Boldy James Revisits "My 1st Chemistry Set;" Calls Alchemist "One Of The Greats"
Exclusive: The Detroit emcee breaks down working with Alchemist, Earl Sweatshirt and Action Bronson, plus explains his obligation to rep his hometown.
Boldy James just dropped his third project this year, and he didn’t even notice. While the phrase is merely lip service for many, the Detroit rapper makes music his hustle, be it the sheer magnitude of releases or his blue collar lyricism. With My 1st Chemistry Set, James teams up with Alchemist to detail life in the drug game, and the result is one of the most dour, cohesive albums of 2013.
“I would just say that I’m giving you everything but the braggadocious, super boastful, animated cartoon shit,” Boldy tells HipHopDX. “I’m trying to keep it real life, on the ground and in the streets, as much as I possibly can.”
He does a damn good job. While Danny Brown flirted with dubstep on Old and Eminem attempts lyrical somersaults on the singles we’ve heard from The Marshall Mathers LP 2, James perhaps best captures the current state of Detroit with grizzly music and thematics. It’s a huge step forward after he put out a Jammin’ 30 mixtape that was, as he says, just “for the era of the turn up.” My 1st Chemistry Set uses its home city to capture a visceral component few Detroit emcees have touched on this year.
“The city’s in poverty; we’ve bottomed out in Detroit,” he says. “I remember when Detroit was Motown and everyone praised Detroit like it was the place to be. Now people are saying it’s the worst place in the world. But damn, it’s still my home.”
Boldy James Explains Releasing Three Projects In 2013
HipHopDX: What’s up man? It’s been a busy year for Boldy James.
Boldy James: Not really; this year is easy. This year is light work, bro.
DX: How are you feeling now that My 1st Chemistry Set has finally hit the shelves? How does it compare to Jammin’ 30: In The Morning and Grand Quarters?
Boldy James: I feel good, man. It’s always good to have a product to push. It doesn’t compare though, it’s on another level. This is grown man, big boy music, you feel me? Jammin’ 30 was for the era of the turn up. Everything is so turn up this, turn up that. That was just music for people to party to or rock out to, you feel me?
DX: No doubt. What inspired you to put out three projects in 2013?
Boldy James: I put three projects out? I didn’t even realize. I’ve just been working I guess. I had enough material and the opportunity presented itself, so I’ve been dropping music. But I’m trying to tell you, I didn’t even realize that I had dropped three projects in a year. That’s crazy, it feels good to know that y’all rockin’ to this shit. That’s what means the most to me.
DX: Is anything else coming this year?
Boldy James: Yeah, probably another mixtape before the first quarter. It depends on what My 1st Chemistry Set is doing. If Chemistry Set is doing what it’s supposed to be doing, then shit, I’ll just fall back and take some time to write.
DX: How was it working with Action Bronson and Earl Sweatshirt? Both of them are pretty different from you stylistically.
Boldy James: Nah, they’re good fellas like me, though. We just get it, and it’s not about how different you are or what makes you more of a this or that than this person. We all love good music, and that’s the type of energy that Al brings. When you come in [to his studio], no matter who’s there, you keep it 100. We were at Rap Camp, as they call Alchemist’s studio, because everyone passes through there when they’re in LA. You always stop by Al’s place because he’s that guy, and I ran into a whole lot of superstars in that studio. Action [Bronson] and Earl are some cool niggas. Action’s the coolest nigga I know...real life. He’s real down to earth…my kind of person. We sat down for a minute and then got straight to work.
DX: Who would you want to collaborate with in the future?
Boldy James: That I haven’t already worked with? Nas, Jay, Scarface and the legends from a couple eras before my time. Mothafuckers like that, who I think are really talented and just passionate. They’d do me some justice on the track. I get a lot of complaints for putting niggas from around my way on songs. A lot of my fans thought that I could’ve taken the song to the head, or they wanted to hear more from me. I have to shine light on those dudes, because I don’t know who else would. It’s a gift and a curse being a good nigga, man.
Boldy James’ Details Working With Chuck Inglish & Alchemist
DX: Tell me about hooking up with Alchemist. How did you two maintain a relationship after Russian Roulette?
Boldy James: Al’s just that guy. It’s hard not to fuck with Al once you meet him, because he’s so cool. He loves what he does.
DX: What’s the main difference between working with him and working with Chuck Inglish?
