On his sophomore effort, A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie attests to all that makes him out as a unique force in hip-hop with the ambitious "Hoodie SZN."
Armed with a distinctive flow, a mastery of cadence that is seldom equaled and an unfaltering ability to marry hip-hop with the serenading ambiance of R&B, A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie's artistic compass and musical principles that were exhibited on breakout project Artist from 2016 have remained intact ever since, and garnered the Bronx native a worldwide fanbase. Championed by scores of his fellow New Yorkers as the heir to its throne, what’s every bit as enthralling as his ability to cohesively intersperse melodies with brash, self-assured rhymes is the multidimensional outlook of the man lesser known as Julius Dubose. Just as he can infuse his bars with those tuneful, attention-grabbing hooks, his tracks unveil a deep-seated duality in both musicality and lyricism which can make his output into a dizzying rollercoaster at its most potent. Now on his sophomore release for Atlantic Records, Hoodie SZN is not just the culmination of a year-long recording process but an ambitious body of work that is defined by those conflicting personas, his musical ambidextrousness and a mixed array of collaborations.
From the outset, the portrait of an artist that is fraught with cresting emotions but eager to safeguard himself and embrace the trappings of success is on clear display. Seconds after the confessional opening gambit of “all she ever wanted was my heart to hurt” on "Voices In My Head", A Boogie stands in defiance and forewarns that any “n***a can get embarrassed, come and try it.” Capable of producing heartfelt commentary on both misfiring or rewarding courtships with as much gravitas as he can affirm his unwavering loyalty to his Highbridge kin, innate versatility is something A Boogie harbours in abundance.
Above all else, it is this eclecticism and knack for creative delivery that spawns Hoodie Szn’s most invigorating moments, with the Bronx native juggling an array of flows, flitting between posturing and plaintiveness, and manipulating cadences at will on standouts such as "Skeezers," "The Reaper," "Look Back At It," and "Beasty." Having enlisted none other than producer du jour Kenny Beats for the latter, this hints towards another defining characteristic, and that is the spirit of collaboration.
Comprised of 20 tracks, it's no surprise that there’s a laundry list of features, but it is commendable that he chose to align himself with high-profile artists, as well as an undercurrent of burgeoning stars and longtime affiliates, both behind the boards and in the booth-- although to varied results. On the production side, there is a dynamism to his team-ups with Atlanta's The Atomix (Yung Pinch, Kodak Black, Bali Baby) and his first foray into the studio with London On Da Track struck hard-edged gold with the Tekashi 6ix9ine-assisted "Swervin." Elsewhere, his inaugural exchanges with Juice Wrld on the self-exploratory "Angels & Demons" leaves much to be desired, a cookie-cutter "for the streams" type of collaboration, whereas a deep cut with lesser-known names, Quando Rondo and Lil Quee on "Need A Best Friend," produces something much more unique. The re-emergence of his Highbridge The Label cohorts Don Q and Trap Manny packs a typically formidable punch on "Bosses And Workers." On the other hand, "Startender" with Offset and Tyga exudes a level of major label pragmatism in an attempt to boost his Billboard Hot 100 presence whilst the prospective greatness of the Young Thug-boasting "Just Like Me" comes across as ungainly and stunted, depriving us of the whirlwind of diverging flows and vocal eccentricities that it could’ve been.
Although a couple of its more star-studded tracks could’ve hit the cutting room floor; including the second outing for "Pull Up" featuring Nav, which adds little other than name recognition, one collaboration in particular that paid off in dividends is his duet with Queen Naija on "Come Closer." Led by plaintive Latin guitar over a foundation of simmering trap drums from SkipOnDaBeat & Hitmaka, this dialogue between two lovers that are inexplicably drawn together registers as the logical progression of his dalliances with R&B, and shows that the sound has demonstrable room for further growth in years to come.
That said, there are clearly pitfalls present that he’d do well to evade on future releases, and it's a lesson we keep coming back to in our the Era of the Stream. There are times when Hoodie SZN feels as though it’s bogged down by a reluctance to cull some of its less refined moments. When tracks such as "4 Min Convo (Favourite Song)" with its interpolation of early hit "DTB" and "Skeezers" feel vibrant and essential, their efficacy can be tapered off by less compelling moments such as "Love, Sex, Drugs’’ and lacklustre posse cut "Uptown/Bustdown" arriving in their wake. Given the audience’s cognizance of why overloaded albums are delivered in today’s rap game, a more ruthless approach to quality control over quantity for streaming purposes could have made Hoodie SZN into the classic that he harbours within him. All things considered, the combination of A Boogie’s dichotomous nature and knack for unique melodies alongside those calling cards of subversive flows and vocal affectations ensure that Hoodie SZN is an immensely listenable project that reasserts his position among his classes’ elite. With Artist 2.0 expected on Valentines' Day, any lessons he may have learned over the painstaking road to this record will doubtlessly be adapted to his vision and the momentum remains firmly in his favour.