The New Parish in uptown Oakland is structured like an architect with a cruel sense of humor wanted patrons to feel like they were in a maze. There are multiple passageways to the same room, pitch black stairways, hidden doors, and doors that seemingly weren’t designed to open at all. After scouring the area, Boogie and his manager find a deck that doubles as a place for both privacy and fresh air. The random crevice of the jumbled up building is perfect for the moment, just like that madman of an architect surely intended.
The 27-year-old rapper born Anthony Dixson is reserved, but eager to talk. He’s dressed in a fresh pair of red, lowtop Sk8-Hi Vans, a matching red dad hat and a brand new olive hoodie from bay area clothing line Breezy Excursion to offset the ensemble. Boogie speaks with a slight lisp and if it’s supposed to somehow deter his confidence it doesn’t, he talks firmly and quickly, like he thinks he has a limited time to say everything on his mind, so we start at the beginning.
“The church was where I feel in love with melodies, because they had us singing all the time,” he told me before his headlining set on the Pigeons and Planes No Ceilings tour stop in Oakland. “Then I started doing little gospel raps, then we realized we was in Compton and them gospel raps wasn’t cutting it so we kind of transitioned from that.”
For most, church is where they go to find God and faith. For Boogie, that’s where he found music and the Bloods, and those discoveries might have saved his life and put him on the path to become Compton’s next great emcee.
“All the gang members went to this church in Compton,” he recalled about an hour before he’s set to hit the stage. “I started hanging with them after church, we went to this neighborhood and I just never looked back. I was stuck there.”
Boogie turned heads and earned plenty of new ears with his last LP Thirst 48: Part II. It was hailed by many as one of the best rap releases of 2016, and even earned him a cosign from Rihanna herself.
“I feel like she definitely opened a lot of doors for me,” he said of her posting a clip of his “N*gga Needs” video on her Instagram. “I was signed for two years, and when she posted that I only had like 15,000 followers. I got like 80,000 in just a couple of hours. That just shows you the power of Rihanna, and I love her for that because she didn’t have to do that.”
But the music itself earned plenty of acclaim as well, even before Rihanna. His music is a unique blend of downtrodden overthinking, odes to love and all its perils, sunny Los Angeles jams, and tenacious street bangers, that make for a diverse palate and dynamic listening experience. It creates a nuanced character, one that can touch multiple bases and be relatable to various crowds, but is still true to himself and it’s all by design.
“I want to bring different energies to my tapes,” he said of the varied content and sonic landscapes. “I don’t want to have one, dull, energy and I don’t want to have no super turnt up energy the whole tape. I want to take you through different emotions. I want you to be turnt with me on this track, then emotional with me on this track and then vulnerable on the next track. That’s just the vibes I be going with. It makes it interesting throughout, that’s my plan.”
Still, he’s well aware of the misconceptions that can create if someone hears just one Boogie without experiencing the rest of the multifaceted artist he has become. “I was with this girl from Baltimore like a week ago, she came to the show,” he said. “I guess she thought I was this super, super, hardcore hood nigga and she was like ‘You not like ‘Oh My,’ I need you to go broke again. All these love songs you making, you weird.’ I think she thought I was like “Oh My” all day. Like that’s how I’m walking around. That’s not who I am. That’s just a side of me, one part of my life that happened.”
The softer side Ms. Baltimore heard was undoubtedly Part II, an album dedicated to Boogie’s now ex-girlfriend Jamesha who is immortalized on the LP’s cover with her face scratched out.
One of the subtleties of Part II’s content that gives the tape an especially modernized feel and personal touch is the tussling Boogie does with his cellphone throughout the 40-minute runtime. “I’m so addicted to my phone,” he admitted. “It can be the downfall of a relationship. My phone is definitely like 50% of why me and Jamesha broke up. The DMs I got caught with, my phone probably should get taken from at like 11:30 PM at night because that’s when I got to fight my thirstiness and the temptations. It goes both ways. I caught her recently but she just likes to blame it on the sh*t I did before, and that’s why she does this. It’s an unhealthy cycle me and her had.”
Plus, it didn’t help that he released an album airing out all of their dirty laundry. “We don’t even talk anymore,” he revealed bluntly. “I haven’t talked to her in a minute and as much as I miss her, that’s just where our lives took us. My music is that important to me where I’ve got to tell my story, so it just happened like that.”
That’s the price an artist pays for being so revealing, but though he says it’s a necessary sacrifice for the quality and honesty of the music, it also seems to be therapeutic. “It’s super fun to channel those emotions. It just feels good. I don’t talk about it with nobody else, and I know it’s stuff I have to get off my chest so I just say it in the music,” he said. “It’s a comfort thing, I’m comfortable being vulnerable on tracks. I think I use it as a defense mechanism, like if I put myself out there like this, y’all can’t tear me down because I’m already putting myself out there like this.”
But now he’s looking to build on those experiences and the process of allowing the world to see them in all their unpleasantness. “Lately I’ve been trying to make sure I’m still changing from this stuff. I talk about my flaws and all the changing I want to do, but I feel I don’t really change from it. If I keep making the same mistakes I’m going to keep having the same problems, so I’m trying to really change now instead of just talking about it.”
