The story of Boogie is the story of everybody who ever broke from tradition. Boogie has a six-year-old son named Darius. For Darius to grow up in a less violent place than his father did, a place where he doesn't have to expect aggression, Boogie has agreed to isolation, to risk the envy of his old friends, and to shoulder the hopes and possible futures of dozens of people, not all of whom would do the same for him. Boogie has to be away from Darius for weeks at a time. Boogie has to make it.
“What people don’t understand is I’m by myself all the time. It be so much pressure on me, whether it’s from friends, family, to — I get lonely all the time cause it’s people who want me to still be extra — like, they feel like if I’m not being super turnt up or extraed out then I’m being fake. And then it’s people that tell me, ‘When you go kick it with your neighborhood, you going backwards.’ Like, ‘You shouldn’t even be over there no more.’ So then I just find myself like, ‘Fuck.’ I don’t even know what to do. I just be chilling by myself most of the time. I’m still out here lost, when I really talk about this. I don’t even know.”
Boogie lives with his mom and his stepdad and his brother, Tiger, and Darius in Long Beach. He was born in Compton, and he sang in a church there when he was in his early teens, a church where he cliqued up and started banging. He is there less frequently now, but he’s still there. One day we meet him at Weeder’s house, someone you’ll recognize from Kendrick’s album cover, or the “King Kunta” video, or maybe Drake’s Instagram. Situations that call for a lot of red clothing.
“I honestly have no idea why I’m still doing it,” says Boogie. “I just can’t turn my back to it. It’s in my neighborhood; I love my neighborhood. I just grew to love it. I’m addicted to the evils over there, and I’m addicted to the positives I think could be over there. It’s sick, but, yeah, it’s the reality.”
“I just can’t turn my back to it. It’s in my neighborhood; I love my neighborhood. I just grew to love it. I’m addicted to the evils over there, and I’m addicted to the positives I think could be over there. It’s sick, but, yeah, it’s the reality.”
“Emotionally, he’s all over the place,” says Dart, who’s Boogie’s engineer. He’s talking about “Make Me Over,” a song on Boogie’s most recent tape, The Reach, but he’s describing most of Boogie’s work. “He’s opposing gangbanging, the culture, as it is now, but he’s a advocate and hopeful for the future of gangbanging, if that makes sense. He’s not explicitly saying this, but you can kind of tell in the way he raps and the words he uses, he hopes that he can turn this culture around and turn it into something positive. I think that’s the precipice.”
It is a precipice. It is completely daunting. But this is where Boog is now – he wants the ball. “I’m just cool with the pressure and the weight. I be trying to act like I’m stressed out about it all the time, like, ‘Oh, man, I gotta deal with this,’ but, honestly, I think I like that shit. I come to realize I like that shit. I got no problem with it.” What’s confusing is Boogie isn’t yet able to say what that something positive might look like, or how we might all get there. “I keep saying that I don’t want to leave – I don’t want to be that dude that make the money and leave. I feel like I’d be a hypocrite, and everything I rap about I’d be contradicting myself. I just want to make our neighborhood a better place. And then hopefully that start a chain, of other neighborhoods becoming better places.”
There is an amount of willing this better place into existence happening within Boogie’s circle, or speaking it into being. One night I’m having a pretty philosophical conversation with Keyel, who’s produced the bulk of Boogie’s music to date, and he recommends I read The Secret. I don’t say that to say you should sleep on The Secret. You shouldn’t. And Keyel should write books.
“If I knew – I don’t see no pros to it, honestly, but I see how it can be appealing to kids,” says Boogie. “Like, it was appealing to me. We all here hanging out, the girls think we tight, this is our neighborhood anyway, we might as well represent it. All these feelings go through your head as a kid.”
The Ladder (A Short Film)
The story of Boogie is the story of everybody with debt.
