Gangsta Boo Was The Realest

Karl Walter/Getty Images

Gangsta Boo Was The Realest

Karl Walter/Getty Images

“My styles are slick/ Your body, bitch, that I will chop in pieces/ No fuckin’ clue to the 5-0 click, no fuckin’ witnesses/ They only saw the mask of Jason that I had on my face/ The scandalous bitch is so-so slick, that’s why I got away safe.” That’s how Gangsta Boo, the Devil’s Daughter, introduces herself on “Mystic Stylez,” the title track from Three 6 Mafia’s debut album. When she wrote those lines, Gangsta Boo was 15 years old.

Mystic Stylez came out in 1995, a tremendous year for rap music. 1995 was the year of The Infamous, of Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, of Me Against The World, of Liquid Swords, of E. 1999 Eternal, of In A Major Way. Mystic Stylez has a place in that pantheon, but Mystic Stylez doesn’t sound like a 1995 album. It sounds like right now. The whole Three 6 aesthetic — the murky samples, the get-buck chants, the flickering singsong flows, the gut-rumble bass tones, the gleefully sinister shit-talk — has impacted generation after generation of underground rap. You can trace a direct line from Mystic Stylez to the different strains of chaotic no-future hedonism that dominate so much of rap today. Within the album’s wild and unhinged morass of voices, nobody pops harder than Gangsta Boo.

On Sunday, Lola Chantrelle Mitchell was found dead in her Memphis hometown. Before Gangsta Boo’s passing, it had never even occurred to me that she’d been a kid when she was on Mystic Stylez. I must’ve known that, but I never internalized that knowledge. Gangsta Boo never sounded like a child rapper. Instead, she carried herself with unearthly levels of seen-it-all confidence. Boo was the only woman in Three 6 Mafia, but she never came off as a token. Instead, Boo talked the same hard, demonic shit as the rest of the group, and she did it with more bounce in her voice, more elastic snap in her delivery. Gangsta Boo could stand tall within one of the hardest groups in rap history. Amidst the bedlam erupting all around her, she always sounded like a star.

Haven’t you heard all the things that Miss Boo was capable to do? You can see it for yourself in the video for Three 6’s earthshaking 2000 posse cut “Who Run It.” There’s Boo hanging out the roof of a speeding SUV, calmly staring down the camera: “Dope game, my game/ Hoes lame, it’s a shame/ How that Gangsta Boo is runnin’ the click up on you bitches, mane.” That’s how she always carried herself — like someone who’d never been scared of anything in her entire life.

When she was on the Drink Champs podcast a few months ago, Gangsta Boo remembered when Three 6 Mafia had been “like a punk rock group.” She said it, not me. Boo was a little kid in Memphis, doing talent shows and calling in to the local radio station to rap on the air. (For a minute, she called herself Tinkerbell.) Boo had gone to middle school with Three 6 producer DJ Paul, but she hadn’t known him. Instead, Boo got herself noticed by calling up the late Three 6 member Lord Infamous, rapping on his answering machine.

At the time, Three 6 Mafia were strictly a local Memphis thing. Nobody had broken out of Memphis rap to go national, but the city was full of talent. On Drink Champs, Boo said that she got the call to come to the Three 6 studio when “another female” didn’t show up. At 14, Boo made her debut on “Cheefa The Reefa,” a song from DJ Paul’s underground cassette tape Volume 16: Da Summer Of ’94, rapping authoritatively about getting high over spooky-ass foghorn bass.

Three 6 Mafia got national distribution for Mystic Stylez, and they didn’t lose their lo-fi, guttural intensity. The group first came to my attention when they accused the blowing-up Bone Thugs-N-Harmony of stealing their style. Boo did damage on the Bone broadside “Live By Yo Rep”: “The Triple 6 Mafia do not feel sorry for none of you dirty hoes/ We full of that weed, so we proceed to take your fuckin’ soul.” As Three 6 Mafia’s cult spread over the next few years, Gangsta Boo’s unflappable growl always popped.

