"It's gang pressure and it's pressure to make it out. I think that's what makes the story; when people do make it out, that's what makes it so amazing."
The Detroit rap god Eminem just blitzed through Australia with his Rapture 2019 Tour – again augmented by credible special guests. Eminem has long personally 'curated' supports for his Antipodean stadium events. In 2011, he booked Lil Wayne and, three years later, Kendrick Lamar, J Cole and Action Bronson. This time, he invited his Bad Meets Evil cohort Royce da 5'9" and Compton, California MC Boogie – the latest buzz signing to Shady Records. Boogie (aka Anthony Dixson) joined Em on stage for a rendition of his own hit, Rainy Days. And he was amenable to interviews, having dropped his debut album, Everythings For Sale, in January.
OG Flavas encounters Dixson in the unilluminated lobby of his swish hotel the day after Eminem's spectacle at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG), which obliterated attendance records with some 80,708 Stans. The agile 29-year-old is sporting a 2Pac T-shirt (bright print against black) and, even in the heat, a blood-orange puffa jacket (he does begin Rainy Days with the line, "I wear fur coats in the summer"). The MCG is visible from the building. "For real, I didn't realise how big it was 'til today," Dixson admits. He's hung out with the tour's Aussie act, Hilltop Hoods. "Those are my guys."
Dixson is contemplative, whimsical and, being a storyteller, ever-observant of his surrounds. Like JAY-Z, he apparently composes rhymes using memorisation – an indicator of a skilled MC. "It's repetition in my head," Dixson explains. "I just come up with the lines in my head. When it's melodies, I do a [phone] voice memo – like hum it, 'Mmm' – so I don't forget the melody of it. But it's not paper or nothin' that go into it." He didn't "intentionally" develop into a freestyler. "My glasses broke when I was in ninth grade, so I wasn't able to write on paper no more without it straining my eyes. I just happened to be good at doing it in my head from that point." (Needless to say, Dixson is an advocate for US healthcare reform.)
Raised between Long Beach and Compton, Dixson was introduced to music as a choir boy in church. Unexpectedly, it was also in this communal space where he befriended gang members – and tuned into hip hop. Internationally, Compton is associated with a succession of hip hop legends: Dr Dre, NWA, DJ Quik, Coolio, The Game, and Kendrick Lamar, a Boogie fan. But, for an aspiring rapper, any pressure emanates from the socio-economic realities of inner-city America, rather than local music history, Dixson notes. "It's gang pressure and it's pressure to make it out. I think that's what makes the story; when people do make it out, that's what makes it so amazing."
Dixson was nine-years-old when Eminem, mentored by Dr Dre, unleashed his 1999 breakthrough, The Slim Shady LP. "I had an early Eminem stage," he says. "I don't remember what CD it was, but I just remember playing it. But I didn't get too deep into it. Then, like the cliche, I went to [Eminem's 2002 bio-pic] 8 Mile. Once I seen 8 Mile, I started loving him… Then I start getting into him." Following The Slim Shady LP, Eminem would devise Shady Records with his manager, Paul Rosenberg, partly to give D12 a base. The label famously launched the gangsta 50 Cent from Queens, New York.
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In the meantime, Dixson established his own profile with mixtapes – the first 2014's Thirst 48. The rapper generated heat the next year with The Reach, containing his hooky banger Oh My – a YouTube hit. Interscope offered him a deal. Dixson then released Thirst 48: Part II – only his career inexplicably stalled until Rihanna posted the single N**** Needs to her Instagram, proclaiming the West Coaster her "new fav". He was subsequently picked up internally at Interscope by Shady Records. Dixson is candid about the circumstances: he had been "just sitting at the label and not really gaining no traction, trying to figure out a new plan," when told that Eminem was "interested" in him. Things accelerated, Dixson's alignment announced in conjunction with his involvement in the 2017 BET Hip Hop Awards Digital Cypher. (In a presser, Eminem declared, "Boogie is everything I look for in an MC. Unique voice and point of view combined with crazy wordplay. This is a great fit and I'm excited for what's to come.") Dixson premiered on Shady with Violence, featuring Masego, the TrapHouseJazz polymath.
Accompanied by a short film, Everythings For Sale is an album for 2019 – and ushers in a new era for Shady. Dixson brings a soulful self-reflection to the gangsta rap idiom, exploring the complexities of emotions, relationships and street life in such a way as to counter hyper-masculinity, while providing spiritual salve and scope for empowerment. It is mellow, jazzy and deep – the lead single Self Destruction diverging into trap. Yet Dixson didn't necessarily approach his debut differently to a mixtape. "All my mixtapes – I put out three mixtapes in three years – I put in a lot of time in each of those and each of 'em felt like an album to me. This time around, of course, naturally people get better. So I'm way better than I was, and this album just sounds way better than all my previous work."
