The eviction notice came the week before. It arrived with no warning or explanation, just a legally binding request to vacate this bland slab of suburbia before October 1.
“Probably racism,” surmises Anthony Dixson, better known by his rap name, Boogie, when asked why his landlord wanted him out of the two-bedroom Burbank house. “The neighbors throw parties all day, but as soon as I have people over, the cops show up,” he says. “I think they think we’re drug dealers.” He is surrounded by a trio of his producers and his manager in a cramped bedroom-turned-studio with a mattress on the floor and a wide computer screen, speakers, and an MPC production controller crowding a second-hand desk. A heart-shaped piece of construction paper with a child’s handprint is taped to the wall. It’s from his 7-year-old son, Darius, who is playing Xbox in the living room.
Displacement from the first home he’s ever called his own is dispiriting enough. But several other pressing uncertainties loom over him on this sweltering August afternoon in the San Fernando Valley. Can Boogie become the next big rap star representing Southern California without a major cosign, a hot producer, a radio push, an adherence to industry trends, or a viral social media presence? Over the past 15 months, he’s become the most critically acclaimed rapper from Compton since Kendrick Lamar, earning a six-figure advance and lavish praise across music publications thanks to his vulnerable but caustic lyrics and resin-sticky melodies. But can anyone make it in 2016 on music alone?
Another big uncertainty: the release date of Boogie’s first official album, Thirst 48 Part 2, on Interscope, the record label he was signed to a year ago and shares with his Compton predecessors, Dr. Dre and Lamar. But postproduction remains unfinished. There’s an imminent national tour to prepare for and last-minute creative decisions to be made — an official tracklist, approval of the final versions of his songs. Oh, and his son’s mom as well as his on-off girlfriend are mad at him for miscellaneous deceptions.
“It’s definitely stressing me,” he says, hunched forward in an office chair, wearing a white T and red hat. “The sickest thing is that I work my best and fastest during times of turmoil, drama, and not being comfortable.”
In 2014, he self-financed his debut mixtape, Thirst 48, but it received only limited traction on SoundCloud and YouTube. He was also struggling to support his son while living with his mom in a rough stretch of Long Beach and trying to avoid the funereal entrapments of street life. Late that year, Interscope talent scout Tim Glover saw Boogie’s “Bitter Raps” video in which he indicts other rappers for trying to sound like Compton folk hero, rapper YG. “It let me know that his head was at a different place than other artists,” Glover says. “He wanted to stand on his own two.”
Boogie went from a relative unknown to the shortlist of L.A. rappers on the cusp to a label-bidding war, buoyed by “Oh My,” the breakout single from his second mixtape, last summer’s The Reach. The video has more than 3 million YouTube views and shows Boogie, surrounded by a sea of red caps and T’s, stomping around the west side of Compton with Campanella Park Piru Bloods, delivering the rarest of combinations: a banger hard enough to detonate in clubs but harrowing enough to induce chills when you consider his lyrics.
“I honestly don’t even know what I spent my advance on,” Boogie says about a track on the new album that refers to him running through his Interscope signing payout in a matter of months. “I spent it on weed, Uber, and the homies. I looked up, and it was gone.”
As innocuous as it sounds, the admission is radical. Rappers frequently expose their vulnerability, eccentricity, drug addictions, and romantic foibles. But saying you’re not rich on a major-label album is practically unheard of.
“I want to set an example for my son,” Boogie says. “I don’t want my son to think being a liar is cool.” He’s 26 but often seems much older, weary with the anxiety of all overthinkers, especially those who understand how much of a musician’s life is predicated on luck. “Generally speaking, Boogie doesn’t like people,” his manager, Clayton Blaha, says. “He likes his kid, making music, and talking to girls on Instagram. He has a very small circle of friends that’s only shrunk.”
Much of the new album is about his ferocious love for his son and his fear of letting him down. There are a few party songs, but those, too, seem haunted by traumas of the past and anxiety about the future. “We can’t do Fresh Prince of Bel-Air music in Compton,” says hip-hop legend DJ Quik, who makes a guest turn on Thirst 48 Part 2. “It’s a place where birthday parties and house parties — something positive can end up getting shot at the end of the night.”
On “Needs,” a song off the upcoming album, Boogie describes himself as “food-stamp popping, white-T rocking, swap-meet shopping, Instagram watching, DM hopping … church-boy singing, west-side banging, girlfriend taking.” Other rappers use their everyday life to seem relatable, but Boogie does it as a way of calling himself out. “I still need to grow,” he admits. “I need to stop lying to these girls.”
“Boogie embodies everything you want in a young artist. He’s fresh-faced, marketable, and not biting anybody,” says Quik.
The duality of Boogie’s lyrics — the perils of the streets, ecumenical salvation — and his sound fall somewhere between the mad-city gospel of Kendrick Lamar and the celestial sorrow of Lauryn Hill. Boogie not only refuses to glamorize his gang-affiliated past, but he’s largely avoided drawing upon it for his narratives. Over soul-infused beats, he weaves tales of what he refers to as “the thirst”: social media boasting and small-screen temptations that screw up your real life.
“My music is personal; I don’t know how to talk about nothing else but the shit I go through,” Boogie says. A friend knocks on the bedroom door to deliver their In-N-Out order. It’s going to be another long night in the studio.
He glances at his phone like a reluctant addict. The label is telling him that he needs to favorite the tweets of fans talking about his music. He has texts to return. Producers are waiting on him to approve final versions of songs. He still needs to figure out where he’s going to live.