Gangsta Boo released her solo debut Enquiring Minds in 1998, but that album existed fully within the Three 6 Mafia universe. DJ Paul and Juicy J produced the whole LP, and Boo remained a part of the group. She rapped about sex with the same unrestrained hunger as the men in Three 6 — not an easy thing to do when you’re talking about the makers of “Slob On My Knob.” She brought the same abandon when she talked about drugs and violence. She sounded like she’d lived entire lifetimes, even though she was still really just a kid. Eventually, Boo made moves outside the Three 6 Mafia context, rapping on records from Foxy Brown and Outkast and Lil Jon.

Gangsta Boo left Three 6 Mafia around 2001, when she was 21. She wasn’t the only Three 6 member to leave. Over the ’00s, Three 6 kept shrinking, until it was finally just DJ Paul, Juicy J, and nobody else. Boo could’ve become a bigger star. Instead, she disappeared for a few years, though her influence remained. For years, virtually every female rapper who came out of the South seemed to be attempting to recapture Boo’s spirit. Boo wasn’t part of that. She temporarily changed her name to Lady Boo, and she got involved in church. Eventually, she came back, but it took a while.

In the ’00s, Gangsta Boo showed up on some mixtape tracks with longtime Three 6 fan Gucci Mane. She also forged a connection with producer Drumma Boy, but she was gone from the mainstream. When Boo showed up alongside Eminem on Yelawolf’s 2011 track “Throw It Up,” it seemed to come out of nowhere. But Boo still sounded as hard and charismatic as ever — as if she’d never been gone.

In the years after “Throw It Up,” Gangsta Boo went on a remarkable late-career run. Boo became a prolific collaborator, lending her voice to records from Clipping., Junglepussy, Blood Orange. She made two mixtapes with Houston raunch master Beatking. Most visibly, Boo put in a couple of memorable guest appearances on Run The Jewels tracks. Boo also toured with RTJ. At a couple of big festivals in the mid-’00s, I saw Boo come to the stage and steal the show. Boo might’ve never become a mainstream star, but she’d earned tremendous goodwill.

Last year, one of the most exciting stories in rap was the emergence of GloRilla, an underground star from Gangsta Boo’s Memphis hometown. GloRilla has a euphoric energy all her own, but her whole presence owes everything to Gangsta Boo, even though GloRilla wasn’t even born until four years after the release of Mystic Stylez. Just last month, GloRilla teamed up with fellow newcomer Latto on “FTCU,” an anthemic track built on the chorus from the Three 6 Mafia classic “Tear Da Club Up.” At the beginning of the song, Gangsta Boo herself shows up to talk a little shit, then to add her ad-libs all throughout. Boo’s appearance feels like an act of supreme generosity — a mother giving her blessing to two of her daughters.

It’s always a terrible feeling to look at your phone and to learn about the passing of another hero. Sunday, the news of Gangsta Boo’s passing hit especially hard. Lord Infamous and Koopsta Knicca, two of the original Three 6 Mafia members, had already passed away. With the loss of Boo, half of the group is now gone. Boo was the brightest, sharpest voice in Three 6 Mafia, and she was still a tremendous presence after her time in the group was over. She died way too young, but she did a lot with her time on the planet.

Gangsta Boo’s last big-stage moment was in December of 2021, when Three 6 Mafia took on their old adversaries Bone Thugs-N-Harmony in a beautiful, chaotic Verzuz battle. The most instantly-viral moment was when Bizzy Bone, the Bone member who’s always publicly struggled with all sorts of demons, threw a water bottle at Boo and kicked off a whole onstage brawl. Boo wasn’t backing down, either: “You a hater, Bizzy Bone! You a hater! You must didn’t take your pills!” That was some wild entertainment, but the Gangsta Boo moment that sticks with me the most came later.

Lil Wayne came out as a surprise guest at that Verzuz battle, doing his verse from Juicy J’s “Bandz A Make Her Dance.” As soon as Wayne finished his verse, Gangsta Boo ran over and tapped him on the shoulder. Wayne stopped, turned, and wrapped Boo up in the biggest hug. The moment before that hug, the look on Wayne’s face was pure fondness, pure admiration. I know how he felt. I never met Gangsta Boo, but I feel the same way.

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