Boldy James’ idiosyncratic flows don’t always land with the typical fan who prefers more buoyed energy. However, since his debut, My 1st Chemistry Set, with Hip-Hop legend, The Alchemist, Boldy has had a constant uptick in the consistency of his work, even if it isn’t the most vibrant rap song around. He has kept it real throughout the years with the intense focus on songwriting and themes; the production becomes the icing on the cake. Boldy may not have that next-tier status of his Griselda cohorts: Westside Gunn, Conway The Machine, and Benny the Butcher, but he still maintains a presence on his fourth album and the fourth overall project with The Alchemist, Bo Jackson. From Boldy’s overall consistency and Alchemist’s production, this new album is levels above the former’s best work.
Earlier this week, I talked about the synergy between Nas and Hit-Boy on King’s Disease II and how that kind of connection is hard to come by (in hip-hop) with the number of producers around. Boldy James and The Alchemist are two in debate to join the group, and they solidify their case on their fourth project together. The different degrees Alchemist tackles the details on the production elevate Boldy’s cocaine/conscious raps. Both styles aren’t highly marketable, as pop radio tends to prefer trap-rap. But what makes cocaine/conscious rap unique is the fluidity of the sonic styles it can take and still be effective. Freddie Gibbs, for example, keeps his work interesting by trying different styles, like the jazz-rap focus of Piñata or the old school smooth-soul influenced hip-hop of his self-titled album.
For the unaware, Bo Jackson is an athlete who played professional baseball and football, achieving All-Star rank in each respective sport. Boldy James uses his status amongst the black community as a hero to show the duality of his status within his community. Bo Jackson is known for his achievements. Boldy is known as an ex-drug dealer and now rapper. The stories that encompass the album speak of earned grandeur and status without lacking transparency with their past and the people he won’t leave behind.
You first hear this duality on the opening song, “Double Hockey Sticks.” The haunting-gritty piano instrumental is split in two, creating a divide where we hear a smooth transition in production and rhythmic flow. It defines the meaning behind the album title and why Boldy James calls himself Bo Jackson, or rather is known as that. As it continues, Boldy’s self-assured confidence is an effervescent aroma produced by his performances. His skills aren’t limited, and the performances speak for themselves, matching bar-for-bar with Curren$y and Freddie Gibbs. Though it isn’t the first time he has worked with these artists, it is the first time on an Alchemist production.
“Fake Flowers,” which features both Curren$y and Freddie Gibbs, sounds like a blueprint for something that would have been on the collab tape, Fetti, between the two and Alchemist. But Boldy James’ is a natural, and he finds himself landing without making it feel like it isn’t his song, as he delivers the best verse. Unfortunately, other features don’t stick out as significantly as these two. Earl Sweatshirt, Roc Marciano, Benny the Butcher, and Stove God Cooks, deliver adequate, if not palpable, verses that fit within the mold of the style and context of the production. Two end up being forgettable, Earl and Stove God. It’s saddening, considering Stove God’s verses on Peter Rosenberg’s album, Real Late, were one of the few standouts from it.
Though it doesn’t become a deterrent, Boldy James claims the album’s throne. However, Boldy sometimes comes in second to the Alchemist’s production. Fans expect this as the Alchemist orchestrates a symphony by the intricate shifts in tempos. From the BPM to audio samples that set a scene, the two create a perfect concoction. On the track “Illegal Search & Seizure,” Boldy James raps about systematic issues in the policing system. The audio samples they use come from officers bursting into a trap house with an illegal warrant, creating violent problems.
Beyond the depth of the content, the album strikes you with Boldy James’ naturally gifted lyricism. His enunciations are clear, and you can read into his wicked and intricate rhythmic patterns, sometimes delivering multi-syllabic bars smoothly. You can hear this strength in the song “First 48 Freestyle.” I, for one, can’t confirm if this is a proper freestyle or not, but taking its word for it, this lyrical flex by Boldy is the biggest highlight on the album before capping off with “Drug Zone.” The song solidifies what we have heard, while Boldy sets himself to return to the hustle and closing off till his next release.
Of the four projects Boldy James and The Alchemist have made together, Bo Jackson is the best. It never creates friction allowing everyone to breathe on the track in their distinctive ways. Some rappers don’t come through as fans would expect, but they don’t let the shit hit the fan. If you’re a casual fan of hip-hop, particularly gritty cocaine/conscious rap, then I recommend checking this one out.