By Christan Hince | September 13, 2021
Griselda rapper Boldy James & Beverly Hills producer The Alchemist have reunited for a gritty, engaging record about crime life in Detroit. 44-minutes strong, “Bo Jackson” is a cohesive project held together by The Alchemist’s diverse but one-of-a-kind production, as well as various audio samples that reference the titular basketball and baseball player.
When discussing the Griselda collective’s takeover of street rap in the last several years, it’s impossible to go without mentioning Boldy James.
Based out of Detroit, he’s a distinct rhyme smith who crafts heavy bars about drug dealing in the Motor City. With a cold, monotonous delivery and a book’s worth of slang for cocaine (“This that bricktionary slingo,” he raps on “Turpentine”), Boldly sets himself apart in the rap game.
He’s also helped by his relationship with Daniel Allen Maman, a mercurial beatmaker more commonly known as The Alchemist. In their third album together, “Bo Jackson”, this special connection is emphasized to the fullest.
Maman’s production is reminiscent of the 90s’ hip hop Golden Age, an era ruled by artists like Dr. Dre and the Wu-Tang Clan, and characterized by a battle between the rougher-edged hip hop scene of the East Coast versus the smoother, more stylish sounds from the West Coast. While heavy on nostalgia, The Alchemist’s beats are still innovative and forward-thinking. They range from tantalizing chopped soul to melancholic jazz, all the way to psychedelic and trappy soundscapes. This gives Boldy room to regale his dark anecdotes in a variety of ways.
Evident on the first track, “Double Hockey Sticks”, James delivers some stream of consciousness lyrics over jazzy, atmospheric keys. The instrumental then switches to a creepy, driving trap beat with bars focused on telling a story about a close run-in with the law.
The album’s opener isn’t the only track of this sort. “Speed Trap” recounts dodging a state trooper on the highway in a car loaded with illicit material. “Flight Risk,” is a creepy interlude-esque song about the dangers that exist even within a tight social circle. The song leads into “Illegal Search and Seizure,” an album highlight and overall watermark of rap storytelling.
The song talks about the aftermath of James getting sold out to the law by someone he trusted. “Weigh the work while it’s wet just to get them extra Gs, now the F-E-Ds kicking in my door yelling freeze,” he details. All this drama unfolds only for James to get let off the hook due to the Fourth Amendment violation in the title, illegal search and seizure.
While Boldy James is the narrator for almost the entirety of the LP, “Bo Jackson'' does feature guests on 4 of 14 tracks. Benny the Butcher raps with materialistic swagger, with wordplay like “so much cheddar” and “whole lotta carats'' on the dark trap banger “Brickmile to Montana”. This contrasts from James’ bars about endangering anyone who makes him an enemy, with lines such as, “me and Em in a low key, big Glock .20, it hit like Ginobili”.
Up-and-comer Stove God Cooks on “Diamond Dallas” delivers maybe the best hook on the record, featuring rough but oddly fitting vocals. “Diamond on the stove, thirty-six Os, I took the pot and went gold,” he rap-sings over an Akiko Yano sample.
On “Photographic Memories,” Earl Sweatshirt does what he’s best known for: crafting emotionally provocative images with his words over emotionally provocative beats. Phrases like “sorrowfulness and rule,” “distant and reserved,” and “left here disturbed” cement the melancholy of this verse about the rapper’s troubled emotional state
Roc Marciano adds on a verse full of deft street wordplay such as “bloody money in the machine circling” which alludes to money laundering, and “let off a hundred clip recurring“ which references gang violence. Like “Brickmile to Montana” however, it doesn’t share subject matter quite well with other rapper(s) on the track.
“Fake Flowers,” a certified posse cut, shows multiple rappers working together with perfection. Boldy and Curren$y go one after the other with verses about struggle and success before Freddie Gibbs steals the show with one of the album’s best verses.
With a personal history detailed with rape accusations, baby-mommas, and controversial social media presence, Gibbs knows he’s no stranger to personal drama. “I ain’t your mentor or your role model,” he raps before detailing experiences of hedonism, drug dealing, and gangbanging with sheer aggression.
Even though Boldy James boasts pride in his success and skill in a dangerous lifestyle, he admits to some discomfort through more stories of close calls on “Third Person.” “How many times you think that you can get away with murder? My daughter and son need me, so I can’t desert ‘em,” he raps on the song’s hook.
The album does have its flaws. The fourth track “Steel Wool” showcases a weaker soul sample-based instrumental from the Alchemist compared to songs like “Turpentine.” And James’ rapping, while strong, doesn’t stick out from other songs about drug dealing on the album.
“Drug Zone,” the last song, features production that doesn’t have any atmosphere or melodic tones that could make it a powerful closer.
And despite Boldy James’ slow, deliberate monotone being an effective communicator of the album’s ideas most of the time, his quiet voice can struggle against the staticky microphone and too loud instrumentals.
Overall, thisis a strong record that gives listeners what they expect in all the right ways. It showcases a street-hardened wordsmith and beat-making genius doing what they do best and doing it together. “Bo Jackson” is proof that Boldy James and The Alchemist are here to stay in the rap game and for a good while.