Bossman in charge of career
By Rashod D. Ollison
Pop Music Critic
Originally published October 14, 2006
The white brick colonial sits atop a grassy hill on a quiet street in Baltimore County. Inside, framed recent and sepia-toned family photos adorn the living room, where there's a red brick fireplace, plush cream carpet and clover-green leather furniture.
This comfortable, middle-class home seems like an unlikely place to mix and edit a hardcore rap CD. But for most of the morning, that has been the main business in the basement's makeshift studio.
The house belongs to a production partner of Bossman. The local rapper, who last year was signed to Virgin Records, is putting the finishing touches on Law & Order, his major-label debut. No release date has been set yet.
"It's about 75, 80 percent done," Bossman says, reclining on the living room couch. "We hope it's out, like, in April."
In about an hour, the man born Travis Holifield, 25, will catch a plane to Atlanta. There, he will meet with pop/hip-hop producer and Virgin executive Jermaine Dupri, who signed the Northeast Baltimore rapper last spring. Bossman hopes to firm up more details about the album while in Atlanta. But until the CD drops, the artist, an imposing guy at 6 foot 3 and 235 pounds, is working the streets like he has done for the past three years, generating buzz for his music.
Bossman will perform a free concert at the Enoch Pratt's Central Library at 2 p.m. today as part of a monthlong series of events focused on hip-hop culture.
"In the last year and half, I've been through a lot of stuff personal-wise and business-wise," he says. "So there's some growth in the music now. It's about being yourself and being original. That's what I'm trying to bring to this hip-hop game."
The rapper says the Virgin debut will be different from the independently released Law & Order, which came out in late 2004. That album and its predecessor, Charm City King, also released in 2004, sold more than 30,000 copies apiece. In addition to those sales, the bulk of which were made in parking lots at local malls, Bossman and his team sold more than 25,000 mixtapes. Eventually, the area's most influential urban station, WERQ-FM (92Q), added the rapper's songs to its rotation: the soulful "Off the Record," the reflective "I Did It" and others.
"We've played about seven of his songs in the last 2 1/2 years," says Victor Starr, program director at 92Q. "Five of the songs were Top 10 on our request list. His song 'A-Yo' has been in our Top 5 for the last three or four weeks. Hands down, Bossman is the best rapper in Baltimore."
The buzz around the rapper's talent is gradually seeping outside the Baltimore-D.C. area. Last March, Bossman was featured in XXL, the national New York-based hip-hop magazine. The Ave., a popular rap monthly based in Brooklyn, N.Y., is considering the artist for its February issue.
"Bossman's style is kind of reminiscent of Obie Trice, where he rides the beat and still has substantive lyrical content but can still be playful," says Thomas A. Harden, music editor at The Ave. "He incorporates the good from the past and the present of hip-hop."
With a cocky delivery and complex wordplay, Bossman spits smart, journalistic stories about 'hood life that are more nuanced and far more enduring than the get-your-party-on drivel urban stations spin these days. Though his production is, at times, derivative, it never pulls the focus away from Bossman's charismatic work on the mike.
"With a lot of my friends still getting locked up and being killed, there's a lot I still put in my lyrics, you know," the rapper says. "Rapping for me was always like a journal. I can get a lot of stuff out."
The artist has experienced enough hard knocks to fill several albums. By the time he was in the fifth grade, both of his parents had been convicted of charges related to robbery. His pops was behind bars for 13 years, his mother nearly two. Drugs and violence troubled his household and his neighborhood. But when his daughter, Kennedi, was born on the day after Christmas seven years ago, Bossman became more focused.
"I can see how some folks with my background can have a mentality like, '[Forget] the world,' " he says. "I can relate, but I can understand wanting to change things."
He worked a series of 9-to-5s, including a stint as an ambulance driver, while he nurtured his music, recording whenever time permitted. The steady grinding finally paid off nearly two years ago when Jermaine Dupri offered the rapper a major-label deal. Now the artist, who makes his home in Baltimore, concentrates on his music full time -- mostly touring the Mid-Atlantic region and working on his Virgin debut.
"This will get me more exposure," Bossman says. "That's what you need a major label for. But you're still, like, independent 'cause there's a lot of stuff you have to do. [Dupri] has done two songs so far [on Law & Order], and, I mean, he's helped a lot. But it's still pretty much me on the record."
His Sidekick goes off, and he takes the call. "It's busy right now," he says, attaching the communication device to his hip. "I have a plane to catch."
Rashod Ollison wrote about someone from Baltimore....WOW! A rapper at that! Niiiice