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Sam Ibram

Meeting Jay Boogie, the Brooklyn rapper celebrating his body

The emerging Dominican American MC has just dropped his mixtape "My H.O.E" – we caught up with him at Power Lunches to find out what makes him tick

Jay Boogie is the Dominican American MC from Brooklyn determined to tell his story, continuing the legacy of the borough’s thriving underground that gave birth to icons like Foxy Brown and MC Lyte. We meet during his Body Tour that has taken him from his East New York neighbourhood to Old Street, where we chat in the small practice room at Radar Radio the day after his debut headline show in London at one of Power Lunches final basement showcases. It’s a sweaty, excitable affair filled with the buzz of industry types and Tumblr kids most familiar with “Body”, the seductively minimalist lead single and hypnotic visual from his debut album Allure, released at Opening Ceremony last year.

Boogie spent the entirety of his London show immersed in the tight circle of bodies formed around him on the crowded dancefloor, delivering his sleek club-tailored bars at eye level. Between walking and stealing the runway show at Ashish with Larry B, appearing on Just Jam with Doom Dab boss HD or shooting experimental shorts, he’s found himself front and centre of the current intersection of New York and London’s fashion, nightlife and hip-hop crews.

“I’m celebrating the hybrid lifestyle I was raised in, a heteronormative gangbanging environment, looking the way I wanna look, talking the way I wanna talk, demanding the respect I deserve, that’s what it all means to me, I can do this too,” he says.

His new mixtape, My H.O.E. (My Health Over Everything) is a product of his Brooklyn environment, with guest vocals from fellow Doom Dab member Thurmon Green and Rahel, producers Jeremiah Meece and Flex Lang building on the promise of Allure, offering equal parts romantic, candid vulnerability – “I’m so gully, gullible and lovable” – alongside a tough, confrontational pride and flamboyant queerness on centrepiece “Precious”, a glacial hardbodied groove recalling classic Brooklyn hip-hop modernized with bars like “I got this gown on with a smile on”.

Cakes Da Killa and London vocalist Shamz Le Roc team up on the remix of "Body", adding another dimension to an already shimmering catalogue of club bangers. Like the best hip-hop, boundaries and taboos are gleefully blurred and conventions subverted, with self-love and self-preservation at the top of the agenda. The outro “featuring Mother Kanye” is a recording of a 2005 MTV appearance where West speaks on homophobia as a standard in hip-hop, addressing the boring and non-existent line between “straight rap” and everything else.

Hip-hop’s tradition of idolised black masculinity is complex, ranging from icons like Andre 3000 and Busta Rhymes, the rock star sensibilities of a young Pharrell, Kanye West and now Young Thug and A$AP Rocky. Labelling Jay Boogie’s sound as “queer rap” is redundant in the constantly evolving climate where much of hip-hop’s aspirational appeal lies in the intentional transgression of what all rappers are supposed to look, act and sound like.

During our meeting, I asked Jay how he felt about any distinctions between “straight rap” and his blend of hip-hop with ballroom influences and his sexuality, he said: “Of course I want to speak to a larger audience but they have to accept themselves before they accept me. What’s your mission statement? Where does your activism lie? I’ve accepted myself, now it’s time to accept your body.”

Listen to My H.O.E below