Boldy James: Chuck and I always butt heads when we make music. Me and Chuck have never agreed on anything you’ve heard. That’s the end result, and that’s why the music sounds so crazy. My rhymes don’t necessarily go to those beats, and those beats don’t necessarily compliment my lyrics the best way they could, in my opinion. Chuck says that’s what makes it so great, in spite of that. He knows it and I know it. When we listen to it, my lyrics just sit on top of the beat like a boat on the water. That’s the difference with My 1st Chemistry Set. I really love those beats, and that’s the type of beats I grew up listening to. Quite naturally it’s a match, but I grew up watching Chuck make that shit. I’m his big cousin, but he says he’s further in the music game so his opinion is valid. He’ll be like, “Man, spit that old school shit…I don’t want none of that new shit.” I say that the new shit goes off of the old shit. I say, “Trust me, I got it.” He wants the old raps, but I say it has to be an old school-sounding ass beat. Like “Jimbo,” I don’t even like performing that song. It’s not harder than any other song I have. That’s what Chuck be trying to tell me, like, “Trust me, I know what I’m doing,” and I say “Trust me, I know what I’m doing.” That’s the clash.
DX: What have you learned from a producer as experienced as ALC?
Boldy James: I learned a lot about different theories, you know? I got to meet a lot of people through Al, like Earl Sweatshirt, Domo Genesis, ScHoolboy Q and Action Bronson. The list goes on. But I learned a lot about how you delegate situations with labels, and what size advances to take—not necessarily big ones all the time. You always try to recoup the money, so you can get to the money. Shit, I pretty much already knew of this stuff, but I just needed some touch up paint. You don’t have to ask Al a lot of questions, because his dedication speaks for himself. He’s gonna go down in history as one of the greats.
DX: Word. How did your mindstate shift working with just one producer for an entire project?
Boldy James: That’s usually how my projects were working in the early stages of my career. The studio situation used to be a problem, at first it was hard to get in ‘em. Then, once you start getting in, you have to be nit-picky about the ones you actually go to based on my real life, and how I’m actually in the streets. I can’t just be anywhere and everywhere.
Why Boldy James Says, “My Music Isn’t Fun”
DX: How would you describe this album to listeners that don’t know Boldy James?
Boldy James: I would just say that I’m giving you everything but the braggadocious, super boastful, animated cartoon shit. I’m trying to keep it real life, on the ground and in the streets as much as I possibly can. I want to let ‘em know that it wasn’t always all good with me, and I didn’t always have money. My life’s been a roller coaster ride, and I want my fans to be able to grow with me as time goes on. I want to stick around—not just another come-and-go type emcee. I want to have a long run like the Nas, Scarface and Ice Cube. I want to be able to take it to new heights and get into business ventures. It’s not just all music with me. Even though I’ve done music, it wasn’t always music, man. But my whole life, no matter what I was going through, I took time to make that music and listen to that music. I am passionate about what I do, and I’m not just doing this for no check. I do other shit to get paid, man.
DX: Walk me through “Moochie.” Everyone’s been buzzing about that single.
Boldy James: That’s my nickname; you know what I’m saying? I decided to run with the Boldy James thing for my homeboy Boldy from my block. He got killed, and his name was James too. I took that and ran with it before he got killed, so after it was real sentimental. “Moochie” was for the hood, coming out with that slang terminology—this that and a third. It’s just to show people how we kick it in my hood…how we’re talking. It ain’t no E-40 or nothing, but it’s my version of that. It’s that “Ebonics”…that “Concreature” shit. I don’t speak the same language as everyone else.
DX: It definitely reminded me of Big L’s “Ebonics.”
Boldy James: Oh yeah. But in real life, I had no intention of making that song. Big L didn’t influence me to write that, even though I love that song. I just wrote that shit because that’s what the beat told me to do. I just write what the beat tells me.
DX: Yessir. Not many dudes are throwing shouts to their wives on tracks these days.
Boldy James: [Laughs] Did I call her Sunshine?
Boldy James: Because she’s got that sunshine, man. You know what that sunshine is? She throws that shit into everything and makes it gold like my son’s eyes. My son had gray eyes when he was born, and they changed colors. So I call her Sunshine when I’m feeling great, ‘cause like my son’s eyes, she always brightens up my day. I’m from the dark side, call it the dead giveaway.
