At some point, Artist J. Dubose got his heart broken. Then, a year ago today, on Valentine’s Day, Dubose—stage name A Boogie wit da Hoodie—shared that sadness with the world on his debut mixtape, Artist. “Imma just send you this letter whenever I’m done with it / I know you gon’ read it / I called you a bitch at the end, I don’t know if I mean it,” raps A Boogie on “Still Think About You.” Addressed to a past lover who cheated on him, the young rapper is unsure about what do with his wounded emotions. So he commits it to the page. “Even if you feel like you love her / Don’t tell that bitch that you really love her,” he warns. And yet, he can’t help but show his vulnerability, again and again, on the song’s hook: “I still think about you / Girl, I still think about you.”
A Boogie’s debut mixtape slowly gathered buzz last year, especially in New York, where his songs eventually landed on the city’s premier radio station, Hot 97. By the end of the summer, A Boogie signed with Atlantic Records. Still finding his voice, the Bronx native pulled heavily from the So Far Gone-era Drake; Artist is full of dour production, half-sung hooks, and intense reflection of his own grief. But Drake, even in his earliest days, kept his emotions in check—whereas A Boogie, who was still a teenager when he recorded Artist, isn’t always so careful, or simply doesn’t care to be. Drake has been become the butt of endless jokes for his supposed softness, and the range of emotion he displays in his music has calcified over the years because of it. Meanwhile, on Artist, A Boogie wonderfully lets himself get caught in his feelings.
Raised in the south Bronx neighborhood Highbridge, A Boogie’s subject matter isn’t limited to matters of his heart—he also shows the same emotional vulnerability when it comes to matters of the streets. “I was walking in the rain with my Timbs on / Stepping over puddles full of pain / All my friends gone / Some in jail, others changed” he raps on “Jungle,” as he pieces together a world that can violently spin out of his control. His focus on these details is what quickly separates A Boogie from his fellow tri-state area crooners: PnB Rock and Fetty Wap. All three hold great ears for melodies, but A Boogie’s knack for storytelling is a trait rightfully respected by New York’s old guard, as he never allows an adlib or vocal effect to usurp the voice of his pen.
The only time Artist strays from that lyricism is unironically, on A Boogie’s breakthrough single, “My Shit.” The buoyantly braggadocious song may sound like Atlanta, but the swagger is all king of New York 50 Cent. That tough, but warm approach has been the under-acknowledged calling card of New York rap for the last few decades. It’s there when P. Diddy brazenly samples “Every Step You Take” in memory of Biggie, on Ja Rule’s tender R&B collabs, and when 50 Cent, after mocking Ja Rule’s supposed softness, achieved his own pop success with saccharin love songs “21 Questions” and “Candy Shop.”
“I used to grow up listening to Cassidy and Beanie Sigel,” raps A Boogie on “Always On Time,” which only appeared on the original mixtape version of Artist. His first turn to pop isn’t as bold-faced as the original, but on his cover of the Ja Rule and Ashanti song, A Boogie skillfully balances street toughness and pure romantic openness. It’s a skill lost on many New York rappers in the last decade, who become obsessed with maintaining a narrow vision of the city. A Boogie’s music always inwardly reflects the troubles in his head, but he doesn’t turn his concerns into larger-than-life narratives or motifs. He’s just trying to make sense of his own emotions.