help boost their ratings by watching their television shows, and add to their narrative when blogging about them on social media sites. Subsequently, we give them power.
This “anyone can be a celebrity” phenomena extends itself to Hip Hop, too, and recently freed prisoner, Torrence “Lil Boosie Bad Azz” Hatch is a prime example. Born and raised in the poverty stricken streets of South Side Baton Rouge, Louisiana, his music reflects, and even romanticizes, his affair with street life. Preaching a criminal street gospel, Boosie started to make a name for himself on a national level when he teamed up with fellow Trill Entertainment label mate, Webbie, and recorded a series of mixtapes appropriately named, Trill Azz Mixtape and Trill Azz Mixes II.
In the early 2000’s mixtapes became increasingly popular in the wake of a shifting music industry that began to rely heavily on the independency of the artist. For years record companies controlled artists’ careers, royalties, and anything else you can think of. But the dawn of social media changed that. Now, artists were able to have real time access and feedback from fans. They were also able to build a fan base without the help of record companies that would normally spend enormous budget dollars on an artists’ development to create a marketable image. With more control over their image and a better knowledge of their fan base, artists could demand more from record companies. For rappers, this era of music helped to break the barriers for Hip Hop’s sub-genres to peak into the mainstream; i.e., Southern Hip Hop, Crunk, Bounce, and Snap.
Boosie is an outlier in this sense because he rose to prominence at an opportune time as a Southern rapper and monetized handsomely off his niche demographic. With his 2006 debut album Bad Azz Boosie became a rising star in Hip Hop.
Image Is Everything
In the late 1990’s the Coca Cola Company launched a marketing campaign for one of its soft drinks; Sprite, with the tag line, “Image is Nothing, Thirst is everything. Obey your thirst.” The brilliance of this tag line is that Sprite becomes the image you see when you think of thirst, even though soda can never truly quench your thirst. In fact, it has an adverse effect. It dehydrates you. It’s an illusory image.
As rappers grew more business savvy, getting into Hip Hop became a smart business move and the music itself was preceded by the thirst for a marketable image that would sell. Rappers are smart enough to know that when you invest in their music you’re investing into the lifestyle they’re portraying. Whether or not rappers live by what they rap is irrelevant. What’s important is that fans believe who rappers say they are, and that’s why Lil Boosie Bad Azz is he who is.
In late 2009 Boosie was arrested by Baton Rouge police for marijuana possession and was sentenced to serve two years in prison. The next year while serving his sentence he was charged with first-degree murder for the killing of Terry Boyd. He was also charged with being involved in a drug ring, plus being suspected, but never tried or convicted of being involved with five additional murders. He was acquitted of his first-degree murder charge and was sentenced to eight years in prison after he plead guilty to his new drug charges. After serving a little over four years he was released from prison on March 5, 2014.
Boosie came home a hero. A ghetto folklore that beat the system. Capitalizing off the free advertising surrounding his release, Atlantic Records organized a press conference, hosted by New York radio host, Angela Yee, that was live streamed so that inquiring minds could hear what was next for Boosie. Facebook and Twitter were bombarded with hash tags like #BoosieHome and #BoosieFree. You’d think that they’d released a political prisoner, and in ways they did. Conveniently looking over what Boosie represents, while imprisoned, fans helped to build a narrative around his life as a stand up guy, and a man unjustly condemned by the law.
Let me be clear and say that I don’t have a personal issue with Boosie. I even like some of his songs. My issue is with the people that have made him the cynosure of an upstanding man. Now that bloggers are the modern-day press, and to a great extent, the modelers of our opinions, we should consider the narratives we help to build for our beloved celebrities so that we don’t make the antagonists of our world the heroes of our society.
© Copyright Eddie Savoy Bailey III, 2014
Written by: Eddie Bailey of The Savoy Media Group
Twitter @BttleRapHistory & @SavoyMediaGroup