Undeniable Talent: 10 Lil Boosie Songs You Need to Know

A list could go to 40 but we'll make do with a bluffer's guide.

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Complex Original

Image via Complex Original

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A list like this is impossible to compile without cutting clear essentials. Lil Boosie's discography is convoluted,  distributed in a blur of official albums, collaborative records, mixtapes, and loosies. His appearances on Billboard are only a tip of the iceberg; "Zoom," for example, was Boosie's highest charting single, although it's not one of his best songs or especially illustrative of his abilities. But he's an artist with a deep discography that has yet to be sufficiently catalogued.

So take this as just a first step. There's plenty more to cover, like the Cash Money-referencing "I'm A Dog" or the autobiographical "Mercy." A list of ten tracks doesn't have room for his "Old School"-style salute to hip-hop influences (a worldview diverse enough to make room for Petey Pablo and Run-D.M.C.) "What About Me." Also missing: Smash guest spots like "The Way I Live," the fearsome Louisiana bounce of "We Out Chea," the ferocious early bars on "Livin What I'm Spittin," the empathic "Baby Momma." Or the righteous anger of "Fuck the Police." One minute he'd irreverently transform Jeezy's "Trapstar" into "They Dykin'" or appear on UGK's graphic "Harry Asshole." The next minute, he's singing the hook to a song of sincere, flawed vulnerability like "Ain't Comin Home Tonight."

The jokes will fly about how much attention we're giving a mere entertainer, but #factsonly, Boosie matters to a lot of people for a reason. He is an artist of both depth and range, one with a distinct, direct style. He calls his music "reality rap" instead of hip-hop. It means he has no use for abstraction. His verses do not contain fancy curlicues or intricate, baroque ornamentation. Embellishments and wordplay are kept to a minimum; directness at a premium. 

Without further ado, here's Undeniable Talent: 10 Lil Boosie Songs You Need to Know.

Listen to Complex's Best Lil Boosie Songs playlists here: YouTube/Spotify/Rdio

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Lil Boosie "Set It Off" (2006)

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Album: Lil Boosie, Bad Azz (2006)

If disco proved that the club could be an open, utopian space for people forced by society to the margins, hip-hop proved that dance music could just as easily be a stage for hypermasculine, macho theatrics and the ever-present threat of violence. Saying "Set It Off" sounds "barbed" feels like ungracious understatement. The record is a series of taunts and zero tolerance. Boosie's rhetorical target isn't the only one who's weak; it's his entire bloodline. "Your mama had more heart than your daddy bitch-ass/He ain't gon' set nothin off, that's who made you soft." 

Although Boosie has made plenty of consistent projects, the line between the sound of his mixtapes and full albums was pretty negligible; "Set It Off" came from his '06 record Bad Azz, which also produced the medium-hit single "Zoom," and it's packed with the same brittle mid-'00s club sound that backs the bulk of his catalog.

Lil Boosie and Webbie f/ Pimp C "Finger Fuckin" (2003)

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Album: Lil Boosie and Webbie, Ghetto Stories (2003)

Boosie first became a star with Baton Rouge crew Concentration Camp, but his career really took off with the founding of Trill ENT by Turk, Mel (Lil Phat's father), and Pimp C in the early 2000s. Pimp actually produced a series of records for Boosie during this era, the best of which is the country-sounding "Finger Fuckin," which has a more UGK-esque feel than the metallic textured tracks Boosie would gravitate to later. Driven by a single guitar figure and a harmonica, the song finds Boosie and his new partner Webbie in full rude boy mode; Boosie finishes up his verse rapping, "Finger-fuckin' lead to suckin', that's a rap star dream/Get my dick sucked on the freeway with vanilla whip cream."

Lil Boosie "My Nigga Then" (2002)

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Album: Lil Boosie, For My Thugz (2002)

Although Boosie's first record, Youngest Of Da Camp, was a promising debut—his singular vocal style was already distinctive, if not entirely finished with puberty—its follow-up For My Thugz was the first time the rapper appeared fully-formed as the viscious character we know today, emerging from the Concentration Camp as a star in his own right. "My Nigga Then" was an early highlight of that found him spitting life stories over a beat that is half-bounce and half-synth Zydeco. A celebration of loyalty, the track has an innocent charm that hard times would ground into a serrated edge over the years.

Lil Boosie and Webbie "Trouble Man" (2003)

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Album: Lil Boosie and Webbie, Gangsta Musik (2003)

A theory: there are no bad songs called "Trouble Man." No, this isn't a cover of Marvin Gaye's classic, although it belongs in the pantheon too. The sequel to Ghetto Stories, Gangsta Musik was another outing for Boosie and Webbie as a fierce Baton Rouge tag-team, although much as it would be throughout his career, Boosie narrowly dodged having a smash under his own name, as Webbie's creep anthem "Give Me That" ended up being the album's runaway hit.

But Boosie's work on the album stands up a bit better overall, particularly "Trouble Man." With twin blues guitar licks wrapping themselves around Boosie's vocals as he weaves a story, he wrestles with the contradictions of success and struggle, hopelessly reaching to escape the archetype he's filling, drawn inexorably towards his fate: "I tell my momma I'm gon' change but I'm gon' be the same/It's understood that I'm a trouble man."

Lil Boosie "Mind of a Maniac" (2009)

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Album: Lil Boosie, Super Bad: The Return Of Boosie Bad Azz (2009)

Super Bad was a disappointment from a creative perspective. At the moment when his star seemed truly ascendant, the album was an uneven compromise packed with guest spots from Trill ENT's roster. The Super Bad mixtape released that same year seemed a more consistent release. But "Mind of a Maniac," with its haunted self-analysis (and a striking video featuring Boosie in a straightjacket with his eyelids turned inside-out), was a real moment of powerful, self-lacerating emotional tremors, rage directed inwards and outwards.

