"Let's say you [are] going through something, and you tell me about it," says Bronx rapper A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie, sitting in a conference room at Atlantic Records, the hood of his Nike jacket pulled tightly around his head and a half-empty Red Bull in hand. "I would make a song on some vicarious shit and make you feel like that's you that made that song. I want you to feel like, 'Damn, this is everything that I just went through.'"
This step-into-the-listener's-shoes approach to his Auto-Tune-smeared hip-hop has worked wonders for A Boogie. In just 18 months, the rapper has launched 10 tracks onto the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart – including "Drowning," a Top 40 crossover collaboration with the syllable-swallowing MC Kodak Black – and earned a major label deal that led to his Top Five debut, The Bigger Artist.
"When A Boogie dropped Artist [his 2016 debut mixtape], he got my attention fully," says Cardo, a producer who's helmed tracks for Kendrick Lamar and Drake, and is also behind The Bigger Artist opener "No Promises." "He's young, he's fly, he can rap, he can sing, he has that star power. Him and [A Boogie's label-mate] Don Q, they're like Method Man and Redman. I see him becoming a household name. He's very melodic, but he sounds like himself. And he sounds like he's from New York."
Though A Boogie's New York roots were likely important in gaining early radio support from major stations like Hot 97, it actually took a move away from the city to set the rapper on the path towards stardom. "My mom and my dad moved to Florida first," he explains. "I was in New York, I got in trouble a few times – just regular little weed charges and shit. They were like, 'It's over, you gotta come with us.'"
While in Florida, A Boogie met Mr. Whyte, a producer who showed him the inside of his first professional studio. "I used to record songs like, play the beat from one phone and have another phone recording me and just rap," A Boogie says. "Moving from that to a studio was like, 'Damn, I never knew I could sound like this.' It was just magic."
Soon after finishing high school, A Boogie returned to New York "ready to take on this music shit," and a messy romantic entanglement led to his debut mixtape, Artist. "I made a whole tape about the shit, and it spread," the rapper says. He believes that bitterly heartbroken songs like "Still Think About You" ("Even if you feel like you really love her/Don't ever tell that bitch that you really love her/'Cause that's when she's gon' make you feel like you nothing") made him an outlier. "People from where I come from, they don't make love songs," A Boogie says. "Not everyone's really got the heart to talk about what's going on with their love in their music."
But Artist also included songs like "My Shit," a gleeful track about the first rush of fame ("Now every time they play this song she say, 'This is my shit!'") that were more likely to nab radio programmers. "My Shit" became A Boogie's first platinum record. "Some of my songs are turnt up," A Boogie acknowledges, "but that's just 'cause I have to make 'em like that so the clubs can play them."
There are songs for the clubs on The Bigger Artist too: "Say A" is jaunty and carefree while "Somebody" features a stony, floor-shaking beat from DJ Mustard. But the chilling numbers are often the most bracing. "Stalking You" is quiet – almost beatless – and disquieting, a creepy number about romance in the social media era. When A Boogie calls on one of hip-hop's current kings of bombast, producer Metro Boomin, for "Get to You," the result is startlingly somber, an emotional gut-punch about the corrosive effects of jealousy. "People [are] not used to Metro on a love song," A Boogie says happily.
Though he's happy with debuting at Number Four on Billboard's albums chart, A Boogie admits he hoped to reach the 100,000 albums threshold in his opening week instead of topped out at 67,000 units. "It's been a long time since this type of music has been really noticed," the rapper acknowledges. "Hopefully people notice it as much I want them too. Everybody should start listening to love songs."