Back in 1996, it seemed downright inconceivable that the menacing voice and intricate flow was emanating from the body of a 16-year-old girl. But when Lola Mitchell, known to rap fans as Gangsta Boo dropped a guest verse on Kingpin Skinny Pimp’s “I Don’t Luv’Em,” she would forever change southern hip-hop.
“On my mind be murder-murder, I’m urgin’ to serve a busta that is flexing his s—/ Never underestimate the ones that be like quiet, ’cause they be the ones that’ll click…” Mitchell rapped.
Mitchell, who was found dead in her hometown of Memphis, Tenn. over the weekend, not only held her own with her Three 6 Mafia group mates — sometimes even unleashing harder lyrics than her male counterparts — she also exhibited effortless command of the group’s triple cadence rhyme style. Yet it was her star-making turn on the remix to the group’s controversial breakout single “Tear da Club Up” that vaulted Gangsta Boo into the spotlight. It was banned in venues across the south for inspiring riots.
In 1998, Mitchell’s hit single, “Where dem Dollas At!?” from her debut album Enquiring Minds, created a new hip-hop archetype: the hustling, game-spitting, hell-raising chick who would inspire female rappers for decades to come. “It be amazing how these b—-es havin’ babies by n—-s, with no pot to piss in or no money to give her,” she observed in her trademark straight-no-chaser swag. “What the f—, why you hoes wanna live that way?”
Mitchell’s influence is nearly impossible to avoid in today’s rap landscape, whether you’re listening to Latto and GloRilla, superstars Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion, rising Memphis rapper Duke Deuce or newcomers like Ace Queezy. “She created a road, a blueprint,” said friend and collaborator Nick Hook, who first began touring with Mitchell as her DJ before teaming up with her on the 2020 track “I’m Fresh.” “She should be getting publishing on the radio 25 million times a day.”
Cherise Johnson, who curates the popular live performance series UPROXX Sessions, welcomed Mitchell on the show just last month. “I had been begging Adam Weiss, who books [our segment] with me and our director Lee Shaner, to have her on UPROXX Sessions,” she said. “The show usually leans more young, but Boo still has this effect. I know what she means to all the rap girls today who have shown her love unprovoked. They all got their confidence from Gangsta Boo. Her tone and flow has been used so much. I don’t know if people recognize Gangsta Boo is where it’s coming from.”
Authorities are investigating the circumstances of Mitchell’s death at 43, but police said there were no immediate signs of foul play. Mitchell’s mother, Veronica Mitchell, asked for privacy as the family grieves. “The Mitchell family would like to thank everyone for their condolences regarding the untimely death of Lola ‘Gangsta Boo’ Mitchell,” a statement read. “The family is asking for your continued prayers and privacy as we process the loss of our loved one.”
Perhaps we can take solace in knowing that while Gangsta Boo was alive, she felt the love from fans and artists alike. She recently appeared on the remix to Latto’s “FTCU,” telling Billboard in December, “I thought that was dope how she is bridging the gap. She was like, “You know what? The song is already done but f— that. I still want Gangsta Boo on this motherf—er.”
Mitchell also showed love to fellow Memphis rapper, GloRilla. “They say, ‘Gangsta Boo walked so a lot of people can run,’” Mitchell said of the rising star who was nominated for a Grammy this year. “If this is a moment to say that particular quote, I would f—– say it because [GloRilla] took off full speed.”
After Mitchell died, GloRilla shared a tribute to the Grind City trailblazer on Instagram. “I normally don’t post screenshots but the fact that she reached out to me before anybody else had a clue who I was,” she wrote. “She always supported me & the girls way back before we blew up. A REAL LEGEND. There will never be another Gangsta Boo.”
Indeed, the salt-of-the-earth spitter never mailed it in — from her first appearance on DJ Paul’s 1994 ode to the sticky icky, “Cheefa Da Reefa;” Three Six Mafia’s freaky “Late Night Tip;” her bruising album cut “Don’t Stand So Close, or her song-ripping statement on Three 6 Mafia’s platinum anthem “Who Run It,” Gangsta Boo always showed up and showed out.
Mitchell also paid it forward. She lived in Los Angeles, but often returned to Memphis to support the local hip-hop scene, even in the most dangerous of environments.
