The very first line on Hoodie SZN, the new album from 23-year-old Bronx rapper A Boogie wit da Hoodie, is “All she ever wanted was my heart to hurt.” Few rappers mine their torrid affairs for lyrical inspiration with the fervor of A Boogie, who presents romance as a highly addictive mixture of deception, betrayal and revenge. “She know I’m mad rich, she think I’m usin’ her/ My diamonds mad rich, they so rude to her,” he raps. “And the way I’m actin’ is all due to her/ If I think she thottin’, I’m gon’ do it first/ I’m gon’ call my side bitch and we gon’ do the work.” And that’s just the first song; there are still 19 to go.
These tales of love-as-mutually-assured-destruction have earned A Boogie a devoted following. His major-label debut, The Bigger Artist, reached Number Four on the Billboard 200 in 2017, out-selling long-established national stars like Miley Cyrus. It’s easy to see why: A Boogie is winningly open, even when expressing scorn or torment or shame. “Tryna keep it cool like the time I was in the studio with Future and his goons,” he raps touchingly on the new track “4 Min Convo (Favorite Song).” “Sittin’ next to my favorite rapper, actin’ scared to say it to him.”
And A Boogie’s sing-song style — “Melody nigga, she need me,” he boasts on “Beasty”— ensures that his tracks feel incongruously bright despite all the scorched-earth seduction. As he puts it on “Odee,” “It’s a hip-hop song, but I’m R&B-ing;” Hoodie SZN is packed full of references to Michael Jackson.
This album is fashionably long, but A Boogie’s childlike bitterness stays cutting throughout. “Blame my ex, that bitch, she did me dirty/ Had me fall in love and then she curved me,” he raps cruelly on “Swervin,'” another 2018 rap song fixated on acoustic loops. Just minutes later, he’s the callous one on “Skeezers”: “I cheated on you with a dancer/ OK, I surrender, my hands up/ At least I admit it, I man up.”
Sometimes you might want to hear the perspective of A Boogie’s partners-in-heartbreak, and that’s the gist of “Come Closer,” which sounds like a modern deconstruction of TLC’s “No Scrubs.” It’s a duet with the rising R&B singer Queen Naija, a rare woman to appear on a track with A Boogie. She’s not quite as mean as he is — Him: “If you lie, won’t forgive you … And I won’t ever, ever miss you;” Her: “So over your petty games, you’re getting way too comfortable” — though presumably she could get there with some practice. A whole album of songs like this would be fascinating in a voyeuristic way, like eavesdropping on another couple’s therapy session.
Can Hoodie SZN build on the unexpected national success of The Bigger Artist? In the run-up to his debut, A Boogie had several singles rising on the charts, but he’s been almost entirely silent this year, with the exception of an eight-track duets release that sank without a trace. Meanwhile, other rappers have risen peddling a similar style. Lil Baby, who has amassed over two billion total streams across three different projects this year, released a track titled “Close Friends” that would fit easily next to several of A Boogie’s romance-turned-sour records (try “Still Think About You” or “Unhappy”). Lil Tjay hails from the Bronx, just like A Boogie, and he employs similar vocal strategies on a recent string of SoundCloud hits. These artists’ homage is a compliment, but it’s also competition, a potential impediment to A Boogie’s national breakthrough.
But earlier this year, Spotify shared data that revealed which artists were disproportionately favored by particular states. The winner in New York? A Boogie. Plenty of rappers before him proudly carved out careers with little more than that.