For an opening line, “I love hip-hop to death, I am Romeo in a bodybag” is as attention-grabbing as a beautiful lady in a red dress who came fashionably late for an all-white party – it’s hard to unlook. That need to fixate is exactly what happens immediately Boogey opens his verse with those words on M.I’s “Ridiculous”, a standout cut from Illegal Music 2.
What follows that remarkable opening is nothing short of steady lyrical assault, a dizzying rain of punchlines packed with the force and demonic flair of a Muhammad Ali counter. By the time Boogey declares himself ‘The best hands down’ at the end of the song, you can hear the beat release its last breath and get taken away in a hearse.
Like many fans, that verse was my first Boogey encounter. Declaring yourself the best at a very early stage of your career isn’t uncommon in hip-hop, but simply stating it means nothing if you don’t consistently prove it. That spirit of being the best is visibly what drives Boogey, with each and every 16 meant to be proof of his fire-breathing genius.
One of Boogey’s best songs till date is “Sanctum”, his first official single released in 2013. From a lyrical standpoint, Boogey’s humane and honest approach is riveting and relatable. Apart from the masterful writing and what it means to me, I consider “Sanctum” a classic song because of the durability of its soul-clad musical canvas and June Sam’s captivating chorus. It’s the type of song that defines the word vintage, a song whose quality will forever be untarnished.
The pristine combination of great production, sublime hook and crisp mixing on “Sanctum” hasn’t been constant in Boogey’s already stacked catalog. Boogey never wastes his words, even when he’s seemingly verbose, it is almost impossible to find a bad Boogey verse from a lyrical standpoint. But the holes in his artistry border on his choices on the other side of the mic.
No matter how sideways rap music goes, rappers that will be considered the best are those who can consistently rock the mic with great verses containing high skill lyricism. But as integral as lyricism is in rap music, every other part that is sometimes deemed peripheral – beat, chorus and engineering could as well make or mar enjoying and connecting with a song.
Boogey’s 2012 debut mixtape, Art-ificial Intelligence was an important reinforcement of the lyrical ability he brazenly flaunted on “Ridiculous”, a mixtape which boasts great overall rapping. On a project with multiple high points, the jarring lows mainly had to do with beat selection and the potency of the hooks.
In terms of sheer technical proficiency on the rap side, “I’m Wack” contains some of the best rapping on Art-ificial Intelligence, but the wobbly hook is quite grating. Another example is DJ Clem’s extremely cloying hook on “Beautiful Mind”, with a queasy rock-centric beat that will leave you with a turning stomach if you listen too closely more than once.
After an end to working arrangements with former imprint, Aboriginal productions, Boogey decided to go the indie route, working at F1 speed and churning out 4 projects in an 18-month span. A collaborative mixtape with masked producer, Charlie X in 2015, T.I.N.A.A (This Is Not An Abbreviation). Two solo mixtapes in 2016 – Irregularly Scheduled Program and Incognito, and Faceoff, a joint album with talented rapper, Paybacc sandwiched between both solo efforts.
As is the norm, the rapping/writing on all those projects is worth a hundred flame emojis. No bar was wasted and it was clear Boogey’s ink was still running, with lyrics cutting through beats with the flair and precision of a ninja. But my reactions to many of the beats – especially those on T.I.N.A.A and Program ranged from the acquiescing ‘eh’ to the dismissive ‘ehnehn’.
The production on both projects is often lackluster and also doesn’t match the intensity of Boogey’s rapping. It has inevitably led to those two projects aging like a vampire suddenly cursed with humanity.
Another nagging problem is the sometimes horrible mixing, which also significantly reduces the altitude at which both projects should be flying. A timely, thematic song like ‘Said No’, which addresses sexual harassment brilliantly, gets ruined by trashcan mixing. It isn’t the only example, but it’s the easiest to point out.
Being an indie artist means working with a smaller budget, which inevitably took its toll on the quality of the music Boogey was able to conjure. But even with understandable, extenuating circumstances, the importance of well-polished production work is pertinent. I’m from a generation where we prioritize the vibe of a song, memorizing drum drops like they are quotables. We are vain like that, but it doesn’t imply that many of us do not actually listen to and appreciate lyrical genius when we hear it. Rappers like Boogey who always create a trip with their pen should have a luxurious sonic frame which only bolsters the potency of their lyricism.
It should be noted that massive strides were made with respect to beat selection and overall sound quality on Faceoff and Incognito. I consider the latter his most refined body of work yet, not without its flaws, but the beat selection mostly matches each song and the overarching dark, conceptual nature of the project as a whole, with better mixes to match.
Also, during his tireless run last year, Boogey released an official single, the autobiographical “Show You Something”. Produced by Black Intelligence, the sonic carpet is cut from the 90s New York era of boom bap beatbreaks and soul sample. The production and well-controlled mix, perfectly complements Boogey’s immaculate storytelling to create a perfect slice of rap music.
“Show You Something” pulled in two nominations at the last edition of the Headies. While award shows aren’t necessarily correct measures of validation, the nominations only reiterate the type of great music that trickles out when Boogey neatly packages his songs.
An argument could be made for the flailing nature of Boogey’s musical consistency; the official singles get more attention. It makes sense, considering that mixtapes are put out for free while with official singles, the artist is trying to give fans full worth for their money while also recouping and making profits off the initial budget.
If the above argument holds water, it probably means we’re in for a ride on Boogey’s next project. Being teased as an album (you know, for sale), I believe Niveau Nouveau aka Next Level should be as sonically tight as Boogey’s surefire raps.
Released earlier this year as an official pre-album single, “Liquor Nights” is already one of this year’s best songs and also ranks high on Boogey’s catalog. Over a stunning beat particularly laced with expensive horn stabs, Boogey recounts his experiences with alcoholism and resulting hangovers, with solid imagery to match. A fantastic hook by the velvet-voiced Tay Iwar only adds to the brilliance and appeal of “Liquor Nights”.
To further spike hype for Niveau Nouveau, Boogey went jacking for beats. A pyrotechnical display with lyrics of personal angst over the beat for Kendrick Lamar’s “Feel” and a bleeding show of honesty over a piano rendition of Linkin Park’s “Numb”.
Released last week as a loosie, “No Country For Dreamers” finds Boogey decrying Nigeria’s current laughable sociopolitical state. Its minimalist, synth-heavy production is reminiscent of Kanye during his “808” days, with the song’s mix allowing the raw passion to hit without being abrasive. Although the words are well-meaning, the hook delivery is off-kilter and the backing autotune ad-libs don’t help at all.
For me, there was tiny joy in finding out that “No Country For Dreamers” wasn’t going to be on Niveau Nouveau just because of that less than ideal hook. Having verses teeming with high level raps just to be compromised by mealy hooks, sub-par beats and mixing is like throwing plush leather seats in a rickety vehicle, no one wants that.
For all the talk of inner beauty and intellectual depth, it’s the outer shimmer that almost always attracts. The lady in a red dress is highly attractive even if she hasn’t bared her insides, she sorta represents the full package at first glance. Boogey will deliver lyrically, but I want the full package on Niveau Nouveau.