In 2018, hip-hop was gifted a smorgasbord of new releases by some of our favorite artists. We watched The Carters pilot their way back to happiness on Everything Is Love, while hip-hop’s biggest drug lord, Pusha T, fueled our love for cocaine-coated metaphors with his mini-opus DAYTONA. And right before we bid adieu to 2018, we also had 21 Savage and A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie bulldoze their way into prominence with their dazzling sophomore releases.
While Savage won the battle and landed his first No. 1 album on the Billboard 200 with I Am > I Was, Boogie’s resounding effort on Hoodie SZN didn’t go unnoticed. The New York native bowed gracefully at No. 2 on the Billboard 200, earning 90,000 equivalent album units and trumping his 2017 opening-week numbers of 67,000 units with his debut album The Bigger Artist.
Since the success of his 2016 single “Timeless,” the brazen Highbridge MC has pounced on every opportunity presented to him. Not only has his penchant for sticky hooks earned him looks from the likes of Drake, Future, Young Thug and more, but also a fistful of hardware, including a triple-platinum plaque for “Drowning.”
“The one thing about me is I’m an artist that got no type of cheat codes,” Boogie tells Billboard. “I’m like straight fuck it. I have no cheat codes, no gimmicks and I don’t even do big features. I can’t even lie: Sometimes, I be antisocial. I don’t really reach out like that, I just run into situations that I do.” With a slew of earworms such as “Swervin'” and “Startender” slithering their way up the charts, A Boogie appears poised for another monstrous year.
Billboard spoke to Boogie about his new album Hoodie SZN, how he dropped the ball with Drake and Future, the biggest misconception about 6ix9ine, why New York hip-hop continues to struggle and what makes him the rap version of Michael Jackson.
You just turned 23. What was life for you like at 22 and what are you hoping to gain and learn during your Jordan Year?
I felt like I was in a midlife crisis, man.
You wanna know why? I make so much music that I start figuring out new things. [Laughs]
You sound stressed. [Laughs]
It’s not even stress. You know when you overload yourself with something? Man, I got some shit going on right now that I overload myself with music. I overloaded myself with work. I give myself work to do so I don’t give myself time to chill and have free time to chill with the family as much. Now it’s like, “Damn. What did I do with myself?” Now, I understand at 23 years old that I gotta balance this whole thing out. It’s all about balancing and taking it one step at a time. You can’t just do everything at the same time. Even when it comes to investments, you can’t invest in five things at a time if you can’t physically walk around and do things.
I remember when we spoke at the BET Awards, you were over here telling me, “Yo. I got music with Tory coming, I got music with Thugger coming, I got International Artist EP.” I was like, “Dude. You need to relax.”
[Laughs] It’s crazy because I still have all that music to the side. Me and Thugger, me and Tory, like it’s not even albums.
Man, I don’t even know what to call them shits. It’s just basically collab projects. We got so many of those going on right now that it’s like I don’t know what to do because I have three projects that I can drop by myself. So it’s hard picking and choosing those kinds of things. It’s all about strategy and picking the right choices.
On “Voices in My Head,” you speak about having a target on your back after the success of The Bigger Artist — which sold 67,000 album equivalent units opening week and debuted top five on the Billboard 200. Talk about adjusting to this new level of fame and some difficulties that you may have encountered early on.
I felt like it was kinda hard because the one thing about me is I’m an artist that got no type of cheat codes. I’m like straight fuck it. I have no cheat codes, no gimmicks and I don’t even do big features. I can’t even lie, sometimes, I be anti-social. I don’t really reach out like that, I just run into situations that I do. There’s certain people that are like me, though and we get along perfect. A n—a like 6ix9ine, he’s kind of like me when it comes to the industry. Like, just chilling on the regular and being from New York and everything. Juice WRLD, too. Juice WRLD is anti-social as fuck. [Laughs]
I noticed you definitely played around with the Michael Jackson comparison on the album by calling yourself the “rapping Michael” and even having a track called “Billie Jean.” Talk about the similarities you see between you and Mike.
Well, I feel like I’m the rapping version of Michael. I’m not saying in a dancing way, but I’m saying when it comes to expressing myself on a track in a hip-hop and R&B way. That’s how he would have did it. If he wasn’t in that pop bag, singy-singy bag, I feel like if he was in his rap bag, this is how he would have did it, feel me?
It’s funny because someone might look at you and say, “You’re only 23. What do you know about Mike?”
It’s crazy because those two songs I sampled “You Rock My World” and “Remember the Time” were my two favorite songs he ever made, too.
You chose the samples?
Everything I do is me. I don’t like taking ideas from people unless they’re the G.O.A.T. MJ is the G.O.A.T.
What I love about you and the younger generation from New York is that you’re not opposed to working and collaborating with other artists. Why do you feel it’s important to not only collaborate in general but with your fellow artists out of New York?
We different, man. I feel like New York will never be at a point where we all get along. I tried my best, I tried my best. It could be me and this guy over here and this guy don’t get along over there with this guy, it could be vice versa, but there’s always going to be something in New York. Atlanta, you go over there, they close and everything. Everybody is cool because they’re so close with each other. It’s way smaller over there. New York is not that big, but it’s packed like a motherfucker. We come out and we don’t rock with each other like that because somebody fucked this n—a bitch over there, something happened over there, he was in jail with him, etc. New York, there’s too much going on. It’s too mixy.
One artist you’ve openly collaborated with is your New York comrade 6ix9ine — who’s also on “Swervin'” — and you were one of the first artists that embraced him when he came out. What do you think is the biggest misconception about him as a person and as an artist?
