Photos by Parker Bright
“I’m just a black American princess stuck in the early 2000’s with long squared tips and lashes,” squeals Brooklyn emcee Jay Boogie in his Chicago hotel room. He’s referring to his nails, which look more like witch claws, and the false spidery lashes lining his lids—two not-so-subtle details that align perfectly with Boogie’s not-to-subtle personality. He’s posted in bed wearing a black do-rag, bedazzled “Party Monster” sunglasses and a provocative panty with mesh panels fully exposing all that Boogie has to offer. “I’m really just your average boy,” he says, giggling. “I’m also a ‘Blatina Mami’—I clean my house in a wig or else I’m not productive.” A pure vision of New York’s underground scene, Boogie is unapologetic yet poised—eager to grab hip-hop by the balls with the muscle of his debut album, Allure.
The 23-year-old rapper is visiting Chicago to perform at “Total Therapy,” a monthly party hosted by tastemakers Teen Witch Fan Club, VIRTUAL BRAT, Claire Van Eijk and Ben Marcus. Being a hub for the city’s dynamic queer community, “Total Therapy” serves as the perfect stage for Boogie to unleash his “Banjee cunt,” Flex Lang-produced music. The album’s lead single, “Body,” is a smooth introduction to Boogie’s alluring sound, which pulls inspiration from his Hispanic roots and experiences in New York’s ballroom scene. There’s a strong pop sensibility to his work, as well, which is best shown on glistening tracks like “Hold It Down” and, “I’m Not the One.” On the song, “Cuerpo,” Boogie spits full bars in Spanish over a bright, bubbling instrumental—one that would sonically fit on Missy Elliott’s 2005 album, The Cookbook.
Tonight, we’re casually pregaming with a bottle of red wine and blunts, all being smoked in his hotel bathroom using a damp towel to block the door (So old school). “Titanic” somehow finds its way onto his TV, adding a dose of theatrics to Boogie’s already dramatic antics. At one point in the night, Boogie’s bathtub nearly overflows—a result of our being distracted by Leo DiCaprio fighting his way through the sinking British liner. Boogie emerges from the bathroom after fixing the tub, wildly snapping his fingers like pop rocks. “If that overflowed, I was ready to give you major ‘Titanic’ shows,” he coos. “I was going to give you all types of submarine cunt—aqua cunt.” As a long-time player in Contessa Stuto’s CUNTMAFIA crew, it’s only fitting that Boogie ends almost every sentence with the word, “cunt,” not as a negative slur, but a declaration of impenitent strength.
Having been raised in the spicy streets of Bedstuy, Boogie says he was constantly subject to slanderous nicknames like, “Faggot.” It wasn’t until he first fled his neighborhood to attend Stuto’s “Whorehouse” rave that Boogie finally began to assert his sexuality as an asset, not an obstacle. “Meeting Contessa caused my life to spiral upward,” Boogie says. “Before going to her parties, I was on my real hood shit, like being with gangsters and constantly giving bad girl cunt. At ‘Whorehouse,’ I could still be bad as shit, but I wasn’t fighting or stealing—I wasn’t being really Banjee. I could be a different kind of bad.”
A bottle of wine and two blunts deep, Boogie begins to piece together his performance look for the night, parking himself in front of a mirror for more than an hour. “Where’s my G-string?” he asks, dancing to Merengue music—a genre born in the Dominican Republican, where most of Boogie’s family currently resides. His outfit is surprisingly understated: A tightly laced waist-cincher is worn beneath black-layered pantyhose and a matching cropped racerback tank. His hair is smoothed down with a defined part down the middle. Boogie’s covering his body with a massive cloud of spray-on glitter, which he managed to get through airport security, despite being in a bottle much larger than the 3.4 ounce standard. “The security guard knew I’d be needing this for tonight,” he says, filling the bathroom with luminous gold sparkles. “I’m a ballroom girl, so it’s always been about the effects for me.”
When Boogie was 15 years old, he began actively attending balls throughout New York, competing most aggressively in the “Vogue Femme” category, which is now a backbone for his live performances. “Ballroom still runs in my blood today,” Boogie says. “I still refer back to all the tips and tricks I learned from that era. If it weren’t for the ballroom scene, Allure would sound a lot different, too.”
At midnight, we request an Uber to bring us to Berlin Nightclub in Chicago’s Boystown neighborhood. Boogie’s slated to perform four songs around 1 a.m., but we’re in no rush to get there too early. “I’m honestly not a big fan of clubs,” Boogie admits, surprisingly. “I usually dip out immediately after my performance.” During our commute, the driver warmly asks us for any song requests to which Boogie slyly responds asking, “Do you know ‘Body’ by Jay Boogie?” You could hear in his voice that Boogie loved asking that question, despite already knowing the driver’s answer would be, “No.”
Experiences like this drive the underground artist—having celebrity status to only a small pool of people and remaining an alluring mystery to the mainstream world. The word, “no,” is motivation for a passionate New Yorker like Boogie and his performance later that evening showed promising signs of a future where every cab driver in the city could know his name—recognize his face. “I’m hungry for the coin,” he says more than once throughout the night. With an album this good and a personality this electric, Boogie’s hunger is guaranteed to one day be appeased.