Boogie’s DJ, Dezzie, is with him on the road. That’s a new job for him – he just started DJing eight months ago. But way back in the day, he shot a video for Boogie, the one that caught the eye of Boogie’s now manager, Clayton Blaha. Today, Boogie says he’s been thinking about how he’s gonna thank Clayton in his Grammy speech. Today, says Dezzie, “He has more stress and more opportunity. He had less stress and less opportunity before, but before all this occurred, I don’t think he knew what he was gonna do. He was lost. I feel like he was lost and he was searching for a way out of what he was getting into.”
Boogie’s music has become his way out, and maybe a whole bunch of other people’s way out, too. Dezzie calls Boogie a ladder – not a ticket. “Everybody around him is gonna get looked at,” he says, referring to himself, and Keyel, and Dart. There are other people further removed from Boogie who see him as their chance.
“Around here, everybody want to be the top dog. Everybody wants to be Kendrick. You know? Everybody can’t be Kendrick. Everybody’s not talented as Kendrick. People outside of his circle now is reaching to him, trying to grab onto him. If they could grab onto him, it’s like, ‘Oh, I can make it, this is my opportunity. This is my way out.’ But it’s not like that.”
We’re not crabs, because we’re not animals. And there’s no barrel, because there’s no out, as such. No matter where you go, there you are. For Boogie to make enough money for Darius to live far enough away that he can’t get touched, he has to disobey the codes he previously lived by. He has to become different. No one will make it easy.
“I was never no hardcore gangbanger, but out here it’s like guilty by association. So if you grew up in the neighborhood, you from that neighborhood. So if somebody ask where you from, you gotta say you from this neighborhood. So even if I don’t say I gangbang, I’m still from this neighborhood, so they gonna look at me as a gang member.” The stakes go even higher once Darius is involved. “When I’m approached in front of my kid, I could either look like a punk and make him think that it’s OK to be a punk, or I could stand up and look ignorant, make him – seem like it’s OK to gangbang. When it happened I’m stuck in the middle, like how do I still look like a man in front of my kid but not look ignorant? You got a split second decision, cause if I stumble on my words I’ma look like a punk regardless.”
We’re not crabs, because we’re not animals. And there’s no barrel, because there’s no out, as such. No matter where you go, there you are.
The story of Boogie is the story of everybody who’s ever had to deal with manhood, or masculinity, or just a man.
We’re talking in front of his house in Long Beach. Gay marriage is not yet the law of the land, but the decision won’t change the near universally held belief that weakness equates with either homosexuality or femininity, your call. We’re like an hour in no traffic from the Hollywood sign, 22 years beyond Eazy-E calling Dre a studio gangsta and eight after Tony Soprano. Scorsese’s bringing Sinatra back. Lot of people been making money off the bad guy. The roughneck. It’s glamorous, somehow. He still just does it for us.
Boogie is frustrated by how gangbanging is portrayed in social culture and music and the news media. For this he blames women. “I think it started from girls hyping up gang members. You know girls always want the rebel dude. So now the new rebel is the gang member. So they feel like, to stand out as a man, you have to be a gang member.” Also hip-hop: “Girls is the reason for gang members, and half of it is the rappers, too. Cause these rappers make it seem like they just sleeping in the trap all day – like they go to sleep with kilos, when they somewhere in a bigass house. Why are you lying to people? I’m never gon’ talk about no trap, cause I tried to sell weed before, and it didn’t work for me. But I never sold no white, and I’m pretty sure half of the rappers that say they did, didn’t. Or they just knew somebody that did and they making it seem like it’s they story. But that person who’s selling white don’t even want you telling that story. You feel me? Cause he don’t even want to be there. It’s weird.”
When he was a kid, he just said, girls thought he was tight because he was banging. For Boogie to make enough money for Darius to live far enough away that he can’t get touched, he’s gonna have to continue operating in an industry that is funded by make believe and misapprehension.
“I was never no hardcore gangbanger, but out here it’s like guilty by association. So if you grew up in the neighborhood, you from that neighborhood. So if somebody ask where you from, you gotta say you from this neighborhood.”
