When I was thinking of the perfect way to jumpstart this blog and my personal website, I saw this tweet and my mind immediately went to these lyrics.
It’s one of the most exuberant openings in not just rap history, but across all genres of music. It punches you in the gut, snatching your soul before lifting it up to the glory of being alive. It’s two sentences you get a dual story of an immaculate miracle and the down-to-Earth realities of living life in the moment because you’re too broke to think about tomorrow.
Ten years ago the artist formerly known as Lil Boosie and now just B-A-D-A-Z-Z (yea that’s me!) released the ode to doing the impossible that is Wipe Me Down as a one-off track on a compilation album, Survival of the Fittest, for Trill Entertainment, founded by the late Pimp C. It was the first follow-up to his 2006 debut album Bad Azz and the hits Set It Off and Zoom, a song that contributed to everyone (thuggish ruggish and not so) doing the motorcycle dance in the club.
Survival of the Fittest was Trill Entertainment’s way of showing its roster could compete with the other all-star rap battalion albums popular in the first decade of the new millennium. Remember this is the period that had G-Unit, Terror Squad, The Diplomats, Slaughterhouse, and the cross-Florida anthems headlined by DJ Khaled proclaiming “We the Best” as the beat dropped. Wipe Me Down featured labelmates Foxx and Webbie -- a motivational speaker in his own right -- and immediately became the patron saint of both those waiting on line at the club and those waiting for a job offer. Some have even called it a modern Negro Spiritual, the continuation of our enslaved ancestors’ good fight. And it couldn’t have come out at a better time.
In 2007, YouTube was just a toddler and a new site called Twitter had launched the year before. Pres. Obama hadn’t been elected yet, but a hype was building around the young candidate. In tech -- and in politics, there was a feeling that the underdog was finally having its day. Folks who felt marginalized -- whose voices had been denied agency -- now had the mediums to be heard by people across the world. Anything seemed possible.
Now I know this is idealistic and, yes, naive, thinking and that there are many barriers to true equality of speech. Social media and the election of Barack Obama have not aleved all the problems for poor or black and brown people no matter how many things are written on “Post-Racial America” or how Silicon Valley is the savior of society. Yet I believe that we need a little bit of idealism to keep running, and there’s no better example of this than Boosie boasting:
Fresh fade, fresh J’s, on the corner playin spades I’m an ordinary person but I’m paid
He’s the everyman who came up, and he wants everyone to know they can eat, too.
Ten years ago I wanted a seat at his table. Then I was a journalism and political science double-major at The University of Florida having a quarter-life crisis. For the first time in my life, I doubted who I was and where I should be, and it terrified me. Depressed me.
I had an inkling of a desire to work in film and television, but I was afraid of deleting nearly two years of work. Eventually, I dropped journalism, quit my job at the student newspaper, and started taking whatever film classes wouldn’t delay my graduation. To remind myself I was doing the right thing, I listened to Wipe Me Down hoping that Boosie’s braggadocio would rub off on me. It did. Buoyed by its beat, I floated through graduation to reality TV work in New York and then later Los Angeles and the University of Southern California’s MFA Writing for Screen & Television program. When I needed to power through thirty pages a week in grad school, it was my go-to music companion. After I weaned myself from the creamy crack and big-chopped, the first person who saw me after leaving the barber shop shouted, "ooh she got a Boosie fade," and I shouted back, "Yeah, nigga. I do." Even today, when imposter syndrome rears its ugly head in my brain, “shoulders, chest, pants, shoes” is my mantra for survival.
Yet while Wipe Me Down guided my decade-long metamorphic glo-up, it was overshadowed by its own creator’s unravelment. Two months after its release, Pimp C, Boosie’s label head and the man who put him on, passed away from health woes related to a promethazine (lean) addiction. Boosie, who had his own lean addiction, was arrested the following year for marijuana and firearm possession, and he was later sentenced to two years in prison. His legal trouble continued in 2010 when he was charged with first-degree murder and possession of narcotics with intent to sell. Although he was found not-guilty of murder, the drug possession resulted in an 8-year prison term and an entire cottage industry of “Free Boosie” t-shirts. During the four years he served of that prison term, he dropped almost more music than six-feet-under 2Pac, feeding the frenzy for post-prison badazz career.
Boosie delivered upon his return, but he also entered a world that had slightly changed in technological advances -- he had to be taught how to take a selfie -- and in respect for and representation of minorities, including those in the LGBTQIA community. A 2016 rant against gay men and women appearing in television, showed that while Boosie’s music was still welcome, his homophobic views weren’t.
While I noted the irony in a man who wrote an ode to light-skinned lesbians literally called They Dykin’ denouncing homosexuals in media, I also noted the privilege I have as a cis-hetero woman. This rant wouldn’t make listening to Wipe Me Down an uncomfortable experience for me as it may be for my gay and queer friends. However, it did make me rethink the place of the song in the context of culture and music history. I realized that “I pull up to the club VIP” isn’t the harkening of a spiritual -- it’s the first stanza of a poetic Greek myth, one with a tragic subtext.
Much has been written rap’s mythical content (and its homophobia). Rappers often boast of chains, cars, and women they do not and will probably never have outside of a music video shoot day-loan. But Wipe Me Down is nearly Iliadic. It’s a story of a black man winning for a brief moment despite his poor, Baton Rouge roots. Despite his own health issues related to drug addiction and kidney cancer. Despite his inability to ride his music success away from the streets he wanted to escape. Despite, Boosie, whether "lil" or the self-proclaimed bad ass, being his own worst enemy.
Wipe Me Down is a dream that we know we shouldn’t put any faith in, but it gives us comfort for the time being. Because sometimes we need myths to stay alive.
And thus, listening to Foxx-a-milly-un hark “This be the reeeemix,” my blog sparks to life.