“We were in a shootout in Memphis together once,” said Hook. “We went to this show showcasing 20 young rappers. At some point there were some gunshots fired in the air. All of a sudden we are running. They put us back in the kitchen. Kids were jumping over the fences and s—. And we were hiding next to a freezer.” Hook paused before adding, “We really lost a real queen.”
For years there has been a spirited debate over who holds the crown in the south. It could be argued that New Orleans legend and No Limit Records standout Mia X has as much a claim to be Queen of the South as Gangsta Boo — the pair appeared alongside rapper Foxy Brown on “B.W.A” But while Mia X embraced her role as a wise truth teller from the ‘hood, Gangsta Boo was just as likely to give the middle finger to misogynistic incels as she was to extol the debauchery of sex, drugs and hip-hop, respectability politics be damned.
Gangsta Boo changed the trajectory of hip-hop during a time in the 1990s when women were finally stepping into the spotlight in a genre dominated by men. The daughters of Sha-Rock, Salt-N-Pepa, MC Lyte, Queen Latifah, and Yo-Yo were ambitious, brilliant, wild, and free. Da Brat wore baggy jeans and sneakers, smoked as much weed as Snoop, and could battle rap with the best of them. Lil’ Kim found power in her sexuality, earning her platinum plaques, endorsement deals and a string of acolytes. Foxy Brown reveled in being a “boss bitch,” and the socially conscious Lauryn Hill was as lyrically gifted and revered as anyone in hip-hop. Missy Elliott blew our minds with her groundbreaking sounds, music videos, and behind the scenes work as a writer/producer/arranger. Jean Grae was the steady underground heroine we didn’t deserve, while Eve, Philly’s self-proclaimed “pitbull in a skirt,” more than held her own with Ruff Ryders heavyweights DMX and the Lox.
Gangsta Boo, though, defied categories with her, at times, too-real around-the-way persona. This most likely explains why she chopped it up in the studio with everyone from Outkast, E-40, TI and Gucci Mane to Eminem and Run The Jewels. Gangsta Boo was a genre unto herself, and many of the biggest stars in rap offered tributes to the late star.
Three 6 Mafia’s DJ Paul and Juicy J both posted on Instagram about their former bandmate — one a captionless photo of the rapper on the turntables; the other, a shot of J and Boo, punctuated by broken hearted emoji for the girl they recruited as a 14-year old kid after spotting her rapping at a high school talent show. Gangsta Boo was always the youngest of the crew, but she never took a backseat to any of the boys. Even when she broke away from Three 6 Mafia in 2002, over what she described as constant disrespect and business disputes, Juicy J still praised Mitchell. “She’s Memphis to the fullest,” he said back in 2012. “I love Gangsta Boo.”
In fact, Mitchell reunited with her Three 6 Mafia family in 2013 and again in 2021 for a Verzuz showdown against longtime rivals Bone Thugs-N-Harmony. During the Verzuz performance, watching Mitchell and Three 6 Mafia nearly come to blows with the Cleveland group only added to her legend.
Throughout her life, Mitchell had been up front about her bouts with depression. Her disillusionment with the music business led her to a spiritual conversion and she changed her name to Lady Boo amid a brief battle with substance abuse (she later returned to her original moniker). The 2013 death of Three 6 Mafia member Lord Infamous and later her father also tested her resolve. But Mitchell channeled that pain, along with humor, joy and outright ratchetness, into her music.
Mitchell’s friends and family remain protective of her legacy. “We have a lot of unreleased songs we did together,” Hook said. “Right now I’m going through all my pictures and videos. I realize that part of that responsibility is for Lola’s legacy to continue to shine. I have tons of unreleased songs with her. That was our plan the whole time to release a record. And it’s not just me. DJ Paul, Juicy J… we are all in charge of Gangsta Boo archives.”
Her music may be in the right hands, but Mitchell cemented her legacy years ago just by being her authentic self. “So many people [have] been f—ing with me for so long and throughout my career, ups and downs,” she said during a Facebook Live interview a few years ago. ”That’s why I’m right here with y’all right now. I ain’t got no dress on, I ain’t comb my hair today, I ain’t put no makeup on or nothing, but I’m f—ing with y’all because that’s what real bitches do.”