When I was little, my mom used to do that cliche thing — clean the house on Sundays and play oldies. I loved it — mostly, because for a long time she didn’t make me help because I only got in the way — but also for the music. She’d play her favorites from the Motown era: Beautiful, soulful music from the likes of Al Green, Marvin Gaye, The Miracles, Smokey Robinson, and The Temptations. These songs became the soundtrack of my childhood. Seemingly every Sunday it felt like I was transported back to one of those scenes from A Bronx Tale or The Sandlot, from an era long before me when things were simpler and cars were bigger.
One of her favorites was The Stylistics “Break Up To Make Up,” a song I wouldn’t understand for at least decade, though I’d loved it for seemingly all my life. When you’re little it sounds simple enough, it’s fun to sing along with and part of you understands that it’s quality music. When you’re older? You scratch below the surface and the song resonates. You realize they were right, love is a game for fools. Love hurts, it’s up and down, it’s messy and never how it’s portrayed in movies or on the sappy songs. It’s not perfect, it’s static and frenetic, whooshing you in every direction possible. A calm stasis in love is generally bad news, someone is bored, something is wrong and probably fatally so. Love is weird like that.
You know the old adage: They just don’t make ’em like that anymore.
Boogie’s Thirst 48 Pt. 2 is complex thematically; he covers vast spaces of his psyche, speaking on everything from the impoverished conditions of his hometown to the apps on his phone he uses to keep track of his ex’s moves on social media. It shifts from macro to micro in an instant, like someone peering at a sea of people in a stadium then suddenly holding up a pair of binoculars and shifting the focus to take a peek at one single, solitary person in the upper deck across the field.
At its core though, Pt. 2 is a love story, a rocky story, with a few ups and bright afternoons, but many, many more downs and gloomy days. The love at the center of the story is authentic, not monogamous, and often flawed, almost fatally so. But that’s love, a flawed series of ups and downs. And walking away from love, falling out of love? That’s even more complicated, and not a one-stop shop. Like Jerry Seinfeld famously said: It’s like tipping over a vending machine, you can’t do it in one fell swoop, you have to rock it side to side a few times before you can complete the job.
What Boogie does beautifully in his love story is he accurately paints an almost cringeworthy tale of a man’s perspective that is almost never told. In a genre that is synonymous with the words “B*tch” and “Hoe” it’s a unicorn of sorts: A tough, but vulnerable man who can be petty, emotional and even heartbroken in a relationship. In that sense, Boogie did, indeed, make an album that evokes the beautiful vulnerabilities of the old classics.
On “Won’t Be The Same” he almost sulks, pondering what once was, what could have been and how he’ll get it back. He does things men always do, but pretend they don’t to their friends. “That door closed like something I ain’t ever seen,” he reflects. Then he offers the ultimate commitment as a way to make amends: “What if that door bell done turned into a wedding ring? Would you be with it?”
But the first verse is just an appetizer. That’s when Boogie was being nice, simply going through the motions and coming to grips with what happened while still marinating in denial. The second verse is the entree, where he wrestles with the breakup, and begins to snap back because of the hurt he was forced to feel. He, the man, was played — a rare admission in rap — and now he wants revenge. Quite simply, he’s sad and does not like it
“I went from running through your mind to feelin I need a wheel chair,” he achingly admits, longing for what they once had. The painful confession continues in the next bar, “Might just write a eulogy say my feelings got killed here.”
After getting all of that out he then begins to lash out, while still reveling in the pain of the moment. “Might hit you to argue just to see if you still care,” before admitting another rap scarcity, “I play games baby, ’cause I need clarity.”
He even stoops low enough to attack an always controversial portion of a relationship: in-laws. “Why you mama always hating?,” he asks angrily. “She just mad she got no n***a,” he chirps before threatening “I might give her what she asked for.”
It’s quite the series of admissions, and as a black man it’s an especially powerful revelation: He has feelings and he’s susceptible to them just like everybody else. In a culture where masculinity is fragile, and love is taboo, Boogie spits in the face of those unfortunate norms to simply exist however he choses and bravely admit both love and heartbreak.
Still, those cultural standards eventually seep back into the track and Boogie’s train of thought at the end of the verse. “It’s just a sad song,” he proclaims before instantly contradicting himself by announcing “But I ain’t really sad though.” Despite all of the evidence to the contrary in the previous three minutes, he instantly denies it all, turtling back into his shell and trusting the bulletproof exterior that is that denial to protect him and his masculinity.
Comedian Neal Brennan — famed for his stint as a writing partner with Dave Chappelle on his best work, including Chappelle’s Show — recently discussed the phenomenon of black male fragility on his Netflix standup special 3 Mics. “Black dudes aren’t allowed to be sad in public,” he said during an especially poignant spiel about his own depression. It’s true, black men, and men of color in general aren’t allowed the privilege of sadness in public. Often they’re forced into a shell of “hardness” and expected to mask any sort of feelings they may have besides anger.
This exists in music as well, as rap is often stereotyped as waves of braggadocio and bragging about sexual exploits and drug-dealing. Commercially, authenticity often gives way to pigeonholed rap tropes that masses seem to gravitate to. Love is often the first raw emotion to fall into the wayside as rap is strained on its way to commercial radio. While there are brief pockets of authenticity in someone like Drake’s mostly cookie cutter musings of love — “I gave your nickname to someone else” from “Redemption” was an especially brutal quip — it’s often a light, stripped down and polished up version of what a relationship actually is.
Boogie isn’t the first man to get on a rap song and lament about feelings he’s not supposed to feel. Hardly. But he is part of a wave of rappers like Kendrick Lamar Kevin Gates, Future, J. Cole and even Lil Wayne who have been more willing, and almost obligated, to be so transparent. It’s an announcement to the world: We feel sh*t too, and we’re not afraid to say it anymore. Growing up in a world where boys were expected to suck it up, “man up,” be stoic and never cry, no matter how painful the fall or damaging the occurrence, it’s refreshing.
So yes, men love, and men care, and men are hurt when they’re heartbroken. Even black and brown men. Even rappers. Love is beautiful, but life will teach you pretty quick that it ain’t pretty. It’s a game for fools, a game men play too, and they just might stoop low enough to start an argument just to see if you still care. Even they play games, because even they crave clarity. And like Boogie, they can even make sad songs, even if they ain’t really sad though.
Maybe Boogie’s mom cleaned up blasting oldies on Sundays too, or maybe he just wanted to spill his emotions out regardless of societal norms. On “Won’t Be The Same” and Thirst 48 Pt. 2 as a whole he does just that, and in a twist that leans more toward Motown, tapping into an emotion that can be overlooked in hip-hop: Love. He does it with the nuance of the Stylistics, but with the sensibilities of a 26-year-old in modern-day Compton, scrolling through his Instagram, tapping through his Snapchat and lurking through his girlfriend’s comments (like everybody else does but won’t admit it.) So now, it plays while I take my kids to school, or do the dishes, or play NBA 2K. And though my kids might not understand it now, maybe in 20 years they’ll understand just how painful, complicated and loving an admission like “tempted to text you and call you stupid” is. And who knows, maybe they’ll even relate to the sounds of an oldie.