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Remembering pioneering rapper Gangsta Boo, dead at 43

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

The pioneering Memphis rapper, Gangsta Boo, has died at 43. Born Lola Mitchell, she was known as one of the South's premier crunk MCs, and she got her start in the group Three 6 Mafia.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TEAR DA CLUB UP '97")

THREE 6 MAFIA: (Rapping) I don't like that violence stuff. But I believe in getting buck. If you with me, let me see you tear the, tear the club up. Mafia, mafi-mafia...

SUMMERS: She left the group in the early 2000s, but she never stopped working and was even planning to release a new album this year called "The BooPrint."

Music writer Kiana Fitzgerald has been reflecting on Gangsta Boo's legacy. Hey there, Kiana.

KIANA FITZGERALD: Hey, Juana. Thank you for having me.

SUMMERS: Yeah. Thanks for being here. So not only was she the only female member of Three 6 Mafia, she was just 15 years old when the group dropped its debut album. Can you just tell us a little bit more about Gangsta Boo's early days?

FITZGERALD: Absolutely. So she landed right in the center of things when Three 6 Mafia released "Mystic Stylez" in 1995, and she made her presence known immediately. Her voice penetrated every track that she appeared on. You could tell that she loved music with everything in her. So she knew her impact, I think, up until the day that she passed away. But she still had so much more to give.

SUMMERS: Yeah. And Gangsta Boo dropped her first solo album, "Enquiring Minds," in 1998.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DON'T STAND SO CLOSE")

GANGSTA BOO: (Rapping) Act scared, you done heard about the lady from the six. What you do know won't hurt you in the long run. What you do know that I keep them riding like the sun.

SUMMERS: She'd said that she didn't want to just be known for Three 6 Mafia and her work in the group; that she was her own artist. How did her sound evolve from her early days throughout her solo career?

FITZGERALD: You can tell that she gained confidence with every track that she appeared on. She was very much someone that did not adhere to any boundaries, whether that be, you know, a financial thing, like "Where Dem Dollas At," which was her breakout single...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHERE DEM DOLLAS AT")

GANGSTA BOO: (Rapping) I guess you can say I'm kind of crazy in my own ways. Forget being broke for days. Ladies got to get paid. Where the dollars at? Where the dollars at?

FITZGERALD: ...Or, you know, another song called "Love Don't Live (U Abandoned Me)," which talks about relationship issues.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOVE DON'T LIVE (U ABANDONED ME)")

GANGSTA BOO: (Rapping) I'm a lady who be keeping it real. You don't care. Take time out, see how I feel when I be riding...

FITZGERALD: She really just dove headfirst into every topic imaginable.

SUMMERS: And you know, Kiana, the thing that really strikes me about Gangsta Boo is that she's someone who not only never really stopped working up until her death, but who also was extending these generational bridges to this whole new generation of artists.

FITZGERALD: Definitely. That was one of my favorite things about Gangsta Boo. There are artists like Texas rapper Amber London and also Blood Orange, who was very well known for his very avant garde style. And he has a song called "Gold Teeth" with Project Pat, Gangsta Boo and Tinashe.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GOLD TEETH")

BLOOD ORANGE: (Rapping) That's what you ain't. I don't be smoking the dank. Feeling so high at the bank. Candy the paint. Used to be matching the gas. Used to be getting me cash. Feeling right - feel all right.

SUMMERS: In a recent interview, Gangsta Boo had called herself a blueprint for the rappers who came after her - women and men. And she said she heard her cadence in their delivery. So when you look across the music landscape, where do you hear Gangsta Boo? Where does her legacy lie today?

FITZGERALD: So when I hear hip-hop today, I hear Three 6 Mafia all over everything. And Gangsta Boo is very much a part of that.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FTCU")

LATTO: (Rapping) Tear the club up. Tear the club up - GloRilla. I might go off in your s***, you trying to mug us.

FITZGERALD: Gangsta Boo is - her influence is immeasurable. She did so much for Memphis specifically but for the South at large. She had rapid-fire flows where she would enunciate very pointedly to let you know exactly what she was thinking. She's someone who pushed forth crunk music, pushed forth corecore, which is a subgenre of hip-hop. She did something that not many MCs, period, would do, let alone women. And I think that that speaks a lot to her influence. But really what I hear the most is just the brutal honesty and being proud to be someone who is from the South, is from Memphis - someone who is just a very, very integral part of rap as we know it.

SUMMERS: That's music writer Kiana Fitzgerald, remembering the Memphis MC Gangsta Boo, who died Sunday at 43 years old. Kiana, thank you.

FITZGERALD: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kiana Fitzgerald is a freelance music journalist, cultural critic, and DJ. She writes for the world from deep in the heart of Texas.