Within just seconds of meeting Boogie, the nimble wordsmith with Compton, Calif. propped up on his shoulders, the day all but promises to end in disaster. Earlier, he and his two-person entourage disembarked from a red-eye flight that robbed him of decent shut-eye (blame middle seat discomfort) to make obligatory New York press rounds. An evening visit with VIBE would be the last appointment before hanging it up for the day. The next morning, they’d turn right back around to L.A.
As we make small talk down the corridor of our Midtown offices to grab a few things and head to our next destination, an admittedly ill-placed door juts out from the wall beside him, colliding with his face in what feels like slow motion. I wince as Boogie recoils and cradles his face in his hands. The rushing person on the other side of the door stands frozen and wide-eyed. It’s the freak accident I’d been dreading would happen to me or someone else in the office. Today it just so happens to be, by his own admission, “the best rapper ever” in training.
Apologies come tumbling out as mortification sets in, but he waves them off and cracks out a laugh. “Nah, it’s okay. I was just a little stunned. I’m good,” he says, relaxed. More apologies. His words sound like an obligatory response despite his assumed pain; the empty “Fine, and you?” to a stranger’s “How are you?” But with that charismatic crooked smile of his, cool and casual, he assures me that his relatively chummy mood is still intact. At the next door, however, he holds back, his manager joking that he should approach them all with extreme caution. I quickly learn that Boogie is the type to just go with it, taking bumps in stride and learning as he goes.
The West Coast rapper and Shady Records signee—not to be confused with New York’s rap-singing upstart, A Boogie wit da Hoodie (“[The matching names] don’t bother me, we got different lanes,” Boogie says)—has a funny kind of ease about him. Not necessarily the kind that makes a stranger entering his space feel comfortable, but rather the sort that makes it hard to put a hiccup in his mood. “Super chill” in nature, Boogie’s default demeanor seems to hover in between the two extremes, as if he’s in a hazy but functional high. Naturally low lids only peel back during blips of honest amusement. His speaking voice coasts along a relatively flat tonal spectrum, breaking only sparingly for inflections. That is, except for when he’s got the mic in his hands.
When I first saw him this past summer, Boogie commanded two separate Lollapalooza stages, the first of which included a tucked away tent for Toyota’s Music Den. A tight crowd of 50 or so bordered the platform, to which Boogie shed his white tee and fired off cunning couplets from his only three projects: Thirst 48 (2014), The Reach (2015) and Thirst 48 Pt. II (2016). When he leapt directly into the center of them all, matching their raucous jumping, ecstatic fans—your typical suburban white teenage festival-goers sporting mesh bralettes, khaki shorts paired with jerseys, dust bandanas and CamelBak water backpacks—towered over him. With the crook of his finger, he summoned one lucky guy to join him on stage, much to the chagrin of his bodyguard, to play hype man. It’s a far cry from what he says his first string of performances looked like.
“I was super trash,” the 27-year-old, nicknamed after Paid in Full’s Ace Boogie, recalls of earlier days. Then, he was timid in nature, awkwardly overcompensating for the lack of a developed stage presence and the audience not knowing his music. “I was yelling on the mic, too aggressive when I was rapping my stuff, and I didn’t have the swag. I was super mad at myself and I just vowed I had to step my game up and really perfect my craft as far as performing.”
After a two-month stint with Toronto-bred singer Tory Lanez, a high-octane performer and notorious stage diver, on his 2015 Swavenation tour, Boogie has grown noticeably comfortable with losing himself in the crowd and getting real close and personal with them. “I be smokin’ with [fans] after all the time,” he says. “That sh*t be tight. People tell me I need to chill before I get laced with something.”
His three tapes, all critically praised, have put valuable blips on the radars of SBTRKT, Skrillex, Rihanna (when she called him her “new fav.” beneath an IG clip of his sobering “N***a Needs” video, his social numbers skyrocketed), Kendrick Lamar and more. However, this year’s BET Hip-Hop Awards Detroit cypher is what formally put the rap world and its eager indulgers on notice.
“Shady, I been ducking shade all night/When you blind-sighted by life, ain’t no fade on sight,” he rapped cockily, opening up the Shady and Griselda Records cypher alongside Westside Gunn, Conway the Machine and Benny the Butcher. When it came time for Eminem’s hotly discussed solo freestyle, Boogie was part of the huddle of homies behind him, officially family. By the next morning, the cat was out of the bag: the slick spitter was Em’s promising new signee.
According to Boogie, the ink was still fresh on the page at that point. “Everything just happened fast,” he says through a steady lisp. The decision was easy, especially since he had already been signed to Interscope Records since 2015. But what made him know for sure that Eminem’s label, the arguable rap god whose notorious 8 Mile hit “Lose Yourself” won Boogie over, was the best home for him? “Besides the fact it’s Em?” he says with a sure laugh. “I mean, that’s it right there. I don’t know, after talking to him, just understanding that he understood my music. He actually knew my project [Thirst 48 Part II] and the concepts behind it. It was a go from there.”
