“Congratulations, you made it,” Boots says as we speed through the gauntlet of Times Square neon, rain slashing the Uber windows as Beyoncé‘s “Partition” blares from the speakers. The car erupts into seat-dancing — dancing that becomes even more fervent when “Drunk In Love” comes on.
No one tells the driver that he has unwittingly sound-tracked tonight’s car ride with jams dear to the man currently sitting in the backseat — the man who produced about 80% of Beyoncé’s self-titled surprise record and co-wrote a good portion of the songs therein.
I am hyper-aware, however, of the oddness of the situation. I had started out that night at a listening party for Boots’ debut mixtape, WinterSpringSummerFall, and continued it dancing to music penned by the man himself and sharing whiskey at Brooklyn’s Baby’s All Right. I had “made it,” I guess.
Despite “making it,” however — a state of affairs that I’m certain I achieved because I kept my phone sheathed during the party — that doesn’t mean I get all the answers. In fact, I came out of my very first meeting with Boots with more questions than I went in with. And guess what? I kind of like it that way…
Boots, a Miami native who previously played in a bevy of bands, including Blonds, first found his place in the music world in the form of a question mark when Beyoncé sprung her self-titled record unto the world at the end of 2013. His name was all over the tracklist, yet no one knew who he was. As more information and music came to light — including his real name (Jordy Asher) and his origins — the question mark only grew bigger.
From an interview with Pitchfork, we know that he grew up in Miami, dropped out of high school and spent some time living in a van. We also know that the 27-year-old — who moved to New York more than a few years back — signed with Roc Nation last June. His name, he said, came from his predilection for that particular footwear. We’re not really sure, however, how his signing came about — or how he hooked up with Beyoncé in the first place — or, really, what the story is behind his mixtape. Question marks abound.
When he premiered WinterSpringSummerFall on Buzzfeed Monday (May 5), Boots said scant little about its contents, aside from: “So for the first and last time, here’s my whole story from the beginning,” directing us to the album embed itself.
One glimmer that I gleaned — after stumbling into Baby’s where singer Mac DeMarco was mysteriously convulsing on the floor while wailing karaoke — was retracted by Boots when I emailed him to confirm some facts.
“It’s something that isn’t the public’s business,” Boots said. “Same with who my girlfriend is or what I do in my spare time.” Fair enough.
“There’s a story that goes from the start to finish of it, and the lyrics say more than I ever could about it,” Boots said to me in an email, before his mixtape listening party. He gave up scant few details during the listening party itself, preferring, instead, to let the songs answer the questions that they inspire.
The lyrics –- and the soundscape of the mixtape –- tell myriad stories, all wrapped up, in a way, in album opener “A Day In The Life Of Jordy Asher.” That track, it seems, moves from more mundane issues –- a disconnect from a lover (“she’ll never get a read off me”) –- to ever-more important concerns: fear of being used (“maybe worse, ask if she could meet with Jay Z”), the hustle that is living in America (“generation of silent workers and murderers”) and, finally, the fleetingness of life (“we’re just drifting through space, anyway”).
That final sentiment comes on the heels of a chilling real-life anecdote about one of the countless people who have died after falling on the subway tracks in New York City: Joshua Basin, who was pushed in front of a train in Brooklyn in 2012.
In the track, Boots holds Basin until he dies –- an event that happened in real life, he said, while other strap-hangers ran from the scene. “I said you’d be all right,” Boots sings. “I’m sorry that I lied.” When he told that story at the listening party, the rabblement of journalists gasped.
Those themes –- love and its many variations, fame and its pitfalls, and just general discontent –- reverberate throughout the record. There are songs like “Dust” that palpitate with the confusion that love engenders –- boasting stop-and-think lyrics like “your love is a whitewashed flower.” Then there’s “Alright,” which echoes the discontent with the record industry inherent in Beyoncé’s “Ghost/Haunted” –- it even seems to reference Boots’ involvement with that record and the effect it has had on his life: “Everybody ask where I’m from/ Everybody ask what I’ve done/ One million in one week: gold streets,” he sings.
And then there are moments — more than a few moments –- boiling with a kind of stunning yet swaggering anger, most starkly represented in “Sheep/Lookin’ Muthaf—a”: “Pig-faced lookin’ muthaf—a/ Kicked me in the head lookin’ muthaf—a,” Boots spits. “Left me in the drunk tank in the blood bank/ Leaving me for dead lookin’ muthaf—a.” It’s a rage that beats in the blood all the way to the chest and then lingers there, burning.
Although it may be possible to piece together some parts of Boots’ personality and history via a close-listen to the mixtape, there are still holes –- still much-obscured stories and images that I’m sure would only make sense to his closest confidant, or, probably more accurately, in his own mind.
There’s the gorgeous, atmospheric “Atom,” a musical mind-wander through “haunted hallways full of grace.” And, like some kind of echoing memory, there’s a series of voicemails peppered throughout the tape, the most striking being the first: “I know you said that you’d remember that I love you, but I haven’t stopped.”
In case you’re wondering, yes, those voicemails are real. And, in case you’re wondering, no, Boots isn’t telling you who they’re from. That lack of information is a gift, almost, as it makes moments like this universal –- allowing listeners to imagine the whispered words are from someone they once loved.
At the end of the night –- as the rain continued to rage on –- Boots gave me the “OK” to follow him around for the day, to ask questions and see what his life is like. He also promised to send me the lyrics to all of his songs after I told him that it’s easier for me to parse through songs when I can see them in front of me.
In the end, however, all I received was an email with the mixtape and lyrics attached.
It wasn’t a surprise, really. As Boots told Buzzfeed: “I really f–king hate interviews and talking with journalists because sometimes they try to flip your words around to tell you their story instead of the real story.”
It wasn’t a surprise, and it wasn’t a disappointment, really. Mostly because the response was fitting and, in the end, keeping with his promise.
He did allow me to spend a day with him –- and the rest of you as well. It’s right there in the title of the mixtape opener. And we can all experience that day in the way that he intended –- through the music, through his own lens, through his own words.
Take a listen to the mixtape, which features composer Son Lux, singer Kelela, Shlohmo & Jeremih and Beyoncé, below.