Album review: ‘Bo Jackson’

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Rappers performing at a concert.

By Gabriel Fiorini, News Reporter

Boldy James, newest member of Buffalo-based rap crew, Griselda, has released another collaborative album with producer The Alchemist. This album marks the pair’s third installment of collaborative projects spanning back to 2019. These include the “Boldface” EP, “The Price Of Tea In China” and now “Bo Jackson.”

“Bo Jackson,” a direct reference to the former MLB and NFL all-star, is a 14 song album that features guest appearances from a bevy of Griselda and Alchemist collaborators. Features include rappers Benny the Butcher, Roc Marciano, Earl Sweatshirt, Stove God Cooks, Curren$y and Freddie Gibbs. 

Boldy James, real name James Clay Jones III, solidifies his position in the realm of hip-hop through “Bo Jackson.” The Detroit-based rapper began his career in 2009 putting out mixtapes. His first full-length album, “My First Chemistry Set,” came out in 2013, but Boldy hasn’t been complacent. In 2020 alone, Boldy released four albums, “Real Bad Boldy,” “Manger on McNichols,” “The Price Of Tea In China” and “The Versace Tape.”  

Even still, Boldy James is not the most prolific member of the pair. Arguably the hardest working hip-hop producer, The Alchemist, whose work ethic is not dissimilar to that of a professional two-sport athlete, lays the instrumental blueprints on which Boldy builds his libretto. The Alchemist’s career began in 1991 when he co-founded the rap duo Whooliganz. Beginning his career as an M.C., The Alchemist quickly transitioned to a producer role when he was discovered by East Coast hip hop legends Prodigy and Havoc from Mobb Deep in the 1990s.

The Alchemist samples a recorded conversation with Boldy James’ son in “Bo Jackson,” who says, “I think you should get in the studio next time. I’m talkin about you should get in the booth. Like the old music you used to do.”

The Alchemist’s skills as a producer are apparent, especially through songs like “Brickmail to Montana.” The instrumental begins with a chanting incantation and is followed by synths and snares that sound like they’re being fired out of a ray gun. Through “Brickmail to Montana,” Benny the Butcher and Boldy lyrically berate the listener with bars slabbed on top of an eerie, boom-bap beat. The two team up to reflect on their shared experiences working in the drug trade.

Yet, “Brickmail to Montana” is a stylistic outlier for Boldy, whose delivery is typically relaxed and monotone. In “Illegal Search and Seizure,” Boldy’s trademark calm composure is on full display. He recounts a story of a raid team surrounding his house and federal agents kicking in the door due to his associate being offered a plea deal. “Now the F-E-Ds kickin in my crib, yellin ‘Freeze’ Hella cheese hid in the wall, touchin fetti off fentanyl. He wrote a tell it all, said I been sellin kis of the dog,” Boldy claims over a chopped up melancholic soul sample curated by The Alchemist.

The Alchemist’s psychedelic beats and abstract samples hold Boldy James’ lyrical collage together like Elmer’s . Boldy James tends to depict violence, wealth and extreme paranoia with the same demeanor as someone reading a grocery list. He routinely delivers poignant metaphors and similes with a monotonous tone. “Ferris wheel on the suey, broski tryna stuff the Drac.’ Thuggin in the concrete jungle, planet of the apes,” Boldy raps on “First 48 Freestyle.” His focus on lyrical content leaves room for The Alchemist’s beats to shine. Horror movie score synths and awkward piano riffs frame heavy kicks and snares, dazzling the listener.

Boldly James and The Alchemist established themselves as staples in underground hip-hop last year with their respective batches of critically acclaimed albums. “Bo Jackson” sets out to hammer this point home.  

“Bo Jackson” is available on all major music streaming services. On Friday, vinyl, merchandise, and baseball cards bearing images of Bo Jackson were on sale on alcrecords.com. Special editions of vinyls and all of the baseball cards sold out in seconds, but some clothing and accessories are still in.