Status Ain't Hood

A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie Fucking Sucks

“Hits is mediocre,” A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie, a man who has made more than his share of hits, tells the Rolling Stone reporter. “All hits is mediocre. You don’t know that? Think about every hit right now. Every hit is like a repetitive melody or something.”

A Boogie is not wrong — at least not in the way that he has defined a hit. A Boogie has carved himself out a lucrative lane within the rap mainstream by making his music as anodyne and generic as possible, by making sure that nothing resembling a personality comes through. Elsewhere in that interview, A Boogie says, “The whole game right now is turning into one sound.” It almost looks as though he’s complaining. But he’s talking about his own sound.

A Boogie’s sound is not, of course, his own sound. In the past, he has named both Drake and Future as towering influences, and his sound owes everything to theirs. About four years ago, A Boogie emerged from the Bronx, doing a version of Drake-style Auto-Tune singsong that at least gestured at toughness. Since then, he’s worked hard to remove any ghost of regional character from his sound, moving in the direction of the hazily melodic Auto-Tune warp-croon that implies emotion even when it’s not actually expressing anything. The entire industry has been drifting in that exact same direction, and this drift has put A Boogie in a position to win.

For the first couple of years of his career, A Boogie picked up steam, showing up alongside bigger and bigger rappers on bigger and bigger songs. A little more than a year ago, in the depths of the 2018 winter, he released Hoodie SZN, the deeply bland album that would turn out to be his commercial breakthrough. Hoodie SZN was a rough listen — boring and ugly and drained of anything even resembling artistic expression. “Look Back At It,” its biggest single and A Boogie’s highest-charting hit to date, is a strip-club song memorable only for the way A Boogie hijacks the old Michael Jackson brr-dat-dat-dat ad-lib. It is a nothingness. It took off.

Hoodie SZN quietly dominated the Billboard album charts for a few months in early 2019. Infamously, it racked up numbers without selling any actual copies. It was a news story when Hoodie SZN hit #1 despite only selling 823 actual copies. Then, a few weeks later, A Boogie broke his own record, ending up back at #1 in a week when it sold only 398 copies. If those numbers seem impossible, it’s not because the music business is dying. It’s because A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie is the quintessential streaming rapper. When his songs turn up on a playlist, you might not even notice that they’re on. They blur quietly into whatever might be happening around them. They are easy to ignore. This is what makes them commercially viable.

This past weekend, A Boogie released his new album Artist 2.0, and it seems likely to pull off similar feats. This time, A Boogie isn’t releasing the LP into the commercial dead zone. Instead, he’s going up against a couple of potentially big albums in Justin Bieber’s Changes and Tame Impala’s The Slow Rush. At least right now, Hits Daily Double is projecting Artist 2.0 to move more than 100,000 equivalent units — enough to land it at #2 on the charts, right between Bieber and Tame Impala.

How depressing is that? And going further, how depressing is it that these three albums, all of which supposedly belong to different genres, have ended up at such a similarly washed-out sterile-haze studio-pop sound? I like the Tame Impala album, but all three albums aim for the same politely wistful background-music tone. All three can fade into the ether when you’re trying to work or study or be an otherwise productive member of society. All three, functionally, are easy listening.

Rap music should not be easy listening. A Boogie, however, is a rapper who does precious little actual rapping, delivering all of his lines in a singsong simper. It’s worth wondering whether he even qualifies as a rapper. He admits as much on the album. At one point, he muses, “They call me a singer, I’m rapping with melodies.” Later on, he comes down firmly on the not-a-rapper side of the debate: “I ain’t nothing like a rapper, I’m a artist.” This is true in only the most literal sense: A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie’s government name is Artist Julius Dubose. But he’s not a lower-case-A artist. He expresses nothing. As the title of Artist 2.0 practically implies, the album plays out less as a personal statement, more as mandatory operating-system update.

The updated version of A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie is even worse than last year’s model. On Hoodie SZN, there were at least a few moments where A Boogie expressed some wonder at his success. Those are gone. These days, A Boogie still sing-raps about broken relationships and the problems with fame, but he’s doing it only in the most boilerplate ways possible now. His idea of romanticism looks like this: “It’s crazy, you’re still pretty when you cry/ Push your panty strings over to the side.” When he tries to play the bad-boy heartthrob, he comes up with something like this: “When I come over, ride me just like I’m a Maserati/ Go fast or go slow/ I think the feds is watching, they think I be catching bodies.” His relationship philosophy looks like this: “I thought every girl I had was the one, but she was not it/ 99% of bitches be thotting.” You will learn nothing from any of this.

