Album Review: Westside Boogie – More Black Superheroes

[Shady Records; 2022]

Westside Boogie doesn’t know what he wants. Rather than a weakness, he’s built a career around it: he weaves effortlessly between the everyman, a wounded lothario, a (in his own words) ratchet mess, and more modes of thought. It makes him readily identifiable to a wide swath of listeners. His debut album Everything’s for Sale, as largely unnoticed as it went, managed to capture the feeling of a generation stymied by Instagram and thirst traps, mining the very insecurities and obsessions all too many of us feel. There’s a reason even The Mountain Goats’ John Darnielle is a fan.

With his sophomore album, he hasn’t lost a step emotionally, but has set his eyes on a rather different target. Its title, MORE BLACK SUPERHEROES, says perhaps more than this writer can in three words. But, to elaborate regardless, his goal was to illuminate the very damage and pain that all too many in Black communities feel the need to suppress or ignore entirely. He desires to show that these “weaknesses” are their very strengths, or, at the very least, these are issues that require some addressing.

Per the usual, Boogie himself is a mess. He’s slumped over at a party, unable to sit up straight, pining after lovers that never cared about him, and generally spiraling, managing to stay just above the drain. However, there’s newfound intent to his words, which venture into murky waters few rappers dare enter.

“Can’t Get Over You” finds him delivering an extended, wounded chorus, leaving guests Smino and Teezo Touchdown to do the rapping, mourning over loves lost. It’s worlds away from the plastic, empty swagger, of say, the Drake album overshadowing this one. His vulnerability is also on display when he raps “Don’t just move on, that’s so fuckin’ cruel to me” on “Nonchalant”.

Then, on the following “LOLSMH II”, he admits “I’ve been placing my value off relevance in your life,”and there’s surely few among us who can’t relate, or at least have related at some point. Still, he insists, “I promise I’ll be alright” and seconds later he’s talking about how his phone is full of “text messages from bitches”. As usual, in the most casual of gestures, Boogie captures the duality of man. Before he’s done, the song simply cuts out, with him declaring, “fuck this shit.” It’s a harsh dismissal of his own innermost thoughts, and it cuts deep.

“Can’t Even Lie”, meanwhile, boasts an unlikely guest in Soulja Boy and finds the pair calling out anyone they see as beneath them. Yet, even in moments like these, you’ll still find Boogie putting the mirror back on himself, as he raps, “Might have a problem, I can’t even lie / Think that I’m toxic, I can’t even lie.” There are pieces of his worst sides scattered throughout the album, to be unearthed on close listens; take “Here go my life where you stuck in a circle / Like fuck it, I’m hurting, so I might as well hurt you” from opener “Killa Mode”, for example. 

His bruised ego has its softer moments of honesty as well, such as “Prideful II”, which finds him uttering, “You will never know the pain that you getting me through / So you can tell me it’s the same and you using me too.” Even on what’s seemingly the album’s breeziest cut, “Windows Down” – complete with a perfectly archetypal Snoop Dogg verse – Boogie utters “Been hiding all my dents from this bitch that I been crashing with / I got a lot of baggage, should I take it on this acid trip? … / Yeah, I’m in my feels baby, you don’t know the half of it / You don’t know the real, you just fooled by the packaging.”

Also key to the album are female voices: far beyond the soulful hooks provided by the likes of Mamii, there are spoken-word bits interspersed throughout the album, usually speaking to Boogie’s doubts and fears (or simply calling him out on his bullshit). That all changes on closer “Anthony (War)”, which finds the voice of what seems to be his therapist remarking that he grew up without a father, so she wonders how he guides his son without any “blueprint”. It leads to one of the most personal songs on an already deeply intimate album.

MORE BLACK SUPERHEROES is an album that finds its creator trapped between two poles. He’s reaching for the enlightenment and even grandeur that comes from speaking on the issues that he truly wishes to tackle, yet, he’s constantly dragged back down by his very humanity (see “Stuck”). Suffice to say: he’s no superhero, and none of us are. Yet, in the very aspiration, in the desire to reach for that unfathomable peace and perfection, he’s doing and saying more than most rappers bother – or even dare – to. He says it himself: “Ain’t nobody bigger than the program.”