Boldy James & Alchemist
My 1st Chemistry Set
Even when transitioning from understated brags to self-conscious street worries, Boldy James is consistent throughout "My 1st Chemistry Set."
Boldy James just charted a relatively quick and quiet come up. Last year he widened his fanbase with “Consignment: Favor For A Favor, The Redi-Rock Mixtape” after his first project, “Trapper’s Alley,” in 2011. This past March he released a proper commercial debut on Decon with the Grand Quarters EP as a more focused lead up to his latest project alongside Alchemist. At six tracks, that last release was a solid exercise in streamlining as a follow up to a pair of mixtapes clocking in at more than 25 songs each.
News of My 1st Chemistry Set accompanied the release of the EP, and even without listening to the album, Boldy and Alchemist share an obvious compatibility. Especially with ALC’s production on deck, it’s easy to pinpoint the rapper’s occupying a mold of tight-lipped street telling carved out by Prodigy and Havoc before him. James’ steady baritone and simple cadence are naturally sinister on their own, but the effect gets brought full circle on the right beat. While it may be The Infamous and even later H.N.I.C. era Mobb Deep that fans will most easily find in Boldy, linking up with Alchemist in 2013 puts the album squarely up against Albert Einstein. Neither are exercises in innovation, but it’s hard to help noticing that My 1st Chemistry Set stands properly on its own next to Alchemist and P’s own full-length.
The album kicks off with “BOLD” as a quick tone setter. In the face of some of his recent meandering into gritty Psych, Alchemist quickly settles into his orchestrated griminess with threatening strings and a vocal sample on the first song. James manages to link together multi-syllable bars without stumbling or over-complicating. Matching the vibe, his verses are generally dark and block paranoid.
“I ain’t superstitious but something is fishy,” he raps, “I keep having dreams them officials comin’ to get me / At night I can’t sleep, keep switchin’ up where my chips be / ‘Cause they’ll break the bank, take it all and leave you on empty.”
“Moochie” finds James co-opting—though not necessarily as an intentional remake—the concept of Big L’s “Ebonics” over a simple breakbeat and eerie bells (“Moochie” being one of James’ own past nicknames). “What up though?” he raps, “Going hand to hand is hustlin’ / And of course a grand is a band of brothers / I call acting brand new frontin’ (bitch please) / Really all I need is pussy, weed, liquor, brand new money.” The first track to change pace comes early enough with an Action Bronson feature on “Traction.” Whether it’s a testament to Alchemist’s ability to match a beat to a rapper or Bronsolino’s own self-awareness, the song is a perfect match for his delivery, and James proves the versatility of his own straightforwardness over the more charged up synth loop. The track is an easy standout with the rappers trading short verses and off-brand humor (“Leave his body where the Pistons play / Rock a mask like Richard Hamilton, and hit the J / But in Queens they call me Mookie”).
After holding down the first three songs himself, the rest of the album alternates between guest appearances and solo tracks. Freeway and King Chip join in on “Surprise Party,” and Boldy’s Detroit affiliates Mafia Double Dee and Peechie Green sign up for “Rappies” (they don’t live up to the other features, but aren’t throwaway appearances either). Earl Sweatshirt, Da$h and Domo Genesis round out the darkness on “Reform School” as a cross-section of younger talent.
If M1CS has a flaw, it’s only in slight repetitiveness. If not for a few tracks that cut through the gloom, it might have droned too long in an ominous lane. While not exactly upbeat, even “What’s The Word,” which serves as the record’s middle point, breaks from the tenseness with a more laid back and drawn out vocal sample. Throughout the whole project, James is consistent, even when transitioning from understated brags to self-conscious street worries. Particularly with his penchant for witty slang, his style doesn’t seem derived or lifted despite obvious similarities. Still, he’s sure footed enough to know where he stands. On “Traction,” in a fitting self-reference, he raps, “Plug with the connect / I hit him up on consignment / If you spineless then squirm with the rest / You can run and play hide and seek / Until I pop up with that 90 / Now that’s what I call the Return of the Mac.”