The lyrical space Boldy James inhabits is insular but not in a safe way, it’s a tight container terrorized by the external world. Just look at the chorus to Giant Slide from his game changing collaborative album with Alchemist called The Price of Tea In China:
“Cold game in these streets, kept it by my side
Now I cross my T’s and I dot my I’s
Catch ’em from long range, let that chopper ride
When them doors swing, that’s a giant slide
Nigga reachin’ for my chain, must be tryna die
Now they snitchin’ on James to the homicide
Let that pole bang, wipe the tears from his mama eyes
And kill his whole gang, that’s a giant slide”
Most rappers would make the rise and fall of James an entire song. He just gets dropped in and left in the container for us to stew on. On Surf & Turf with Vince Staples the second line of the chorus is “My son think that I don’t love him, he don’t know his daddy thuggin’” which is a shocking thing to put out and not clarify within the verse, another full song living as a bar for us to never forget.
Sterling Toles is the one who really figured this out. His vision for Manger on McNichols was to build the instrumentation behind Boldy to match the way the world ambushes him within verses. The same way danger strikes out of nowhere, symbols crash, cellos take over, while Boldy fights to be heard over top of it all. It’s the absolute encapsulation of the “surviving your environment” mantra that goes back to 2013’s My First Chemistry Set mixtape. Some of the vocals for this album go back to 2007, so no producer really got to know Boldy’s voice and pathos like Sterling did throughout the process of sewing the album together. He used whatever travelling Jazz musician was coming through Detroit for a quick punch in here and there. The end result: a haggard treasure map to the spirit of Detroit hip hop. Manger on McNichols lives as a sparkling once-in-a-career monument to the Detroit crime rapper’s greatness.
If you think about the releases Boldy gave us in 2020 they have a common thread: album with Sterling Toles (Manger on McNichols), album with Jay Versace(The Versace Tape), album with Real Bad Man (Real Bad Boldy), album with Alchemist (The Price of Tea In China). He needs to lock in with a single producer and just go. His work rate is at the speed of someone being charged by the hour by their psychologist.
He’s the best decision Griselda made this year, full stop. It would be one thing to rejuvenate your career with Alchemist. ALC is like Tarantino, he can do that for you. It would be another thing to have the Sterling Toles masterwork drop the same year but to add Real Bad Boldy to that is unthinkable. Held Me Down is one of my favorite songs this year and its on the 3rd best album he put out during 2020! Real Bad Man gives him warm sounds, richness in instrumentation and sample that bring out the sneer and confidence in his voice.
It’s not just bar after bar of the most eye-opening crime fiction delivered with the charisma of someone reading their report to the class, it’s Boldy’s epic ear. He picked all these people to work with and they aren’t all huge names that were lining up to work with him. This year as things fell apart and tears streamed down our faces at all that we lost, I needed Boldy to keep pushing his mean determination. Losing is not an option. When he said he was harder than the ground we are standing on(Champion off Real Bad Boldy) he proved it with his work this year.
All of the hard work Boldy James has done is on streaming. If you are looking to buy GO TO the Manger on McNichols bandcamp below: