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​Boldy James. Photo by Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images. Photo illustration by Srikar Poruri.

Boldy James.

Photo by Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images. Photo illustration by Srikar Poruri.

The Masterful and Calculated Rise of Boldy James

With each new project, Boldy continues to cement his position as rap’s most convincing (and haunting) street life storyteller.

It has never been easy to be a successful and skilled rapper, regardless of how rap fans tend to behave as if one-of-one talents grow on trees. Few understand the patience and wherewithal the job requires more than Boldy James, the 40-year-old, Detroit-born wordsmith. With a long, winding career that started back in 2009 with guest features on The Cool Kids’Merry Christmas project, Boldy has truly climbed the ladder, surviving through multiple eras of rap and evolving in the process. Boldly James has made his name within gritty street rap, while setting himself apart with his vivid imagery and ability to speak as the wise sage of the criminal underworld. In addition to his subject matter, his technical skill and “weary of the world” voice makes him one of the most convincing (and haunting) rappers out.

For most, Boldy’s first big moment was his debut album, My 1st Chemistry Set, fully produced by The Alchemist. Meeting ALC through his cousin, rapper/producer Chuck Inglish (of The Cool Kids) would prove to be a long-term creative partnership — with Alchemist’s genius reworking of how street rap should sound and Boldy’s off-kilter flows. Alchemist would also be the same person to convince Boldy to take rap seriously again in 2019, back when the Detroit MC was wavering between the street, music and regaining his bearings after a 2014 deal with Nas’ Mass Appeal Records didn’t work out.

Boldy James - "Surf & Turf" feat. Vince Staples Official Video (Dir. by Lonewolf)

Boldy and ALC teamed up for the late 2019 EP, Boldface, followed by the early 2020 game changer, The Price of Tea In China. This version of Boldy was sharper than ever, rapping with a kind of do-or-die vigor that comes from going through a lot in his career and personal life. With what the pandemic was doing to the world at large, POTIC just felt “right,” and reverberated with fans of Boldy’s brand of well-paced, dark yet insightful hip-hop.

Boldy James & The Alchemist "Flight Risk" Official

Boldly would then go on to drop thirteen projects, including The Versace Tape, a collab tape with internet comedian Jay Versace, now a producer. That project was also Boldy’s first as a member of Griselda Records, the Westside Gunn-helmed Buffalo rap label that mirrors Boldy’s ethos almost perfectly. Disaster would strike in January 2023, when Boldy was involved in a serious car accident that, amongst other injuries, fractured his vertebrae.

Again, Boldy would push through a difficult situation and release Penalty of Leadership, an album solely produced by Nicholas Craven. This project is Boldy at his most vulnerable, as he outright references the car accident and how thankful he is to survive it. He always finds a way to get better, letting his love for the music shine through by the thought and effort he puts into it. In a world where it feels as if showing you care too much is a weakness, Boldly wields it as a strength; he respects the magic of music and sticks to a standard of quality that he continues to exceed.

Underground rap’s relevance has climbed over the last few years, with the aforementioned Griselda Records, Roc Marciano and Mach-Hommy becoming flag-bearers of the genre. In the same breath, Boldy’s home state of Michigan is also taking off, with acts like Veeze, Babyface Ray and BabyTron looming large. Boldy is not one to fit into a regional or stylistic box; his success feels more the product of divine timing (and will) than him being pushed by competition or elevated by another rapper. He will simply keep creating and continue captivating listeners, solely by staying true to himself, and pushing rap as far as he can take it. Now that his long-rumored project Drug Dilla is finished, where he will rap over the remaining unreleased J Dilla beats, it feels as if Boldy is ready for yet another leap, in what is already shaping up to be a legendary career. Success never happens overnight, but growing into greatness takes time.