I listened to Artist 2.0 on a long drive this past weekend, and it was more brain-numbingly boring than an hour of pure monotonous silence would’ve been. A Boogie has the rare power of turning his guest-rappers, all of whom are exactly the people you would expect to hear on an A Boogie album, into vague nonentities. Throughout Artist 2.0, A Boogie mostly collaborates with artists who sound a whole lot like him; that’s why we get him on a truly redundant song with both Gunna and Roddy Ricch. Young Thug and Lil Uzi Vert are two artists who have figured out how to do that basic A Boogie sound with unpredictable personality, but when they show up on Artist 2.0, even they make no impression. When DaBaby appears on “Stain,” it’s a brief perk-up moment, if only because it’s a rare case of someone actually rapping for a change. DaBaby’s verse is pure auto-pilot — A Boogie’s collaborators aren’t saving their best material for him — but it stands as a highlight anyway.

If there’s a new aesthetic wrinkle to Artist 2.0, it’s the near-constant presence of guitars. A Boogie does a lot of singing about the instrument: “It’s just me and this guitar, playing this song/ You can try stealing my heart, it’s already gone.” (He does not, to the best of my knowledge, play guitar.) There are a lot of guitars on Artist 2.0. This is not a good thing. The guitars are canned studio-musician acoustic flourishes, little pieces of fake-Santana puffery. They make an already-stultifying sound that much more vapid. Those guitars are only the most natural complement for A Boogie’s weak, wispy melodies. They hit like warm piss.

A Boogie doesn’t have to sound like this. On 2017’s “Drowning,” his first real hit, A Boogie found a note of florid, contemplative emotion. (It had a real hook, too, which is not something I can say for anything on Artist 2.0.) A Boogie’s voice can also gain a little dimension when he’s paired up with a gruffer, heavier rapper. He had a nice chemistry with his old rapping partner, the traditional Bronx hardnose Don Q, who is entirely absent from Artist 2.0. More recently, he found the same dynamic with the late Pop Smoke. But on Artist 2.0, A Boogie resolutely avoids anything that will bounce up against the oppressive monotony of his own sound. After all, if you actually noticed something on the album, it might take you out of the moment. You might decide to stream something else instead. Better to lull your attention back onto a spreadsheet or whatever.

That Rolling Stone line about hits being mediocre cuts to the heart of the problem. In the same interview, A Boogie says this about his 2016 mixtape Artist: “Artist is my classic work, even though it sounds mediocre.” A Boogie is the kind of artist who thinks a mediocre work can still be classic. Mediocrity is no obstacle to classic status. The mixtape did what he needed it to do, and that’s good enough for him. He doesn’t have to like the thing.

Hits don’t have to be mediocre. Hit songs can be wonderful, life-affirming, world-reshaping things. They’re only mediocre when the people making the hits are cynical, inspiration-free careerists like A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie. We should all look elsewhere.

FURIOUS FIVE

1. FMB DZ – “Ape Activities”
FMB DZ’s got the boogieman on speed-dial; he on standby. He doesn’t do drive-bys; he does walk-ups. He’ll duct-tape a bomb to a dude like he Pookie. Other than fellow Detroit monster Sada Baby, nobody is having more fun talking about all the different ways he’ll kill you.

2. Fat Nick – “PSA”
More big, fun, stupid energy from one more grubby South Florida skate-rat. I like those guys. They’re fun.

3. Conway The Machine – “Fredo Joint”
Conway can spend two minutes growling intricately worded head-bust shit over ugly and discordant dystopia beats and make it sound like the easiest thing in the world.

4. Sada Baby, SB Fettie, & Cig Sho – “Half Time”
The Detroit underground is in such a magical place right now.

5. 600Breezy – “Unique”
This man’s ’90s TV-reference game is strong: “This white girl got whipped up at Dawson’s Creek/ I had a bell at 19, they used to call me Screech.”

IT WAS ALL GOOD JUST A WEEK AGO

(For those that don’t know, R-Truth is a 48-year-old pro wrestler who has been on TV since the Clinton administration and who can still do a pretty impressive twisting flying elbow. His current WWE character is “comedy lunatic.” I think this song kind of slaps.)