Josh Boots’ Cold Weather Survival Guide
Growing up and coming up in the late 90's Alaska hip-hop scene I was fortunate enough to witness something very special. As one of the original pioneer rappers out of Fairbanks, I made my own waves. At the time, I was still very much a young student of the game. So, I was looking around at my peers. And, in Anchorage, there was a group of individuals who were building quite a buzz. That group was called Arctic Flow.
Josh Boots caught my attention immediately. As time went on, he caught the attention of an entire state as well. He had a look all his own, completely different from what I was used to seeing–back in the late 90's, early 2000's, other than Marshall Mathers and a few other underground artists, there weren't a lot of legitimate white rappers. What was most noticeable about Boots was his sharp lyrical prowess, along with a strong, aggressive, raspy voice that immediately commanded respect and attention. You knew, even from his earliest work, he was a rapper's rapper. Boots and AKream–rapper and CEO of Arctic Flow Records–put out several records in the beginning of their careers, but the record that really put the stamp on Boots being the standout came in 2002, when he released Cold Weather Survival Guide (CWSG).
I was fortunate enough to meet up with my good friend, Josh Boots, have a couple beers and re-listen to CWSG, 15 years after it was originally released. So, we sat there, in Adam “ADAMN” Hoyt’s basement. ADAMN is another local rap pioneer; He’s one-fourth of Indefinite Etticate. For about four hours, all three of us discussed the making of what is, without question, one of, if not, the ultimate classic Alaska rap album.
The album starts with a string instrumentation courtesy of Ysea, a cat out in Brooklyn, New York. He produced half of the album. "Soon as the beat dropped for the intro, you just knew... you just knew," ADAMN says as he presses play. "It was the perfect beginning to what would be a monumental album. When I first heard [CWSG], the first thing I thought was that I had never heard anything like this out of Alaska."
Right off the bat, Boots spits, "I meditate to the sky, blue, in these coldest months..."
"We originally recorded the first half of the album in Paramount Studios in California, but ended up scrapping it and re-recorded the album from scratch at AKream's house, which was on [the] Glenn Highway, headed towards the Butte area,” Boots says. “Every morning at 9 a.m., after dropping my kids off at school, I'd drive out to AKream's and see that beautiful blue/purple sky with the mountains and just the entire view. It definitely gave me inspiration, heading to his place to record."
If you had to pick a song that best represents Josh Boots' illustrious discography–his stand-out record–it would either be "No Show Sox" or "Independent Hustle." Most hardcore local rap fans will tell you, track two off CWSG put Mr. Boots in a league of his own.
"I was at Costco with my daughter a couple months ago and I noticed this dude is just staring at me,” Boots says. “He's kind of following me around the store, so I'm trying to curve him, not knowing where this is going to go. He eventually approaches me, gives me a pound and tells me that Independent Hustle is his shit. And, to this day–15 years later–still bumps it regularly. I was just telling my daughter earlier that day, while listening to my old music, that ‘Independent Hustle’ was the song people related to the most. That shit happens to me about twice a month. It's still crazy to me."
When I asked Boots if there was anything he would change about CWSG, he said the Phresh Kutz produced "Move" probably would've been removed from the final tracklist. "I wasn't happy with the way the hook turned out. I visualized it differently when writing it. It's probably my least favorite record on the album."
One of the harder records on the album. It’s a declaration of dominance. With an aggressive hook utilizing some post-production effects on the vocals, Boots demands respect and for his competitors to protect their neck if they don't comply. "Imagine was produced by Phresh Kutz,” Boots says. “We were on some break beats, shit. We made this out in Bakersfield, California."
One of my personal favorites off CWSG. Though I've listened to this record countless times, I always wondered who the rapper was on the beginning of the song and whatever happened to him.
"The dude in the beginning is my boy Oscar, who went by O-Dog. He was a real ass dude and was an inspiration to me back then. He's in jail."
All Up In The Game
"This track was produced by Ysea. There isn't much I can really say about this song, other than it's all real," Boots laughs.
For a long time, I wondered why Boots put a vocal-less instrumental right in the middle of his album. Was it a mistake? Was it intended to be an interlude? Over a decade later, I finally got my answer and it couldn’t have been explained any better.
