Pop Music

Boosie and Z-Ro Bring Passion Out of Pain at South Side Ballroom

The rappers didn't stay away from their heavier material, but the mood at "Boosiefest" in Dallas was purely celebratory.

Photo by Oz Brieva.

On Sunday night, Boosie Badazz was beaming. He made a game of sprinting from one end of the long South Side Ballroom stage to the other, flashing his teeth and going quiet, the crowd responding to the silence by yelling his name over and over. And then Boosie would jump up and down for a second and the DJ would bring back something like “Wipe Me Down” or “Independent,” and the audience would nix the shouts and start wildly convulsing. This was Boosiefest, a now semi-annual Dallas concert held at various venues around town. This year, it was just Boosie, Z-Ro, Young Dolph, and something like 1,500 fans. (Ed. Note: And yeah, we know we’re a few days late, but it’s been a busy week so just bear with us, OK?)

They danced, they drank, they played dice in the men’s bathroom. They sang along, they shouted full verses (this audience knew Dolph’s Yo Gotti diss “Play Wit Yo B—” back and forward), they streamed their favorite songs on Facebook. Boosie has been out of jail for the past three years, but he’s still riding a wave of adulation from fans who are happy to have him back. The show had the same sort of feeling you find in Boosie and Z-Ro’s lyrics—the recognition of pain, presented as unavoidable, but with the understanding that you’re strong enough to overcome it on your own. And that in itself is cause for celebration. Baton Rouge’s Boosie and Houston’s Ro are two of rap’s finest bluesmen, building their careers on expressing their battles with depression and addiction long before such things became rap radio’s favorite topics.

Despite the celebratory tone, the show didn’t run from those songs. Z-Ro never does. “No Help,” that ode to needing no one but yourself, got a lot of hands waving slowly in the air. Same with “I Really Miss My Dawg,” which he dedicated to Big Moe, Big Hawk, Big Melo, DJ Screw, Pimp C, and “my mawf—in Mama.” “I Hate U” is still a perfect reflection and outburst, balancing the namesake hook with lines that are almost touching: “wishing we could pillow fight just one more time.” Boosie was no different: “If I done got you through some struggles,” he said at one point, once he caught his breath, “I want you to sing this.” Then came “Smoking on Purple,” the song that fueled all the Tupac comparisons.

Once these guys began performing, it didn’t matter how slim the stage setup was, how awkward and empty it looked with only a DJ. There were two tables draped in red cloth set up toward the back and that was it. That was all they needed. When Boosie started, about 40 people appeared onstage out of nowhere and started throwing their bodies into each other, unable to stand still, like a mirror image of the crowd. Z-Ro attracted far less of a stage crowd, but was no less a presence as he slowly stalked the stage with a dark-brimmed cap covering his brow.

He sang above a faint vocal track played low in the mix, but never leaned on it. Some nights, usually ones that begin hours later, Z-Ro puts that track up higher and coasts. Fans love it either way. But on Sunday, his baritone came through clearly and on-key, his raps bending into melody the same way they do on record. Dolph seemed energized that the audience knew his words as well as he did; he almost made a game out of stopping the track and letting them fill in. They never let him down.

On any other night, there may have been some bitterness at what wasn’t played. Z-Ro skipped the “Mo City Don” freestyle, Boosie didn’t find time for “Zoom” or “No Juice.” But by the end of it, the crowd walked out into a light rain, beaming the same way Boosie had.