I feel like no one ever really got the chance to work with him the right way. People always went off what they saw and nobody really got the chance to let him go through his phase and see how he’s going to change and see the outcome out of his situation. All that “suck my dick” was to get him live because the music wasn’t really that good in the beginning. After that, he realized, “Aight. I’m getting better at this music thing. Let me take this more serious.” I was even talking to him like, “Yo. You should do a bunch of good shit. People expect so much bad out of you so much, you should just start doing charities all the time.”
It’s fucked up because I feel like people didn’t get to see that side of him. He could have made better out of himself. People only looking at him like he a bad role model this and that, but all of those people he influenced to do bad, he could have made them switch around to do good.
One of my favorite tracks is on Hoodie SZN is “4 Min Convo.” There, you speak on Future being your favorite rapper and how “March Madness” was what made you fall in love with his music. Take me back to the studio session with him and why it was such a surreal moment for you.
It was awkward. In my mind, it’s like, “Damn. This n—a is my favorite rapper” and I’m deadass trying to keep my cool and all that [Laughs]. At the end of the day I thought, “Damn. I should have chopped it up with him and told him. Just kept it a buck.” You gotta be honest because when you have somebody over there, how they gonna know what’s on your mind? Me and Thugger tight, so me and Future, I feel like if we do some shit, then it’s gonna be crazy.
Thug’s also on the album. You told me y’all have five-six songs together. I’m assuming that just multiplied since we last spoke?
Shout-out Durkio. [Lil] Durk was really the one that linked me and Thugger. If it wasn’t for Durk, I wouldn’t be linking with Thugger right now. Me and Durk got some shit going on. We got some heat. We got a song called “Grapevine.” We got another song called “JAY-Z and Beyoncé.” We got some shit right now.
I’m surprised Tory Lanez wasn’t on the album. You guys have been working a lot together.
Man, I don’t know how that happened. He asked me the same shit, too. He asked me like, “Bro, what’s good?” [Laughs] We still got a bunch of songs we can do. We can drop a whole tape, but it’s just that I needed a good body of work. It didn’t matter who was on the song, it just mattered for the transitioning.
Going back to “4 Min Convo,” you also spoke about Drake bringing you out at Madison Square Garden and recalling a moment when you wanted to get him on a record. How did you lose your shot at a collaboration with him?
It wasn’t like I was being a bother or nothing, I was just at a point where I didn’t understand certain things at the time. So he was like, “Send me a song.” I’m like “boom.” He says, “Send me another song” and I do. After awhile I realized that if you send somebody a song and they don’t have time to do it and you know they don’t have time to do it, you can’t just judge people off what you’re seeing. I realized myself when somebody asks me for a feature and I’m busy for two months straight. Can’t take it personal. Even if they don’t wanna be a feature, you can’t take it personal. It’s all strategy and you can’t mess up someone’s strategy ’cause they don’t wanna do a song with you, feel me?
On “Love Sex and Drugs,” you admit to not being ready for love and that reminded me of Jacquees’ “23” where he sang about not being ready for a relationship since he’s only 23. Do you think if you weren’t a rapper, you’d be more inclined to be in a relationship or do you think you’re not ready at all despite your career?
That’s a part of it ’cause I’m the type of person that’s not going to front about it. No matter where I’m at in life whether I’m in the music industry, rich, poor, everybody need love in their life. Gangsta or not, everybody need love in their life. You can’t act too hard about that. So you go hard but at the end of the day, you have that one person you talk to a certain kind of way that you don’t talk to nobody else. You show your soft side and everything. That’s just me right there saying anybody can do that right there. Artist was all about that. Coming from the streets and having that hard side, but I also gave that weak side.
You teamed up with Queen Naija on “Come Closer ” and y’all remade Justin Timberlake’s “Cry Me a River.” What made you decide to go that route, especially since you just said you had a hand in picking the samples out.
That’s one of my favorites right there. To be honest, it was genuinely an accident. You know why? The beat had the same tempo. I didn’t realize that ’til after I made the song, too. I said cry me a river one time throughout the hook. I said it just to say it. I said it realizing it and the beat made me say it. So I didn’t really mean to make it a sample. It just happened.
How did you and Queen link up because I know she mentioned wanting to work together beforehand on Instagram.
Clarence [Queen Najia’s boyfriend] made it happen. We were in New York and I needed a girl on my album. Everybody said Queen Naija would have been the perfect one. She happened to make a video saying she wanted to make a song with me that same day. I was like, “Perfect. Let’s get it in tomorrow.” She was coming my way anyway, so we ended up in the studio and made two songs.
What elements did you take from The Bigger Artist and even your EP, The International Artist to make Hoodie SZN?
How can I explain it? I don’t want [Hoodie SZN] to sound like [my debut album]. People want me to bring that old sound back. I can’t remake that same sound. I could beat it. I could beat it, though. You can’t really remake it and try to beat it, you just gotta beat it.
I remember cats were saying “Yo Boogie, we need that old sound back” on your Instagram.
Facts. That was when International Artist came out. When that came out, I told all the bros, “this is some shit my fans aren’t really going to be feeling. It’s gonna be all that.”
I mean, you were in your bag with the Jessie Reyez record, even the one with Kap G.
Facts. I just wanted to show people that I’m nice, but nowadays, it’s not about really being nice I guess. It’s crazy. I feel like lyrically, and not even metaphors, but when it comes to being melodic, I feel like I’m one of the best when it comes to that shit for real.
How do you find the pockets to create some of your melodies?
I be asking myself the same stuff, man. I guess it’s a gift.