If any New York neighborhood can lay claim to rap dominance this summer, it’s Highbridge. It’s the section of the Bronx that raised Cardi B, who’s currently on top of the charts, thanks to the blistering “Bodak Yellow.” However, Highbridge is also home to another rapper establishing a presence on the charts and airwaves, albeit a little more quietly than Cardi.
For the last two summers, A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie has crafted local (and, lately, national) hits in a city regaining its cultural relevancy in hip-hop. His breakout song, “My Shit” peaked at number 86 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 2016 and has since gone platinum. Last year, Drake brought A Boogie out during his Summer Sixteen tour stop at Madison Square Garden, while Fabolous remixed “My Shit.” In recent weeks, the man legally known as Artist described interest from Diddy and DJ Khaled in signing him, before going with Atlantic. Songs like “Jungle” and “Timeless” managed to go gold, before “Drowning”—featuring Kodak Black—became his biggest hit to date, reaching number 38 on the Billboard Hot 100 and nabbing him another platinum plaque.
Despite this success, A Boogie’s popularity, or at least the heights of it, remain hard to pinpoint. In many ways, A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie’s career mirrors the traditional circuit from decades ago, and takes place in the same Bronx streets that birthed hip-hop. A rapper makes a song and gets the support of his borough, then said songs takes over the city, the rapper signs a major label deal, and, eventually, breaks nationally. If you were to judge A Boogie’s impact from his headlines, social media captions, or the lack of thinkpieces concerned with his rise, one could assume his commercial impact is a non-existent. That would be incorrect.
A Boogie remains a paradox, much like the neighborhood that raised him. At times, Highbridge seems like a vast labyrinth of stairs that strive to reach the heavens, at other times the buildings feel like they might warp in on each other, they’re so condensed. Yankee Stadium towers over the inhabitants like a monolith.
While he no longer resides in his birthplace full-time, A Boogie’s allure in the neighborhood is palpable. Sitting in a nondescript park overlooking the expressway, among his friends, it’s easy to see him as the nucleus around which his neighborhood orbits. Despite his soft-spoken demeanor, everyone is paying attention to the young rapper on the come-up. A few hours earlier, he was handing out school supplies to a room of children roaring with applause at the sight of their hometown hero. Now, he’s shaking hands with elementary school kids, who seem like the brothers and cousins of friends. To them, Artist, represents the present and, maybe, the future of success.
Complex caught up with A Boogie to talk the influence his neighborhood has had on him, and vice versa, Cardi B, and his new album—A Bigger Artist—which is out today.
The following interview has been edited for clarity and length.
What was it like growing up in Highbridge?
Growing up in Highbridge was real. Me and all my friends, we never really went to any other places in the Bronx but Highbridge. We always just stayed in Highbridge. It was like territory, to be honest, because Highbridge is like a town. When we left the town, it was like we in a different town and everywhere you go there’s different people out that don’t really feel the vibes, cause they don’t know us. So it’s like nobody really gets along like that.
The first song off your album is “No Promises.” You have this line, “Savannah just wanted to see me perform and got hit over stupid shit/I woke up and saw the shit right on my phone/They don’t know who the shooter is.” What was that about?
That came from me going through an experience of a little girl getting killed at one of my shows. I was on my way to a show, I think it was Louisville, and all I see is a whole bunch of sirens and cops going towards my show. I’m getting phone calls like, “Yo, don’t come to the show there’s a shoot out, like ten shots went off.” Inside the venue, a girl end up getting hit in the head, somebody else was targeted. It was like some gang-associated shit. Little girl end up getting hit, and I woke up the next day. I saw it all over the news. Her dad was crying on the news. Damn, I threw that right in the song that same day.
You make a lot of music that you can play in a club or at a party, but there’s an undercurrent of sadness and heartbreak to it. Where does that come from?
That comes from the pain in me. I let it come out when I’m in the studio. You don’t really see it in interviews, but when I’m in the studio, I let that pain come out. Even if it’s something good, I let the goodness come out and you gonna hear my excitement in my voice. You always gonna feel me. That’s my main thing. When I’m speaking in my music, you gotta feel me.
Has having a daughter affected your music at all?
Having a daughter made my music, I guess, more meaningful. It made me see more of life when I had my daughter. She was born on the day I dropped my mixtape, Artist, a year after, on Valentine’s Day. I gave her the middle name Valentine, Melody Valentine.
On a recent episode of “Everyday Struggle,” Joe Budden said something to the effect, “I don’t know why we don’t talk about A Boogie more.” Do you feel underrated?
Yeah, I feel kinda underrated in a way, but at the same time, I feel not, cause I’m still new at this. It wasn’t like I was expecting to be this much of a big artist. My music speaks for itself. It just needs more work being pushed and everything. Besides that, yeah, I feel like I’m underrated.
Was it a difficult process making your new album?
It was a difficult process picking the songs out that I wanted. Cause it just can’t be any group of songs. It gotta kinda flow. You gotta listen to one song and when that song comes off the next song gotta feel like it was attached to that song. It gotta feel like a movie. Not just like a movie literally, but it gotta feel like a path, basically. Like you going with it, like you going with the grain.
Where did the inspiration for “Drowning” come from?
To be honest, it came from the beat and the words came from the new chain I bought. The melody came from the beat. The flow is straight that beat. It just gave me that flow. But the lyrics it was from me buying my first, I paid like 80k for the chain at the time and I just upgraded it. So it’s like a hundred and change right now.
Your real name is Artist. Where did your parents get the inspiration for that?
My dad was always into art. He just like all types of art. He deals with a company that just had million dollar sculptures and artwork. So I guess that was a big part of his life right there.
Why didn’t you pick Artist for your rap name?
I wanted to in the beginning. I was trying to make my name just Artist in the beginning, but it was weird at first, because I wasn’t an R&B singer or nothing. Not an R&B singer. I didn’t do no melodic songs, none of that yet. It was just straight bars at first. Trying to name myself Artist it was like—nobody gonna think that’s a rapper. If they see Artist just there, they gonna think that’s just a damn subtitle saying Artist [laughs].
What was it like growing up near Yankee Stadium?
When people say Yankee Stadium, they think more just Yankee games, tourists around. But right up that street right there, that’s Highbridge right there and it’s a different side of town when you go up there. But it’s all love at the same time, when it comes to us being amongst ourselves. Cause the Bronx really don’t get along like that. But when you come to Highbridge it’s all love. You see everybody treating each other like family, cookouts, and everything. People’s moms feeding other people’s kids. Everything is good vibes. That’s why I always just go back and make sure I don’t forget that name right there, Highbridge, and that neighborhood.
Both you and Cardi grew up in Highbridge. She has the number one song in the country right now, what does it feel like your neighborhood is running the summer?
I feel like it’s a great opportunity for New York, the Bronx period. Me, Cardi B, French, even Swizz Beatz still coming back right now, doing his thing. I feel like we doing a major comeback better than the past I don’t know how many years. Since everybody else started taking that New York wave before and then left, it’s really coming back right now. We really taking it right now.