Despite its quiet country atmosphere, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, once had the #2 highest murder rate in the nation. "It's real gutta," admits 19-year-old Baton Rouge native Webster "Webbie" Gradney, Jr. "But it's nice if you mind your own business. When I'm gone for too long, I be missin' it. That's where I'm from, that's home."
A typical child of the ghetto, Webbie's upbringing was anything but stable. His mother, Jocelyn, died of cancer when he was just eight years old. He spent his early teen years shuttling back and forth between the care of his father and grandmother.
Ever since he was five years old, writing rhymes had been his release. "My big cousin from California taught me how to rap," Webbie recalls, adding that his mother was a music lover who often danced to her favorite songs. Intrigued by music that reflected his rough upbringing, he started listening to "all the gangsta rappers, all that shit that hits hard," including the Geto Boys, 2Pac, Eazy E, Snoop Dogg, 8Ball & MJG, UGK, and Scarface.
Webbie struggled throughout school, prevented from playing his favorite sports (basketball and football) because of his poor grades. "I cared about school, but I used to get expelled for fights. I'd have loved to make all A's, but I just never did." His interests lay elsewhere. At the time, New Orleans-based powerhouses like No Limit and Cash Money were dominating the urban music scene. Less than an hour away, Baton Rouge felt the impact. "We was rockin' right with them," says Webbie. "I was already rappin' before I heard them, but [to see them make it] made it start seeming more real."
At age 15, Webbie found a home with local indie label Trill Entertainment, co-owned by the legendary Pimp C of UGK. "Webbie [signed with Trill] after I was incarcerated, so I haven't had the chance to work with him," says Pimp C. "But I know he can take it to the top. He's got a knack for writing singles. I can see that already and it's still early in his career. Very talented guy." Webbie felt comfortable with the label because he felt they had his best interest at heart. "They was keeping it real," he says. "I used to just rap, and they'd take care of me like it was a family. I ain't really sign [a contract] until it was time for the serious shit to start happenin'."
Trill teamed Webbie up with fellow Baton Rouge native Lil Boosie, and together the two gained an impressive street following with independent releases like Ghetto Stories and Gangsta Muzik. Webbie isn't sure exactly how many albums they've sold independently. "[I don't know, I just know] it's a lot for niggas who ain't got a deal. I just know it's been way more hoes comin' up to me than before," laughs Webbie.
After creating a buzz with their underground albums, Webbie broke into the mainstream in 2004 with hot radio singles like "Gimme Dat" and "Bad Bitch." Boosie & Webbie were soon the hottest unsigned commodity in the South, attracting the attention of numerous major record labels. Trill eventually signed a label deal with Asylum, the independent "incubator" branch of Warner Music Group.
Webbie's upcoming debut album, the appropriately titled Savage Life, is expected to drop in July 2005. "Everything I rap about is my life," explains Webbie. "It's like 'thug life,' but I call it 'Savage Life'. I don't know what I'd be doing if I wasn't rapping."
- Bio by Julia Beverly
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