Home Music Music Features

A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie Thinks All Hits Are Mediocre — Even His

The Highbridge rapper discusses the formula to making hit songs, his new album ‘Artist 2.0,’ and his rock-star ambitions

Dana Scruggs for Rolling Stone

A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie is in the middle of being lightly reprimanded. One of the lounges located in Atlantic Records’ Manhattan office is shrouded in pungent weed smoke and filled with the laughter of the Highbridge rapper, and the light clacking of his jewelry. “You got HR calling me,” an Atlantic employee says, complaining of the weed smoke, as she barges in on the seated rapper. “It’s bad?” Boogie asks with an air of faux innocence. Only a few minutes earlier, he admitted he knows this isn’t the designated smoking room.

“It’s a whole thing. I mean, if I can smell it by my desk,” she replies.

“Why y’all acting like it’s cigarettes?” he asks, exasperated.

“I only work here, yo. I only work here.”

“Look, look, just tell them that I’m-a stop,” Boogie relents.

He doesn’t stop. It’s two days before the release of Boogie’s new album, Artist 2.0, and besides light nerves, he seems at ease. His last album, Hoodie SZN, was the culmination of a four-year rise from regional hitmaker to one of the most popular rappers of the streaming age. Early last year, he was ridiculed for selling only 823 physical copies of Hoodie SZN in its first week. By the end, he had the third-most-streamed album of 2019, competing with Ariana Grande and Billie Eilish in terms of commercial success. Right now, the main thing concerning Boogie about the follow-up to his sophomore release is that he isn’t playing the typical game that’s become a necessity for an impressive first-week total. This year, he’s with Justin Bieber and Tame Impala on release day.

“The only thing I am a little nervous about is my first-week numbers, because I’m not going so hard as in, like, in all the presales, promotions, and all that,” Boogie explains. “I’m promoting and I’m doing well, but, like, last year, it was just, like, a different process. We had more lead [time], and this year I’m just letting it be me, more natural.”

In 2020, A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie is inhabiting a world he helped create. The New York rapper, with an Auto-Tune warble inspired by the Deep South and subject matter reminiscent of So Far Gone-era Drake, now has a whole host of followers, artists that are becoming stars using his signature processed and nasal-inflected vocals. At one point in our conversation, he admits feeling “stuck” in the hip-hop and R&B lane he’s created for himself — before quickly backtracking and saying it’s a “process.” Artist 2.0 has a different feel, a result of the process, and Boogie laughs, before sincerely questioning whether his rapidly growing fan base will be accepting this time around, or if he’ll be bombarded with calls for the “Old Boogie.”

How long was the process of making Artist 2.0?
The process of making Artist 2.0, it was more frustrating than Hoodie SZN, because Hoodie SZN took me a long time to make. I really picked every song that I made in the last month, the whole process of making the album, it was the last month. But this year was different, because Artist 2.0, the fans gave me more pressure on this one. They telling me what they want, but it’s like I couldn’t give them exactly what they wanted, because I can’t go back in time. They want the old me. No one can go back to the old you.

When you’re say “old you,” you mean like—
My Shit,” “Friend Zone,” shit like that. I can resemble that style and give you kind of what you want, but you gotta realize what you want is a different thing than what I’m giving you. I’m giving you what I think what you want.

Never mind, never mind, I’m not even going to say it like that. I’m going to fuck up peoples’ heads with these fucking riddles I be throwing. I do too much shit like that.

How do you feel going up against Justin Bieber and Tame Impala?
It’s amazing going up against someone I grew up listening to, forreal. Justin Bieber, I was about 13, 14 years old, and the first song I heard was “Baby” or something, and Usher brought him out. That shit got a billion views on YouTube. Just thinking of that, and today, I’m going against Justin Bieber that Usher brought out, got a billion views on YouTube, till this day a billion views is a lot to me. Just him in general having that record right there, numbers and shit, I like the challenge, too. I’m looking forward to it. A lot of people is wondering what’s going to happen because of this whole thing with the pop artists and the hip-hop artists colliding when we drop. I guess we all going to see what happens. I’m not going to go too extra or too hard on presales and everything, because I want this album to be more genuine. Hopefully, everybody sees my vision and respects it for what it is.

