Lil Boosie‘s first mixtape since being released from jail earlier this year finds the Baton Rouge rogue rapper (and frequent target of Louisiana police) with a head full of hard-to-shake prison memories and an over abundance of rage. “Told me if I lose they gonna give me the gas/ Kicked down every spot that a nigga had,” he spits on the intro track “Murder Was the Case” a kind of “since when we last saw Boosie” update that reminds you that he faced the death penalty for a murder he did not commit and had images from his videos and his lyrics used as evidence that he was guilty. The final track here, “O Lord,” is a baroque lament (though, really, every Boosie song is a lament) for all of those incarcerated that ends with a laundry-list of people Boosie wants to see free.
There’s no time for Boosie bangers like “Wipe Me Down” or “Zoom” on Life After Deathrow, just one confessional after another as Boosie explores the low-highs and low-lows of post-prison life. Highlight “I Feel Ya,” begins with Boosie receiving a call from a friend still inside. He runs through his friend’s situation with the specificity of a Mountain Goats song: “His girl ran off, and his lawyer playing games/ Dude was gonna sign the affidavit, but his feelings starting to change, man/ His commissary low, he back in the hole/ Found some coke up in the dome, he ain’t wanna rat so he rolled/ Plus his mama sick, cancer in her body.”
The most striking thing about Life After Deathrow is Boosie’s empathy. A cast of characters, all of them the kinds of people rarely talked about or acknowledged in pop, all just like Boosie, stick with you: Lil Glenn who committed suicide at 17; Dom who “used be a Marine [but] now has numbers on his back” (from “Life That I Dreamed Of”); a 14 year-old girl who “got gonorrhea” but is “too scared to see the doctor” (“I’m Wit Ya”); a middle class teen sheltered and rejected by her family for straying from their values and a young men born into an abusive household with limited choices (“Gone Bad (American Horror Story)”), just to name a few.
Rap is obsessed with the self, so Boosie’s emotional intelligence here is heartening. Some rappers grow myopic and bitter because they have people yelling at them on Twitter, but Boosie reaches out and offers understanding to all sorts of people after being in jail for nearly six years. Musically, he has also picked up a few new ways to squawk on a beat: A maniacal loud-quiet-loud yip on “Streets On Fire”; a sing-song on “No Juice” and a feverish, ALL-CAPS oratory on “Here We Go Again.” We should resist the myth that prison helps anyone, or that it is in any way a place of reform, but praise Boosie for not only not going dead inside when he had every reason to do so, but returning with something this raw and restorative.