In an interview with Rolling Stone about his new album, Artist 2.0, Bronx rapper A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie says he feels that his previous works are “medicore,” even as he describes them as classics. According to A Boogie, “Hits is mediocre. All hits is mediocre.” It’s ironic, because he seems to be able to casually pop those out whenever he wants, but the above quote makes it seem like he wants to do so much more. That’s what makes Artist 2.0 — so titled for its principal’s real name, Artist Dubose — so frustrating. As an album, it never sinks under the weight of its contradictions but it never really soars, either.
There is so much potential in A Boogie. He has great instincts as a rapper — far better than a New York hip-hop traditionalist might think. Artist 2.0 is stuffed to bursting with examples that show just how good he can be at rapping, even as his signature singsong style expands to new pockets of delivery. However, if he wants to live up to his government name and be a capital-A “Artist,” he needs to step up his craft. At the very least he needs to make a choice between which of these things he is. Until he does, he’s going to sell himself short every time.
The flashes of more straightforward lyrical brilliance come early and relatively often. A Boogie has a gift for wordplay that could make even the staunchest ’90s conservative do the “did he say that” face flinch. The hook on “Hit ‘Em Up” with Trap Manny kicks off with some slick assonance: “You know how we pullin’ up,” A Boogie boasts, “We might not be big, but you can’t fight no bullets, so don’t try to bully us.” The casual way he delivers the bar makes it seems like he could do this sort of thing — producing head-turning rhymes dripping with sardonic wit — in his sleep.
Then, on “Stain,” he displays the other pillar of rap mastery — the truthful flex. “I get money and you don’t, I just did like five platinums in a row,” he boasts. These are some of the best — and most difficult — rhymes to pull off because unlike double entendres, there’s no subjectivity allowed. Fans love when rappers lie, but when they spit indisputable facts, they enter a new realm of respect reserved only for the highest achievers.
A Boogie certainly qualifies for the distinction — in fact, his singles have been so successful to date that you could reasonably argue that the style he coined on his 2016 breakout hit “Drowning” has become the de facto sound of new New York. Last year’s runaway hits “Ransom” and “F.N” — from Lil Tecca and Lil Tjay respectively — could easily be called rehashes of the “Drownin'” formula. However, as the saying goes, it’s not about who did it first, it’s about who did it the best. While A Boogie had a point when he tweeted about deserving more credit for laying the foundation for the newbies to walk on, he hasn’t provided the strongest examples of his own style for a minute.
Rap’s “what have you done for me lately” stance requires constantly topping yourself to stay on top. Unfortunately for A Boogie, it’s hard to think of anything he’s done since “Drowning” that has been as compelling. While Hoodie SZN standout “Look Back At It” also became an instant, near-ubiquitous hit, it was mostly due to the familiarity of the Michael Jackson riffs throughout the song. A Boogie himself used the song as an example of the “mediocrity” of hits; if he doesn’t even respect the work he did himself, why should anyone else?
The other issue with Artist 2.0 is that it doesn’t feel like an “album” per se, just a collection of potential hits. And if we take A Boogie’s earlier statement at face value, that means his latest album is made up of mostly his mediocre work. The frustrating part is where he specifically states a higher purpose but flip-flops on just what that purpose is. On the aforementioned “Hit ‘Em Up” he sums up his style as such: “They call me a singer, I’m rapping with melodies,” but then on “Might Not Give Up” he says, “I ain’t nothin’ like a rapper, I’m a artist.”
This confusion over which of the two designations he most wants to earn reverberates throughout the project. He undercuts his best rap work with droning, too-similar beats that don’t really require the best of him, and he always pulls back just as it seems like he might start really rapping. At the same time, the samey subject matter and trendy production and features — currently hot artists DaBaby, Lil Uzi Vert, Roddy Ricch, Summer Walker, and Young Thug all make appearances here — work against the artist designation that he could earn by really innovating and experimenting.
A prime example of the contradiction might just be the way the album addresses A Boogie’s relationships with women. Throughout, he speaks on not loving “bitches,” not needing women, and having a generally cavalier attitude toward romance. He not only put a giant heart on the cover of the album, he released it on Valentine’s Day. On “R.O.D.,” he says, “It’s DTB, no, I don’t trust bitches / And I don’t mean to disrespect ’cause you know I love women.” This is the dichotomy of A Boogie’s albums so far. To quote a New York legend: “Is it ‘Oochie Wally Wally’ or is it ‘One Mic?'”
Everything on Artist 2.0 is catchy, but nothing is as memorable as it could be. Meanwhile, A Boogie clearly has the tools to be a great rapper if he wants. But the jury is still out on whether he can be a great artist. To do so would require him to throw away the security of being the great hitmaker he is — especially given his philosophy on making hits — and dig deep for inspiration. There’s a good album at the core of this project. Maybe with some sharper editing and clearer focus on who A Boogie is and who he wants to be, he can unlock that formula on his inevitable followup.
A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie is a Warner Music artist. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.