Let’s be honest, Roddy Ricch put a lot of pressure on Bieber and Selena [Gomez].
I’m not going to lie, that was crazy right there. It’s not even crazy to me. It’s crazy to me seeing everybody’s reaction, ‘cause I already understand that part. When it happened, seeing everybody’s expressions was like, “Wow, that’s crazy.” People don’t believe shit like that. They look at [you] like you cheating, cheat codes and shit.

But you potentially might do the same thing. There’s a good chance that by the end of the year you can sell a lot more than these pop stars.
Hopefully I do the same thing. I think I’m going to do the same thing, because I did it last year. But this year should be a better version of last year. If not, then I got a lot to work on.

What’s it like watching somebody like Young Thug record [on “Might Not Give Up”]?
It’s inspiration, knowing you can really try the amount of things that you try in the studio. He uses his voice in ways you wouldn’t even imagine. I took that advice from him. I’m not afraid to show love. Everything he taught me, I told him about it like, “Yo, this right here, you taught me this, bro.” He always respects that. That’s why we got that genuine relationship.

On “Guitar Song,” you rap “half of my niggas they either dead or in the system.” That’s a theme you’ve returned to a lot. Do you feel guilt that you were the one who escaped?
Nah, it’s just that I talk to my friends every day in jail. They want to ask me a lot of questions about my life, and I don’t feel comfortable telling them about my life, because why am I telling you about how good I’m doing and you’re in a fucked-up situation? You my man, so I don’t want you to be thinking about me all the time while you in there. I want the time to go by nice and smooth and fast. Don’t think about the outside world. It’s too much going on. My best friend didn’t even get to see me get my first Lamborghini yet. By the time he gets out to really see this, it’s going to be amazing.

You’ve been talking about rock influences, jazz influences. What type of music were you listening to during this process?
I was listening to that song, “Ooohhh here she comes/She’s a man-eater.” What song is that, Danny Hall or something like that? You know that song Daryl Hall? I heard that song a whole lot of times making this album. I bumped a lot of old, old Michael Jackson from when he was like a kid, like “Who’s Loving You.” It put me in a different vibe. Songs like “Who’s Loving You” [from] when he was a kid, just going to the recents and figuring out songs you didn’t even know about from back in the day. Lauryn Hill, same old vibe, man, with a little twist to it. These were some rock stars. I had to try out rock-star sounds and really listen to them and see how they formatting their templates.

On Twitter you wrote, “Keep on tryna sound like me without showing love and Ima start to sue ya.” Who were you referencing?
I’m not going to lie. That was a joke.

That was a joke?
Yeah, I’m not going to sue anyone. I’m not that type of person. I got sued plenty of times. It made me say that, but I’m not going to ever sue anyone.

But where did that energy come from?
That energy, I give a lot of tough love. Even if someone is mad at me about it, I don’t give a fuck. It’s for the better. Even if you don’t complete the task that I set it for. It’s for the better of the music game, period. The whole game right now is turning into one sound.

Largely your sound.
Yeah, but it’s pieces to that. It’s me, and then you got Future, you got Thugger, you got Drake, people like that, that have clones, a lot of twins. A lot of stuff that’s similar, a lot of sound-alikes. I think if people really tried and be creative after the success, you can make it in the game. You can use whatever flow you want. I don’t give a fuck, but after you make it and you solidified, I feel like it’s only right that you should stamp yourself with a sound. Everybody should have a significant sound that represents them. I try all the time to find new sounds, so I don’t see how other artists don’t be doing that shit. It’s weird to me.

Can I ask you who you were referencing?
Nah.

