Thursday, January 31, 2019

album review: 'everything's for sale' by boogie

So I'll admit I was a little surprised how much hype this project was getting.

And to explain why, we need to talk a bit about hype cycles. I've mentioned this before but when an artist gets a single or a project with momentum, ideally the label signing or backing them wants to have a project waiting in the wings to truly take off, best capitalize on that momentum. And about three years back, it seemed like Compton MC Boogie was one of those guys. Three reasonably well-received mixtapes that showed a progression of improvement, a lot of bars, some surprisingly well-structured melodies and content that was at least trying to be a bit introspective, it would seem like any major label could make a killing pushing him, especially given how trap was moving the next few years.

So perhaps it was the worst possible luck that Boogie signed to Shady Records and Interscope, which if we've been observing the career path of nearly every act under them for the past decade seems to have a bad habit of not being able to kickstart momentum, and that's before you consider the increasingly questionable Eminem factor in the past two years. And if I was Boogie, I'd be furious about how despite his last mixtape coming out in 2016, we're only getting a full album now, with a lot of the conversation seemingly monopolized by Eminem putting one of his most humiliating verses yet on it. So yeah, on some level I kind of wanted to give this a proper review if only to change the narrative a bit, give a promising talent some insight his label seems to be fumbling, so what did we get from Everything's For Sale?

So here's the thing: I get the feeling with every listen to Everything's For Sale that I want to like it more than I actually do, because I do hear the progression from the mixtapes and in terms of showing maturity and nuance Boogie is on the right path. That being said, I'd still argue Everything's For Sale isn't quite great yet, with some rough edges that are a bit shocking given the extended development time, especially given that it clocks under forty minutes. It's a good listen for sure, but I'm unable to escape the feeling that this should be a great one.

And here's the thing, it's tough to precisely pin down why this is the case, so let's start with Boogie himself. I'll freely admit that when Shady signed him it was a bit out of left-field - sure, he could rap pretty damn well when he wanted to and he had a knack for storytelling and wit, but he was also a lot more melodic and chose to push his more nasal singing voice in a way that felt reminiscent of J. Cole or Chance The Rapper but not quite as effective. And to Boogie's credit, it rarely proved to be an issue for him - while there are moments that indulge more in autotune his slightly rougher timbre keeps the homegrown intimacy which I've always liked about his projects, a lane in which he's definitely gotten comfortable. More to the point, he can sell his hangdog depression with a gravity that never feels oversold, which can be a tough line to walk amidst a lot of drippy emo material that doesn't have the writing or presence to match. Hell, it almost makes you wish he had more peers on this project who were able to match him in that lane - and on certain cuts, he absolutely does. While I wish Snoh Alegra had been given more of a verse on 'Time', I really do think she serves as a good counterpoint to balancing that song's narrative, and 6LACK's verse to end off 'Skydive II' against the brittle acoustics sounds genuinely great. And when it comes to rapping, J.I.D shows up to absolutely steal the show on 'Soho' - which might be part of the problem with Boogie's presence on this project, in that he doesn't consistently project intensity.  And while that can work on his solo joints, it leads to cases where J.I.D. can slide in so effectively, or on the flipside allowing Eminem to drop some of the corniest double entendres and worst adlibs in recent years, as well as a chronic inability to stop talking about rape!

But whatever, Eminem's taken away too much attention from Boogie already, so let's circle to the one element that does a lot of heavy lifting on this album: the production. I've already highlighted Boogie has a keen ear for melody and that's just as true with his selection of beats and tunes behind this album, and the generally smooth feel overall allows him to execute a fair number of sharp pivots effectively - hell, he leads off the angsty exhausted moments of 'Tired/Reflections' with a gunshot that never fails to surprise me every time before we get the watery guitars, pianos, and unsteady skitter of the percussion as he meanders through passive-aggressive self-hatred. It's a watery palette of west-coast-inspired tones that does a lot of heavy-lifting, and you hear it reflected in the guitarline behind the spare, scratchy beats of 'Swap Meet' and 'Time' - both of which honestly might be a bit more grainy than they should be - the burbling keys of 'Lolsmh (Interlude)', and the chimes accented loose groove of 'Live 95'. And maybe I'm just a sucker for those horns on the ugly argument of 'Whose Fault', but off the piano and dense skitter of hi-hats, that trumpet work by Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah is phenomenal. But on the flip side, for as much as this album can sink into those slinky vibes, the attempts to turn up feel half-hearted and almost intentionally unconvincing - which might be true about 'Self-Destruction', but it's a little less excusable for the contorted whirs of 'Soho', the sloppy attempt at bombast on 'Rainy Days' that makes the mistake of putting Boogie's voice a bit too far back, and even 'Silent Ride', which has a solid enough melody but could afford to knock a little harder against those woodwinds. But all of that highlights a larger issue with the album as a whole: so many of these compositions feel oddly abbreviated - give some of these a bridge or maybe another verse and I think some of these might hit harder, he's got the space to do so!

But okay, I like the production and I like Boogie as a talent, is the issue more of the content? Well, not quite - in comparison to his mixtapes he's proven a little more introspective surrounding the messy relationships in his life and his own personal appetites, which when paired with the generally depressive feel of this album shows he's not really giving himself a pass. Hell, as shown on songs like 'Tired/Reflections', 'No Warning', the frustration of 'Soho', and the messy storytelling of 'Lolsmh (Interlude)' and 'Whose Fault', it's clear he often paints himself as his own worst enemy, and his verses where he tries to speak directly to black men struggling with insecurity even in the face of a come-up have some real power. And this introspection and depression can lend both 'Skydive' songs potency too, the former in asking for more time to be sure and the latter just asking for more time period, and that adds weight to 'Time' as well, where both partners are using each other for cheap satisfaction, but there's a comfort and emotional honesty in it that feels real. At the same time, when you pair this subject matter with production and delivery that's trying to be more sensual, there are definitely points where pettiness and toxicity can bleed through unintentionally - and while Boogie's gotten better with his references to social media on this project, they're still here enough to show he's not going to hold himself that accountable for his vices. I'm reminded of some of what I said in my last album review of Bring Me The Horizon, in that just because you're self-aware of your bad tendencies doesn't mean you should romanticize them, and the production on songs like 'Live 95' and 'Swap Meet' can definitely come close to that territory. And then there are the stabs at self-awareness like on 'Self-Destruction', which tries to be a deconstruction and satire of that brand of trap songs... it's not a bad idea, but it does feel a bit dated and I think Boogie could have landed a few more punches with it, especially as he does show enough familiarity with how it works.

But as a whole... yeah, I do like this, and I really hope this album can get attention beyond just a verse I shall not name. Boogie has a great ear for production, his thoughtfulness and nuance has grown considerably since the mixtapes, and while I think a little more refinement and attention to framing and presence could have made this a great project, it's still pretty damn good all the same. For me, I'm thinking a light 7/10 and a recommendation, but more for the pieces that work in a very dark, depressive vibe than those that don't. And while I'm not sure Shady will be the best fit for Boogie going forward - funnily enough I think he'd be a good fit for Dreamville if he's looking for options - I do think he's got promise, so check him out.

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