There’s something about rappers whose birth names double as their stage names. It reveals a level of personal comfort and authenticity that’s often hard to find in today’s rap world of movie characters and nonstop parties.
But Boaz Bey, known more commonly as simply Boaz, allows his records to reflect his reality. And like so many real people with real names, his grind has been real—a steady and consistent trek to earn his current stature.
“I’m not trying to give a mixed message,” the 27-year-old says. “I’m trying to give both sides to the story. I’m not just glorifying what happens out here. We try to give you both ends of the reality of it—going to jail, getting shot. All that shit is real.”
Coming up in the neighborhood of Larimer on Pittsburgh’s east side, he saw that street life from an early age. But there was an equally informative driving force guiding his actions, too.
“My brother and all his friends used to be up in his room going over every instrumental,” he says of some of his earliest musical memories, from the mid-1990s when he wasn’t even a teenager. “When they would leave, me and my homies would go in the room and start doing our thing on some karaoke type hooking the mic up to the boombox.”
In high school, he linked with another local kid looking to start a record label, and put together an EP, as well as the single “It’s Alright.” The cut wound up gaining major momentum, and was picked up by the local radio station, WAMO; it went on to win a battle of the beats contest eight weeks in a row on its way to retirement. “That’s what really gave me that inspiration like, ‘Damn, I can really do this shit at a notable level,’” Bo says.
From there, in 2003, he made his first mixtape, Intent to Deliver, and then linked up with a local crew called The Govament. The group saw some success thanks to a string of CDs hosted by the influential DJ Kay Slay in the mid-2000s, but legal troubles for some of the members derailed any potential.
The savvy street kid witnessed what was going on around him and made a conscious decision. “I had to realize that there was no balance there—it was either this, or that,” he says of the relationship between the streets and music. “You can’t do both the lifestyles. It’s impossible. When you commit yourself to doing something positive, you really can’t even surround yourself with that shit cause it’s so influential. I had begun to see my homies get locked up about shit that was avoidable. That was a wake up call to me in saying, ‘Yo, this music is close. You just gotta work hard and commit yourself.’ That’s when I really committed myself to that and said, ‘Fuck that shit.’ I had enough of seeing my homies going to jail, my folks getting shot. It was a real tough time in the city. We needed a change.”
To help spark that change, Bo dropped The Phenomenal in 2007, which helped him stand alone. “That’s when people really started solidifying me as a nice solo artist from the town,” he says.
Things went a step further the following year, when he dropped Monumental Music, which got him local support as well as national features like a write up in XXL. “It was just a point in my life where I felt grown,” he recalls. “That was a real shift in my career as far as solidifying myself as a heavy hitter in Pittsburgh.”
The nonstop build continued with The Audio Biography in 2009, which was distributed through iTunes and made ripples on independent albums charts. The free fodder for fans returned with 2010’s Selling A Dream and 2011’s The Transition. The consistency helped secure a spot on The Smoker’s Club Tour in 2011. “That was a hell of a learning experience,” Boaz says. “When you’re aspiring to do things, you really be in a rush. Like, ‘Yo, I wanna get in the game, I wanna do shows, I wanna be on BET.’ But that shit really takes patience and a lot of artist development.”
Another step in artist development came in 2012, when Boaz officially inked with Rostrum Records, with whom he had been loosely affiliated, as a buzzing Pittsburgh rapper, for some time. “We’ve always had a relationship,” he says. “I had spoke with [Rostrum founder] Benjy [Grinberg] years back about doing this shit. With the powerhouse Rostrum was becoming, from the city, the relationship we had established already—it just made perfect sense for me to deal with these people. They know me. It was a perfect fit. I know he wants to see my career go nowhere but the right way. Failure ain’t an option with us. That’s going to come to show in the future success.”
That road begins in the summer 2012 with the Under The Influence of Music Tour, where Boaz, alongside Wiz Khalia, Mac Miller, and Kendrick Lamar, will be performing in front of thousands of fans nightly across the country. And then there’s the upcoming free album Bases Loaded, where Boaz is poised to use his new spotlight and backing to become the next in a line of independently flourishing Rostrum rappers.
“I just gotta represent and come to the plate and swing that shit,” he says. “The bases is loaded, ain’t no way I can miss. If that pitch is coming straight down the pipe, I’m gonna take it out the park.”