It’s been a little over two years since A Boogie wit Da Hoodie released his third official album, Artist 2.0. In an interview with Apple Music, he said that caring for his mother, who had cancer, as well as mourning the death of PnB Rock in September contributed to his relative absence prior to Me vs. Myself. (On the deluxe edition, he honors PnB Rock with “Needed That.”) But it feels like mainstream rap has shifted in the interim.
The melodic form that Boogie utilized to great success on hits like “Look Back at It” and “Numbers” doesn’t represent the leading edge anymore. Rising acts like Ice Spice and Flo Milli as well as wily veterans like Lil Durk and Youngboy Never Broke Again have begun adopting a harder rapping style, perhaps reflecting the continuing impact of Chicago and Brooklyn drill and hearkening to an era when rap meant speaking real words, not just singing in a rhythmic cadence. It’s a subtle change, and you can still find plenty of mainstream stars on the charts twisting their voices with Auto-Tuned effects. Time and a new year will tell where the genre heads next.
In the meantime, there’s Boogie with a new album, just in time for the holidays. The Highbridge, Bronx-born rapper has long nurtured an appealing voice, charismatic yet filled with unexpected angst. He sticks to the persona he established with his 2016 mixtape The Artist, evoking a young man whose rap life affords him every desire, yet still gets rattled when a relationship goes sideways, or when opps cross him in the streets. These are themes he mines over and over, deploying melodious hooks and diaristic lyrics to keep them fresh. The result is an hour-plus album with few surprises.
The production template on Me vs. Myself is full of echoing guitars and pianos, an Enya-like zone of contemplation. The tension comes from Boogie harmonizing with force over these vibe-y abstractions. “I always kept it real with people who was fake with me,” he sings over the flickering guitar tones of “Food for Thought.” It’s addressed to a former lover, and he claims, “I’m out of touch with real life/I fell in love with other bitches to see what that shit feel like.” He adds details like “38 bezel on my wrist” and “two .38s on my hip” to symbolize his wealth as well as his wariness of others. “And then I wake up sober,” he concludes, as if it’s all a dream.
Unfortunately, one of the stronger tracks is “Take Shots” with Tory Lanez. The Canadian rap singer has become a Johnny Depp-like figure, exploiting criminal charges surrounding his alleged shooting of Megan Thee Stallion to resuscitate his once-flagging career. He admittedly comes off well on “Take Shots,” adeptly switching between harmonies and rapping, “Fuck all that singing shit, let’s keep it raw and rugged” as he and Boogie describe alcohol-soused orgies. Meanwhile, Kodak Black, with whom Boogie scored the hit “Drowning” in 2017, returns for “Water (Drowning Pt. 2).” Earlier this year, Kendrick Lamar was excoriated for platforming Kodak. But the rap generalists that scrutinize major figures like Lamar over ethics probably won’t notice Lanez and Kodak on Me vs. Myself. Meanwhile, Boogie’s core audience could care less.
Boogie’s style works in manageable doses. His melodic raps are constructed from a vicious circle of wealth, public attention both welcomed and unwanted, disposable “bitches,” and the one girl who broke his heart. Sometimes, the thematic tedium results in an unexpected delight, like “Come Here,” a strip club anthem where he sings, “Throw that ass in a circle, woah, woah, woah” over keyboard lines emitting erotic vibes. He nurtures his image as a young sex symbol, evoking Usher’s “Nice and Slow” on “Emotions” (“I’ll fuck you right I will”) and Big Pun’s “Still Not a Player” on “Playa (Remix)” (“I can let you drive the Bentley, just don’t drive me crazy”).
Me vs. Myself is meant to reflect Boogie’s awareness of his strengths and limitations, but he’s balling too hard to get too deep. He’s having fun with his “broskis,” drinking and popping Adderall pills with abandon. “Got my hoodie on like Melo in the Garden/Got my money up, I’m ballin’ like Lebron’s son,” he brags on “Ballin’.” He knows that he broke a woman’s heart, but he can’t quite articulate what may have happened beyond unfaithfulness. “Why you always gotta go and talk about my old hoes/Why you gotta take it there, places that we don’t go?” he sings on “Turn off the Radio.” His life is dominated by the pleasure principle…at least until someone gets hurt.