“The lisp he have? It remind me of Kool G Rap back in the days. See, they young. They probably don’t know who Kool G Rap is. I’m 39. Kool G Rap was one of the hardest rappers back when I was in high school. Out of New York. And he had a lisp. And he had a smooth flow, so sometimes that make your delivery sound better. And then the stuff that he say is clever. You can tell that he smart in the head. Anybody can put some words together, but when you put some words together that make somebody think about it? That’s clever.” - Weeder
“Where we come from, it’s hard. It’s work work work. He have the opportunity to make chances and changes for people around here, in our section. He can bring us with him.” - Cam
“I think people get caught up in ‘I am who I am.’ That’s a belief system. And I guess, to a degree, you are. But on the other hand you can be who you want to be. And that’s being who you are. That new person is still you. Cause you had intentions to be that. You have a desire for that, so you’re in there. So why not be that?” - Keyel
“Probably when he was, I think maybe 16, 17 is when he really really started getting into it. When he was with his little group, Beast Gang, and they were performing at little small areas and stuff like that. And then he just broke away from there and he started doing his own thing. Once he broke away from them, that’s when I knew he was serious.” - Mom
“Before anybody came along and said, ‘Boogie’s tight,’ I knew Boogie was tight. There was nobody around Boogie until he got that extra exposure. I feel like nobody really fuck with you until somebody else fuck with you. And that’s sad. If you really like something, say you like it. Tweet, ‘This Boogie song is tight.’ Not, Complex music tweets Boogie. ‘Oh, this Boogie song is really tight!’ It’s fake. I don’t like people like that. I don’t want to be around it.” - Dezzie
“Boogie is frustrated by how gangbanging is portrayed in social culture and music and the news media. For this he blames women.”
His inconsistencies will be catalogued. His success won’t be enough to get everybody out, and people will want him to pay for that. He is aware.
“People gonna talk regardless. I don’t really care to change people opinion. I’m just gon’ do me, as far as that go. I just came up with this theory about a week ago, too. So I don’t want to make it seem like I been had this idea.” I say that’s what’s called becoming a man. “Yeah, for sure. Blossomed late,” he says. He’s 25. If anything, he’s early. Hands up if you’re mildly acquainted with a 45-year-old who desperately cares what you think of him.
I’ve talked with Boogie on five separate occasions since January. Every time he’s been renewed, even though every other time he’s at the bottom of an abyss re: Jamesha, the woman who covers Thirst 48. If you listen to his music, you’ve heard about Jamesha.
You know how when somebody has just fallen in love with you and they look at you, it’s like light is coming through their face? And the light almost hides his face? Like his skin is not enough and the light is blaring out and he has no say? And you realize faces are temporary? When I’m first falling for somebody I’m always forgetting what their face looks like. If you know about these things, then you know why Boog and Jamesha are having such a hard time walking away from each other – they can’t see each other clearly. Jamesha’s vision is sharp, but it takes no prisoners. She is the person you want to be sitting next to you when you’re in a house full of men about to be on camera, believe me. She might be more interested in fact-checking Boogie than she is in letting Boogie live.
When Boogie and Jamesha are on, Boogie, who still looks so young, has the light, but it’s shaded by a little smugness, like he won an argument. When Boogie and Jamesha are not on, Boogie moves slower. These days, even when they’re off, I can see the light in the back of his eyes.
I think he found the part of himself that isn’t temporary. Keyel sees it too. “He’s always been real, but it wasn’t this way.”
Boogie will keep waffling, relapsing, reverting – we all will. Because nobody wants to jettison their old self – you have history with that guy and he did have his moments and it’s so strange that this world is not what you always thought it was. I mean, shit, how are we supposed to be both our old self and a self we kind of just met?
Boogie’s gonna find out. And he’s gonna tell everybody how. And that’s our chance.