Lil Boosie "Do the Ratchet" (2004)

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Album: Lil Boosie and Lava House, Click Clack Connection (2004)

Before DJ Mustard started calling his Cali bounce production style "ratchet," before it was used as a placeholder for the now-passe "ghetto," the word was most associated with a record label out of Shreveport, LA called Lava House Records, whose song "Do the Ratchet" dropped in 1999 and popularized the term locally. A newer version featuring Lil Boosie more widely popularized the term—and it's accompanying dance—in the Deep South in the mid-2000s. While it didn't make quite as much noise on the national level, it's fair to say we're still living with the consequences, although Lava House Records CEO and the term's inventor Anthony Mandigo now sits behind bars on drug charges.

Lil Boosie f/ Webbie "Betrayed" (2010)

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Album: Lil Boosie, Incarcerated (2010)

Boosie's music is, to use a cliche, raw and uncut. He treats his work as a fiercely authentic window into his experiences. He sees his art as a responsibility to be shouldered as much as a product of personal expression. Although he seems like a guy with an extremely low tolerance for equivocation and bullshit, there's a sincerity at the core of his project that keeps his art from being nihilistic. When his uncensored, unvarnished style hits on a particularly potent emotional truth, it can be devastating. For Boosie, there is no noise; only signal. Each word has its purpose, and no time is wasted. It makes it impossible to feel unmoved by "Betrayed," the kind of drama that makes Brutus and Caesar feel trivial.

Webbie f/ Lil Phat and Lil Boosie "Independent" (2008)

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Album: Webbie, Savage Life 2 (2008)

OK, so Lil Phat's line ("She cooks, she cleans, never smells like onion rings") steals the show on Webbie, Phat, and Boosie's 2007 smash "Independent." But the song's charismatic center is Boosie, the star who's earned his region's most devoted following. A top ten single, this was Boosie's highest-charting moment, a massive pop culture breakthrough for one of the genre's most hardcore exports. It also flies in the face of conventional wisdom about gangster rap's treatment of women (even if the rest of their catalog, well, doesn't).

Lil Boosie f/ Webbie and Foxx "Wipe Me Down (Remix)" (2007)

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Album: Trill Entertainment, Trill Entertainment Presents: Survival of the Fittest (2007)

Shoulders. Chest. Pants. Shoes. The banger to end all bangers, the remix of Foxx's "Wipe Me Down" was a national dance smash, joining "Independent" in the Billboard Top 40 and giving every other novelty dance single a run for its money with a verse that ranks among Boosie's best, even when compared with his soul-searching, serious material.

"Wipe Me Down" has an effortless effervescence, coasting from verse to verse without wearing out its welcome. While a swift bounce beat from Mouse on Tha Track hums along like a new engine, Boosie opens by spelling out his name, jokes about redbones stealing his underwear, and brags about choking on a pound of purple and being famous like the Ninja Turtles. And, of course, the best reality rap brag of all time: "Fresh fade, fresh J's, on the corner playing spades/I'm a ordinary person but I'm paid."

Lil Boosie "Top to the Bottom" (2010)

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Album: N/A

I will go on record to state that no rap song as moving as this has surfaced in the past five years. A loop of the Jam & Lewis-produced S.O.S. Band hit "No One's Gonna Love You"—the same song flipped by A$AP Rocky for "Peso"—"Top to the Bottom" is a song about success against all odds. This is a very common theme in rap music, obviously, which makes it all the more incredible that Boosie was able to make such great art from such a familiar template, without skirting cliche for even a second. And it's all the more haunting for having been released just after Boosie ended up going away for five years—cut down as he was reaching the peak of his powers. Shot in 2009, it was only released after Boosie's friend Bleek—who appears with Boosie on a bicycle in the video—passed on in April 2010.

Boosie is one year older than I am, and although we've led obviously different lives, it is startling to be reminded of this fact, in the little flickers of timeline overlap; his mention of being "Famous like the Ninja Turtles" in "Wipe Me Down," for example (because, obviously, he'd be too old for Power Rangers, and too young for He-Man). Or on "Top to the Bottom," when he mentions the artists who inspired him, quoting Biggie: "It was all a dream, I used to write raps in my notebook/A baby G trynna walk like Eazy E/Tupac was the shit to me, in my front room trynna sing Jodeci..." He goes on to talk about watching Menace To Society.

A lot of times, we talk about these artists—especially gangster rap artists—as if our experience with their music is pure vicarious entertainment. For many, it is, no doubt. Sometimes, that's the point, as it often is with Boosie: who more efficiently captures extroverted overconfidence, macho aggression, and muscle in song than Boosie on "Set It Off"? But Boosie's art is as much about empathic connections as it is barbed opposition. This is the central contradiction from which all other internal contradictions flow. "Fuck the Police" is pretty righteous. But when he threatens to shoot people a few songs later, that righteousness is compromised instantly. Reality, too, contains contradictions.

We are human, but sometimes we are very, very different. There are uncrossable boundaries, and art is our attempt to better map out exactly where those differences lie—and where they don't. "Top to the Bottom" is one of the most thorough emotional explorations of what it means to be human that I've ever experienced, and I don't care if you're Baton Rouge's most racist cracker-ass cop: "Top to the Bottom" will leave you with a lump in your throat.

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