Staff Pick: Boldy James enjoys the view from the top

The Detroit rapper visits Columbus for a concert at Skully’s on Tuesday

Andy Downing
Columbus Alive
Boldy James

For some artists, the creative muse disappeared when society shut down in the early weeks of the pandemic. Not so Detroit rapper Boldy James, who turned out a quartet of killer collaborative albums in less than a calendar year: The Price of Tea in China with producer the Alchemist in February, Manger on McNichols with jazz player Sterling Toles in July, The Versace Tape with producer Jay Versace in August and Real Bad Boldy with the Real Bad Man collective in December.

The rapper acknowledged this disconnect in a September 2020 interview with Pitchfork. “It’s hard feeling like you’re on top of the world while it’s in crisis,” he said

Regardless, James is enjoying his perch, which he’s maintained into this year with the August release of Bo Jackson, yet another pairing with the Alchemist (the two first teamed up in 2013) and arguably the best release of the rapper’s pandemic-era outpouring. Throughout, Alchemist’s beats swing from melancholic (“Photographic Memories”) to anxiety inducing (the instrumental on “Speed Trap” is enough to cause cold sweats), though the shifts have zero impact on James’ monotone delivery. Regardless of how unexpectedly a drum break hits, the rapper’s pulse never elevates so much as a point, suggesting he’d have no issues navigating a haunted house without flinching or fooling the feds in a lie detector test.

Not that James, who visits Skully’s for a concert on Tuesday, Oct. 12, hides anything in his verses. The rapper’s songs continue to detail the years he spent dealing drugs and navigating the justice system, as well as the sheer unlikelihood that he was able to overcome his early circumstances. “Not to mention, in dedication/I done saved lives,” he raps on “3rd Person.” “On two different separate occasions/I was grazed twice.” 

If anything, James is now able to deliver these insights from a greater remove, surveying the entirety of his existence from the top of the world, as it were, a landscaped view that lends his novelistic verses a welcome sense of perspective.