DX: Do you have a favorite song off the album?
Boldy James: I was just talking about that right before you called. My favorite song is “Reform School,” because it sounds like we had the most fun on that. The album isn’t really a fun album. But that’s one where we had fun—me and my little homies just doing what we do. We got on the song, and that was a real good group effort.
DX: That’s a fun song. What about “Surprise Party” though? That one’s particularly dark.
Boldy James: That’s how we be feelin’ in the hood, bro. We were taking it back to that, man. That’s all that was. That’s some stuff that a lot of people won’t share with you, but I feel like we were sincere on that song. I really be feelin’ like throwin’ niggas surprise parties.
DX: There’s a lot of Coke Rap too. That’s been a pretty dead subgenre in 2013.
Boldy James: ‘Cause that’s not niggas lives. And if it is, they take the time to shine light on things like ballin’ and that kind of shit. But what came first, the chicken or the egg? Hustlin’ comes before getting the money, so that’s what I talk about most. I talk about putting the work in, not all the perks, benefits and bonuses of my work. I don’t like to glorify or glamorize shit that I’m supposed to be doing. Because I’m supposed to be doing this.
DX: Do you ever get wary of being pegged as just a dope rapper though?
Boldy James: That’s where all the problems lie in my life. It’s all behind drug money, you feel me? The rest of my life is beautiful, and I only took a couple real spills in my family life. Niggas are going through jail situations and shit, and I’ve had a couple of blood cousins get murdered or kill themselves…those type of tragedies. All my friends—the niggas I grew up with and ran the streets with—they’re all bloody, murdered or doing life sentences. And it’s all over blood money. It’s real bro, and that’s why I make the music I make. That’s why my music isn’t fun and why I don’t waste time talking about how rich I am. I be on some other shit.
DX: Respect. On “Give Me A Reason,” you say, “Detroit, Michigan, we the new Bangladesh.” Break that down for me.
Boldy James: It’s crazy in Bangladesh; there’s poverty, war and all that shit. That’s what I’m describing. There’s explosives and shit going off downtown. The city’s in poverty, and we’ve bottomed out in Detroit. I remember when Detroit was Motown, and everyone praised Detroit like it was the place to be. Now people are saying it’s the worst place in the world. But damn, it’s still my home, and it’s what I still represent. I’m going to stand on these statements firmly. I try to take you in between the fine print. That’s what I’m writing. I’m writing from a real man’s perspective, and niggas don’t know this shit firsthand; otherwise they wouldn’t sound so pretty. Ain’t nothing cute with this shit here; this is real life.
DX: What’s your responsibility as an entertainer from Detroit? Do you feel obligated to rep the city even harder in the wake of such economic turmoil?
Boldy James: The music I’m making is like nothing compared to what I can really do with the streets of Detroit. I’m trying to have the voice to speak for me and my people…niggas that come from where I come from. I encourage them that whatever they’re doing, make sure that it’s positive. If they can’t actually help the situation here, don’t worsen it any more. Keep it at this level, and don’t take it down any more notches. If you’re not trying to be a solution to the problem, don’t add to the problem. That’s the best I can do. I’m trying to encourage them to do anything but be negative and hurtful to one another. Unless you’re put in a corner and you’ve gotta scrap. That’s different. But I don’t want to see people hatin’ on one another. I don’t want that for my people. All the bullshit that comes along with not having anything and trying to make shit out of nothing, I know about that. I’m with you, and I’ve been there. I’m prayin’ for you niggas. I don’t have the recipe to fix world hunger, and I can’t solve any problem. But I know for a fact that there is a way out the hood, and you don’t have to be stuck in the ghetto.
DX: It’s gonna be a huge fall for The D. Danny Brown just dropped, and Em’s dropping soon. What’s your place in the Detroit scene right now?
Boldy James: Shit, I’m the streets. There’s a lot of stuff going on in Detroit, and Detroit’s really on the rise when it comes to entertainment. I know my place. Niggas can’t do what I do, and I don’t try to do what they do. I’m in a good place. I have my own style, my own team, my own company and my own relationships. The good thing is that no one’s stepping on one another’s toes around here. That’s usually the problem.
DX: Oh yeah. Chemistry Set is awesome man, I really dig it.
Boldy James: I appreciate you takin’ the time out to give a fuck about what’s going on in the wonderful world of Boldy James. That’s always love.