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A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie - International Artist Music Album Reviews

A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie - International Artist Music Album Reviews
The latest project from the Bronx rapper enlists musicians from across the globe for an attempted cross-cultural exchange of Afrobeat, dancehall, and reggaeton to mixed effect.

Bronx rapper A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie has become an under-the-radar star. His debut album, last year’s The Bigger Artist, was sold and streamed more in its first week than Playboi Carti’s or Lil Yachty’s and it was certified gold in March. The album produced the biggest of his four platinum singles, “Drowning,” a minor-key celebration of being flooded with ice. His success, the product of a sing-songy style that’s closer to what’s coming out of the South than what’s happening in his borough, has ironically added him to the short (and constantly changing) list of rappers out to restore New York City to its former glory as a rap mecca. But A Boogie’s sophomore album, International Artist, expands his ambitions beyond being king of his backyard. Here, in his role as Bronx ambassador, A Boogie organizes an intercultural bloc, striving to integrate his tuned hip-hop moans with sounds from across the African and Latin diasporas.

A Boogie, born Artist Dubose, grew up in the same Highbridge neighborhood that produced Cardi B, but while she’s placed herself in the genealogy of epic NYC punchers, he has remained reliant on his whined melodies indebted to out-of-towners. His writing isn’t as vivid as those that have come before him (or his contemporaries, for that matter), but he is distinctive and honest, both to his city and his story. Though his music doesn’t embody the New York of rap’s past, he has brought a much-needed fresh take as a prominent figure on the city’s vanguard. (It’s telling that he was tapped to open for Drake at three sold out Madison Square Garden shows in 2016, since he is a noted acolyte of the post-Drake rap-sung half-ballad.) This has made him more amenable to ideas of what New York can, or should, sound like—“[New York’s] like a vibe, it’s a hit song, it’s a song that you could listen to in five years and still like,” he told Interview magazine—and should, in theory, make him an ideal candidate to explore world music through a rap lens. But through much of International Artist he loses the perspective that made his songs interesting.

Where The Bigger Artist felt like a homegrown personal statement, International Artist enlists musicians from across the globe for an attempted cross-cultural exchange: Afrobeat torchbearer Davido from Nigeria, dancehall deejay Alkaline from Jamaica, reggaeton revivalist J Alvarez from Puerto Rico, Afro-swing hybrid Kojo Funds from London, and Torontonians Tory Lanez, Nav, and Jessie Reyez. The objective is fairly obvious: bridge the gaps between them with A Boogie serving as the link. His crooned raps are usually malleable enough to suit any and all of his personal rap needs. But the Bronx rapper doesn’t have the finesse necessary to negotiate these multinational transactions.

As a performer with an unmistakable sound and an underrated knack for songcraft and execution, A Boogie is a talented soloist, but he goes as his guests do on International Artist. Since the idea is to bring the sounds of black and Latin music together under one umbrella, he often plays on their turf or their terms, letting them dictate. This is occasionally for the best, but A Boogie loses himself trying to accommodate them; his writing is blander here than it has ever been, and even his sandpapered vocals, which can polish down the edges on all manner of synths, get worn down. Some attempts to meet guests halfway, as on the Alkaline-featuring “Nonchalant” and the Jessie Reyez duet “Pretending,” misfire because of a chemical imbalance. When paired with sham heartthrobs Tory Lanez and Nav, he becomes just as vapid as they are.

That doesn’t mean A Boogie lacks congeniality; International Artist is most gratifying when it throws itself full-on into its concept with purpose, when he extends his reach beyond his borders and finds the harmony he was searching for. Davido takes charge on “Way Too Fly,” guiding A Boogie through the hip-swaying Afrobeat rhythms. On the bilingual “Deja Vu,” A Boogie and J Alvarez find common ground in Auto-Tune, the latter’s slick, silvery delivery countering the former’s rawer one nicely. The best song comes at the album’s close: The remix of “Check” with Kojo Funds and RAYE reworks Craig David’s “7 Days” into an Afro-swinging rap jam; A Boogie’s raps stagger into the pockets created by GA the Producer’s elastic chop. In these moments, A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie’s vision of a unified world through sound are momentarily realized. But for the most part, on International Artist, he never becomes the envoy he sought to be.

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