Dixson arranged impressive cameo artists for Everythings For Sale – among them Eminem himself, JID and 6LACK. "It's all about doing what makes sense and not forcing stuff, 'cause I still wanna make the best songs. When you start forcing features, that's when you take the greatness out [of] the song." Dixson enjoys a close rapport with Atlanta's JID, J Cole's protege, his partner for Soho. "JID is my friend, so it just made sense [as] I've been knowing him for a couple of years. It made sense musically because we're both up-and-coming. People put us in a box together – whether they wanna compare us or say we're more poppin' or whatever, that's still my boy." And Dixson shares management with 6LACK, the pair bonding on the road (he supported the R&B auteur here in October). Most surprising is the presence of the underrated Swedish soulstress Snoh Aalegra, affiliated with No ID's ARTium Recordings, on the finale, Time. "I love R&B more than anything," Dixson enthuses. He (likely) DMed Aalegra via Insty. "I probably had a crush on her at first, so I had to talk to her," he laughs bashfully.
So far the big viral song on Everythings For Sale has been Rainy Days– Boogie and Eminem rapping about their respective statures in hip hop. Eminem's verse has proven polarising, especially with his incongruous, OTT lines, "I left my legacy hurt? Fuckin' absurd/Like a shepherd havin' sex with his sheep, fuck what you heard." The easygoing Dixson maintains that his label boss never imposed – and he A&Red the collab. "I had played him my album; I was just playing him my album. It was 50 per cent done, I think. Then I knew I wanted to ask him for a feature, but I still be scared as shit when I'm around him. So my manager was like, 'Man, you gotta do it – you gotta say something!' So [I'm] like, 'Man, this is actually the song I want you on' – 'cause I could just picture him getting off on it. So a month or two went by and I happened to get this email – and I was so happy." However, Dixson hopes that new listeners check out the rest of Everythings For Sale. "My favourite song on the album is Lolsmh [or] No Warning so, if those two start boomin' like Rainy Days, then I'd be happy. Rainy Days is going crazy, though."
Dixson is a versatile rising star. Last year he filmed a Snickers ad with Elton John, replicating a rap battle. Even in 2014, Dixson recorded with the UK post-dubstepper SBTRKT (Spaced Out on Wonder Where We Land). Plus he connected with Sydney house duo Cosmo's Midnight, materialising on their album What Comes Next. Today, Dixson digs R&B, but he's likewise vibing to Tracy Chapman's folk. He doesn't know that Nicki Minaj was thwarted in an attempt to sample Chapman's '80s Baby Can I Hold You (for her leaked Queen cut, Sorry, with Nas). "For real?," Dixson exclaims. "Oh, shit, that's fucked up. C'mon Tracy!"
Playfulness aside, Dixson is unusually self-critical. "I see flaws in everything I do, so I know the holes and the places I can get better at," he proffers. "I gotta keep getting better. I can't sit there and bask in whatever little glory I'm getting right now." He recognises that rappers have cultural power. Back in the '90s, Eminem refused to be a role model – but not Dixson. "I feel like, if you got this platform, it's your responsibility to influence change or at least be responsible. You don't gotta try to change people, but at least be responsible with your power." And Dixson has grown through travelling, becoming more aware of global injustices – including in Australia. "I never knew this dark history about the Indigenous people that were here. That's nothing we ever hear about in America – that y'all basically had the same little problem over here. Y'all had your own little Christopher Columbus situation. So that was dark for me. That opened my eyes that everybody [is] going through the same thing; where people with my skin tone [are] going through the same thing everywhere."
Dixson is also a homebody. He has a nine-year-old son – and revels in parenthood. "I feel like this generation of fathers – like, well, my age, we all grew up without dads, as far as where I'm from. But now we're all just trying to break that cycle. I see a bunch of great dads, like my homies – a bunch of my friends that are good-ass dads."
Mind, the empathetic Dixson – who's alluded to social media malaise in his lyrics – is concerned about the impact of cancel culture. "This cancel thing is crazy, but then I started realising it's fake, too. We don't really cancel nobody like we say – even though we don't know the stress we're putting that person through. Like, when you got 100, 000 people on the Internet saying 'you're cancelled', 'cause you slip up one time and they just turn on you. It's like, we just think it's funny – but we don't know how the other person [feels]; home, sick, probably wanna kill themselves. But, then, after a couple of weeks, 'cause it was just funny to us, we're back not cancelling that person. But we just affected somebody's life crazy, for fake cancelling them, instead of being there for them and trying to figure out what the problem is."
While Dixson exudes humility, he can floss. But, for him, braggadocio is a form of self-realisation over disrespecting peers. "I definitely wanna be the greatest artist from Compton, but I know who came before me. I know they opened all the doors. I'm big fans of all of them but, at the end the day, I wanna be better than all of them and bigger than all of them." He has #goals. "I want a Grammy. I want people to say I'm the best rapper alive. I wanna be better than Em… So I got a lotta work to put in." Beyond that? "I wanna start my own label and get my own artists. But, outside of music, I wanna be a basketball coach; I wanna coach my kid's basketball team and do that. That's all I be thinking about when I'm not doing music: thinking about my kid. So, honestly, that's probably what I'll do. But people tell me I'm good at acting, too, so I might just do it for the bag. It probably wouldn't be a passion – I'll probably act just for money, 'cause music has all of my heart."