Now, with his tank seemingly emptied from all of the divulging he’s done about his relationship woes, he’s ready to switch energies for his forthcoming, as-of-yet untitled debut album. (Boogie says he has a title he’s waiting to reveal, his manager says it’ll probably change. Again.) After a move to the Los Angeles suburb of Burbank inspired the tone of Part II, Boogie’s shift into what he called “album mode” also features a change in locale.
“I had to get a little more grounded again,” he said about moving back closer to Compton. “It’s like, you’re missing your city for so long I started feeling like I was losing my edge a little bit. Even though I love Burbank, I was able to create Thirst 48: Part II there and channel those emotions for females and stuff like that, but this time around for this album I want to get more into that street shit again and talk about those vibes.”
The return to the city he never left brings its own pressures though, as there is a reputation to uphold, a line of rap royalty to live up to and rap’s current, undisputed king to share space with. While most would be intimidated by the presence of and comparisons to Kendrick Lamar, Boogie is inspired by K. Dot and counts himself as a fan.
“I been listening to Dot since it came out because that’s like if you don’t listen to Dot in our hood you gonna get beat up,” he said bluntly. “I know the comparisons I’m going to get. If I rap, rap, like super rap on a track they’re going to automatically say Kendrick just because of how lazy critics get. They think anybody who raps good from the west is trying to be Dot. I idolize him. That’s my homie and I look up to everything he does, but I’m still myself. I was talking to Terrace Martin and he said the same thing, I’ve got to find my lane, make sure I find my niche and make sure people know Boogie’s sound and that’s my goal right now.”
Boogie even admits the release of Kendrick’s latest opus has forced him to reconfigure what he was thinking about his album, and it seems he appreciates the challenge of existing in the same universe as the Compton wunderkind. “Kendrick’s album came out and now I’ve got to step my game up. I feel like I be needing that because it be so dry without good music, nothing really can push me and I have no standard to set,” he said about the release of DAMN. “I can always say I want to do better than my last project, but it’s good to see my peers or people better than me dropping classic shit, and they make me want to work harder.”
Most rap performances are structured the same, opening with a burst of energy, then, some treading water before a grand finale. With an abbreviated 20-minute set, Boogie didn’t have that luxury when it came time to rock the New Parish crowd of about 150 people. So instead of structuring his set like a marathon, Boogie’s performance was a vigorous and lively sprint. From the moment he kicked off the performance with “No Way,” the set was like a muscle car that only has fifth gear, driven by Dominic Toretto, with a tank full of Nos that lasts the entire race. The spirited routine was enough to make even the subdued and tranquil Part II highlight “Sunroof” a pleasantly intense experience.
At times, his eyes grew wide and he stared at a single member of the crowd passionately while ripping through his lyrics in what must be an exhilarating experience for the fan. He gave a powerful rendition of Rihanna’s favorite “N*gga Needs” that served as the crowd’s only chance to settle into a pulsating calm that gave him the space to do the song justice. Finally, Boogie invited a few fans onto the stage for the grand finale, a jubilant performance of “Oh My,” that required him to stop, invite some more people on stage and restart with even more liveliness than the already fervent initial performance. It was a fitting end to the set, one final burst of energy, and one final portion of Boogie’s complex puzzle of emotions.
That type of energy requires some sort of preparation, so Boogie does the best he can. “Like a month before the tour I try to get fake healthy,” he said while laughing at the notion. “I’ll start running little laps around my apartment in the morning. I’ll do like a hundred push-ups a day, and feel like I’m being healthy, but I’m probably not even doing nothing really (laughs).”
Oakland was a successful night, and though the tour hasn’t been a roaring success, Boogie remains optimistic, appreciative, and realistic about his progress through it thus far. “I know at this stage of my career I’m not going to really sell out everything,” he said with the type of refreshing honesty seldom seen from rappers. “So I just try to make sure I put on a good show whether it’s ten people out there or hundreds of people. It’s been up and down but it’s still been some good turnouts, regardless of how many people are there it’s been fun.”
After the show he’s exhausted, sweating profusely and still without his nice new hoodie and undershirt after removing them during the second “Oh My” performance. “I’m ready to go home now,” he said of his impending return to the Los Angeles area for the final two shows of the tour. While he may have emptied the gas tank like a cheetah on a mad dash during a hunt, he took the time to oblige all of the fans brave enough to approach him with pictures and some gracious conversation.
So the sprint of his first headlining tour is nearing its end, and Boogie is now turning to the marathon he’s been running for some time now, the race to release his debut album. “I always feel the pressure to uphold the reputation of Compton,” he said of his hometown and the work ahead of him. “I still feel like I don’t get the credit I deserve so I know I have to work hard. I definitely feel underrated and unappreciated, but I try not to use that shit because I don’t want to seem bitter, because I’m definitely grateful where I’m at. I know it’s all up to me, if I want to be bigger I can make it happen. But I definitely feel like people are asleep, but it’s up to me to wake them up.”
His talent is immense, and if he is given he freedom and opportunity to do so, waking up non-believers should be no problem for the thoughtful and nuanced rapper. But proving doubters wrong and his devotees right isn’t the only thing on his mind, Boogie’s aspirations, where he hopes music will take him and what he hopes the end result of this journey from church to the Bloods, to the makeshift studio in the closet and then all around the world are lofty.
“My goal is, I really want to be the best rapper alive. The best rapper ever,” he said matter of factly. “I know it’s going to take a lot of work, but I’m going to put it in and make it happen for myself.”