"I did that for y'all,” Boots says. “I put an instrumental of one of the dopest beats for those who like to rap over beats. I know I do. I figured if the listener made it halfway through the album, they were feeling it and perhaps they were smoking, chillin’ with their homies and wanted to spit some shit. It's like you're vibing to the album with your boys, here's an instrumental for you to freestyle to, before going into the second half of the album. That was for the spitters."
I knew, early on, that “Snake Charmer” was Boots' attempt at making a commercial, radio-friendly track. The Phresh Kutz produced track is very catchy and, with help from a local radio DJ by the name of Don Megga, “Snake Charmer” became the first local rap record to air on Anchorage's mainstream radio station KFAT.
"Don Megga showed me a bunch of love,” Boots says. “I gave him the album and that was the record that he liked. And he pushed for it and got it on the air and, to my knowledge, that was the first local song played on there by a local rap artist."
The most personal, introspective record on the album. Josh's songwriting reaches its peak on this one as he tells a story about his own family’s struggle with drug and alcohol abuse. When he talks about "Drug Control," he sheds some light on his own experiences with living in a broken home and how that ultimately affected his rap career.
"I knew I had the potential to go much further with this rap thing, but coming from a broken home and dealing with my own family struggles I knew I always wanted to have kids and a family,” Boots says. “I have six kids, a wife, a house... I have a family who depends on me. In 2003, I decided, after returning home from California, that I was going to stay here and take care of my family–I hadn’t seen my daughter in almost a year. That is very important to me. I'm a family man. ‘Drug Control’ touches on my own family struggles growing up. That was a very emotional record for me."
Another one of my favorite tracks on the album. The Presh Kutz produced "Inspiration" is a braggadocios, battle anthem where Boots throws subliminals at his haters. "I make money on the streets and I don't got time for no beef, but if you come up in my grill, I'll lift you off of your feet," Boots raps. "I guess I'm that fucking white boy, that you wish you could be and there's a lot of folks that's hating on me, just wish they was me."
"This is one of the best lyrical tracks on the album." says Boots with a mischievous grin. For longtime hip-hop heads in the loop, we knew who he was referring to. (I'll save that story for another day, though.)
"The dude rapping first on this track, Prosper... that was his one and only rap verse, ever,” Boots says. “Dude never rapped again. That was his only verse, ever."
Though I was never a fan of the first two guys rapping on "Contact," Boots’ verse is still so dope. "I'll hop on a grizzly bear's back, strapless / I'll slit his throat and eat his flesh and burn his ashes / Made a coat out of his skin for when the summer passes / I'm cold hearted." True Alaskan rap shit right there!
Cold Weather Survival Guide
On the title track, which is probably one of my favorite beats on the album (produced by Ysea), Boots declares his loyalty to his legendary crew–"Arctic Flow till the day I die"–while showcasing his razor-sharp delivery.
"It was one of those things where... I'm very competitive and I just wanted to be better than everyone, without necessarily saying that. I felt like I did that."
As much as I love the last track of this classic album, I was so confused as to why Boots was not featured on the track.
When discussing why he wasn’t on "Forever," Boots said, "I was so mad that I wasn't on this song. Soiled Seed and AKream snuck off to the studio and knocked it out and when I asked them about it, they said they had called me, but I didn't answer so they recorded it without me. It's such a dope beat. I was definitely bummed out. We had plans on knocking out this group project and 'Forever' was like a preview of that. Kind of like a bonus cut. We never made that group album," Boots laughs.
As we sat at ADAMN's house, smoking, laughing and listening to this classic piece of Alaska hip-hop history, we reminisced about "the glory days." Seeing the joy in Boots’ eyes while we listened to CWSG, I could tell the fire and passion that was evident on CWSG was still there. The smile on his face while he talked about his love for hip-hop, the music he's made, the impact he's had on so many in our beloved state and beyond … I know that Josh Boots' story isn’t over.
CWSG is available on Apple Music and iTunes.
Tubby is a local rap artist and Alaskan hip-hop commentator. He runs TubbLife.com and 907hiphop.com