For most of the ride to his Lower East Side hotel, Boogie doesn’t say much unless he’s being spoken to. His large glassy eyes stare out the SUV window between responses, idly following the streetlights as they pass. If not there, they’re down at the iPhone in his lap, likely thumbing through the social feeds we’ve come to know well via his Thirst 48 mixtape series. In both instances, he’s silent. It’s as close to the real Boogie as we’re going to get.
Boogie, real name Anthony Dixson (“I don’t let nobody call me by my government name”), grew up an extremely quiet, but highly sensitive kid. Born in Compton but living in Long Beach with his mom, he says she made sure he never felt like he was lacking in life even when, realistically, the family of two sometimes struggled. He still attended church in Compton, 20 minutes away on the I-710, where he was introduced to both gospel and gangbanging. An unashamed R&B lover—SZA, Jorja Smith, Brent Faiyaz, NAO, Beyonce and his personal GOAT, Lauryn Hill, are current faves—he immersed himself in the melodies of the choir while penning and performing “fire” Bible raps. That soon changed, though. “I never really read the Bible, so I couldn’t get super deep in my Bible raps,” he says. “I went outside and realized I was in Compton. They transitioned from gospel raps to Compton raps.”
These Compton raps, poetically delivered depictions of West Side living and a street life he refuses to glorify—not too far from the layered observance of K. Dot’s catalog—are what roped in his combined 180K fans (and counting). “If I keep preaching this message to all these youngin’s/Just thinking it’s gon’ work, ha/And what I do? I’m in the hood with my homies/They got them pistols, we tweeting how we so turnt ha/Backwards,” Boogie raps on “Intervention” from The Reach. Aside from the deliberate choice to pad these stories in social media-based scenarios, putting moral contradictions and his inner battles on front street is commonplace in his music. Boogie plans to nix the timeline talk and double down on his real-life dilemmas on his debut Shady project.
Eager ones can find hints of what’s to come in random Twitter scatters. In one video, he teases a “violent” new song with trap-jazz connoisseur Masego, while promising familiar magic with project regulars like singer D’Anna Stewart in another. “We came up with a concept for the project, and now we’re just trying to build,” Boogie says. “I’m kinda laying off the social media vibes, and more so talking about myself this time, my insecurities.” What kind of insecurities? He pauses. “Just, at times, I lack confidence. I’m salty a lot of the time. Basic sh*t. I’m always hard on myself, that I should be farther than where I’m at. It’s always a battle going on in my brain, just overthinking.” That heart-on-sleeve nature is one of the things he loves most about himself, though; the ability to share those parts others may shame.
As far as raps go, Boogie is an open book. “That’s my five-year-old kid; he’s still got crayons in his cupboard/Now how I’m ‘posed to tell him I got shot over a color?/That don’t make sense, and sense ain’t too common, is it?/They try to blame them, they ain’t really the problem, is it?” he raps over exploding drums on “Make Me Over” after his son pleads to the skies for God’s protection. Boogie is pretty vocal about hard lessons from gangbanging (“Further”), needing to grow up (“N***a Needs”) and his most deeply affecting rollercoaster relationship (“Best Friend – Jamesha Pt. 2”). However, count on him to steer clear of mentioning Darius’ mom, who he insists in previous interviews and on wax is a great mother. “If I monitor anything, it’s pretty much the relationship between me and my kid’s mom,” he says. “Even if it’s hard at times I try to keep it out of my music because I always want my kid to have this super great image of his mama. She’s gonna need him and he’s gonna need her.”
Parenthood is the only thing that comes before music, which he says is pretty high up there. He peppers bites of footage of his eight-year-old doing simple things like Milly Rocking to unreleased music, or asking him for homework help with the caption, “Man I love this guy.”
“You’re such a good dad, baby.” Boogie’s sassy imitation of his mother’s praise is tinged with the real life fulfillment he feels in being Darius’ father. “That’s my baby, that’s my baby,” he says of his wide-eyed doppelganger. The child, then six, lay sleeping on the cover of The Reach, innocently curled up in blankets while his father protectively watched over him. Boogie immediately softens at his mention, breaking into a toothy smile. In his eyes, he will have done his job if his son inherits his good qualities and learns from his flaws to do better, but he’s grateful for the responsibility regardless.
“Fathers are poppin’ and sh*t right now,” he says. “It’s cool to show male kids that we can be emotional with ’em. We don’t gotta be super tough with them. Don’t have to show them to have super thick skin and a cold heart. You gotta teach ’em early that you could be sensitive, you could show love. You feel me? But he still gotta be hard at the same time, gotta find a balance.”
Balance. It’s the thing that will ultimately keep Boogie grounded in the two joys that guide his life: dominating fatherhood and dominating rap.
VIBE: Your career is just beginning, but what would you like your legacy to be?
Boogie: What would be my legacy? Best rapper ever.
Like ever, ever. Like period.
Better. Kill him off, too. Anybody.
Yeah, you feel me? Every rapper, no name drops. Definitely everybody could get it… except for Em. Except for him.
Everyone in the car laughs at his smug humor and necessary deference, but I believe him. He may not have too much to celebrate just yet, but give him a few years and the throne is his. He already told the world this much during the BET cypher, anyway: “Don’t utter out my name unless you talking ‘bout the best/You keep lookin at my skin, this ain’t ordinary flesh/It’s Godbody.”
Videography by Jason Chandler