Nah?
But I can tell you one thing, I didn’t mean it in a specific way, because it was like I was driving my car. I heard one of my friends on Instagram listening to videos and stuff. It’s one of them things where you swipe to the right, swipe to the right. So every video was a song and they all sounded the same. It was a different person on every song. They all sounded the same, and the last person was me. It was six people. I don’t even know the names, to be honest. I just heard the voices, but I was like, “What the fuck! Who is that?” They like, “That’s you, bro.” I’m like “Nah, who the fuck was that before me?” And they was like, “That’s everybody who sound like you.” I’m like, “Word?” That’s crazy, ‘cause I was just saying the whole game sound like each other, and now hearing this, and I’m like, “Damn, this wakes me up every day to new things.”

It seems like a lot of New York rappers are being targeted. It’s getting harder to perform here. It started with Rolling Loud, with Casanova, Pop Smoke, Don Q. What’s your opinion on the NYPD allegedly targeting these rappers and making it hard for them to perform in their city?
I don’t know if I should call it a target or not, but it may not be for anybody to know the reason. We don’t know the reason this is happening. So I don’t assume things. I’m not assuming anything when it comes to the NYPD, but at the same time, I feel like artists should have respect when it comes to getting their money, trying to get paid. This is our main market, New York City, especially when it comes to out here. We shouldn’t be having canceled shows. There should be ways to work around that so we can perform. If you feel like something should happen at a show, there should be more security there and more police, if it’s really that serious. Not, “No, you can’t do this show. You can’t have money, because this is going to happen.” But I feel like if you was there and you really felt like you cared, you should just do it this way and have a lot of safety around instead of treating it, “Aight, word. Just lock everybody up.”

Looking back at your discography, what projects do you deem a classic?
Artist, my first one. Even though I feel like Hoodie SZN is my best work. Artist is my classic work, even though it sounds mediocre.

Wait, did you call it mediocre?
Yeah, it is.

Explain that. That has hits on it.
Hits is mediocre. All hits is mediocre. You don’t know that? Think about every hit right now. Every hit is like a repetitive melody or something. [Starts singing] “My shit, this is my shit,” “Drowning, drowning, drowning.” [On] “Look Back At It,” I’m saying, “Drrrat, da-da-da-da.” I know what songs to make a hit. I know what songs to make for the radio. I’m a real good music maker, for real. It’s easy to me, to at the point where it’s like I’m making songs for this, I’m making songs for that. I want this for the radio, only three songs can spin over here, so three songs can be a hit. The other ones are just body work and they gon’ be real good songs. I really structure my work out like that.

You have a formula to get something on radio, to get something on the charts? You know what you need to do?
The fans are going to pick at the end of the day. I know what’s going to go crazier. “Look Back At It,” was a Michael Jackson reference, of course, but if I didn’t say “Drrrat, dat-dat-dat” for that long, for people that doesn’t speak English to understand me, people in Africa. I can go overseas with it. It’s more global now. That’s where it kicks in, but when I’m getting down to the bars and shit it’s hard to really understand that.

Who was the artist you were most excited to work with on this [album]?
Khalid.

Khalid? Really? I would not see Khalid and A Boogie getting along, musically.
That’s the whole thing. I like the unexpected. I can make great music with anybody, period. It’s all about the sound. You got to make the sound sound good. Some people get on a song together and they battle each other, and you can tell they’re battling each other because they want to sound better than the next person they’re on a song with, of course. But let’s say I do a song with a person like Roddy Ricch. I don’t want to battle him. I want to make it a nice sounding song. So if he uses a flow, I’m going to rub off of that flow and use probably a similar flow or a reference so it’s a balance. People change the whole sound and go crazy after one flow. It’s like, “Aight, now they battling.”

What was it like working with somebody like Khalid, who is out of your wheelhouse?
It’s inspiring to know that it’s someone out there that really … First of all, he’s just a peaceful-ass person. When you know that it’s like, “Wow, this nigga is just like” — I can’t explain it. My laugh is like [the] opposite of his. So when I meet him, and knowing his life and he’s selling out arenas and shit, he going overseas and shit, I’m just looking at him like, “Damn, bro. It’s so easy.” It made me want to live like that, forreal. Peaceful.

You don’t have that peace yet?
I have that peace sometimes, but when you see him you automatically know, “Yeah, this is where it’s at. It’s no bad vibes in here.”

In This Article: A Boogie wit da Hoodie, Hip-Hop