Favorite Tracks: “Double Hockey Sticks,” “Brickmile to Montana,” “Photographic Memories,” “Flight Risk,” “Illegal Search and Seizure,” “Fake Flowers”
BO JACKSON is a synergistic effort. Toiling in obscurity with one foot in the street for nearly a decade, a torrid 2020 planted Boldy James firmly on the rise, a run kicked off by the chilling, excellent THE PRICE OF TEA IN CHINA. That album was the springboard Alchemist set for Boldy, a proof of concept designed to showcase the essence of his appeal as a rapper: his precise flow and vivid, grounded storytelling. With that concept proved and reinforced by three additional albums within the year, BO JACKSON high-steps into the endzone, a project built on earned confidence rather than hunger. While his rapping on PRICE OF TEA was sharp, Boldy’s flows stuck mostly to a comfort zone, his deadpan street tales furnished by an understated soundscape from Alchemist. Here however, Boldly approaches the mic with a veteran’s poise, snapping off more varied flows without compromising his strengths. Alchemist is riding higher than perhaps any other time in his illustrious 30 year career, serving up more of the elite production Armand Hammer and Freddie Gibbs recently turned out AOTY candidates over. The end result is a rich, varied, and memorable album produced by two artists operating at near peak power.
In recent interviews, Alchemist has compared his current creative process to microbrewing, operating unhurried and unaffected by external deadlines and pressure. It’s an apt comparison, which speaks to the level of craft and control exercised over the product, and, like a hazy, triple hopped IPA, the result is an acquired taste. Make no mistake, this is an insular affair, without a whiff of the star turn-in-progress Griselda labelmates Conway and Benny are attempting. It is exactly what existing fans cherish and expect from the duo. The quality is high enough to convert those who might blanch at the detailed, emotionless drug raps. There’s not a single surprise feature, just coke rap wish fulfillment. Boldy and Alc call upon their longtime collaborators, from underground godfather Roc Marciano and his understudy Stove God Cooks, to the delightful reunion of the FETTI gang on “Fake Flowers” with Curren$y and Freddie Gibbs. Put simply, an album like Tyler, the Creator’s recent CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST was great because it was surprising; BO JACKSON is great precisely because it isn’t, instead making a clear promise, then exceeding the resulting expectations.
It’s hard to claim that after so many years cultivating a mini-genre unto himself Alchemist could still be exceeding expectations, but the production on BO JACKSON does so anyway. The producer provides an addictive ebb and flow to the album, hardening and softening the mood to tease different looks out of Boldy. The project kicks off with an awe-inspiring beat switch on “Double Hockey Sticks,” trading an ominous piano loop for driving bass and an electrifying siren. Boldy sets the tone at this switch, deploying perhaps his most athletic flow yet, rapping with urgency where a past version may have steered clear of that tempo.
Alc’s clever use of vocal samples abounds, giving his arrangements depth and an immersive quality. He evokes wistfulness and intimidation in equal measure as demonstrated by album highlights “Photographic Memories” and “Flight Risk.” The latter is a melancholy dream; the voices that scaffold the lilting piano and keys are ethereal and tinged with sadness, a fascinating canvas for three esoteric rappers to ply their trade over, with barely a breath separating their verses. Roc Marciano is perhaps the only feature to steal the show from Boldy and Alc, delivering a trademark verse with enthralling pacing and incredible wordplay, rapping, ”Broke generational curses with my cursive / I understand the game and I know all of the inner workings,” and, “Screw the compressor on the TEC, it ain’t make a sound like a Tesla / This shit was loud as a whisper / the stick spin you round like a twister / Your wig was messed up, plug you out like a cigarette butt right out the Fisker.”
In contrast, “Flight Risk” is a grimy masterpiece, deploying a haunting voice and a sour melody over lurching bass. Alchemist unrivaled at creating these moments of understated menace which Boldy jumps all over, reminding everyone how real his credentials are and how easily he could still be on the corner, rapping, “Ran it up on the incline / Maybe if I wasn’t in the streets full time, would’ve been signed / Life of a mis-con, real street shit, ain’t no sitcoms / Circle tightening, still a flight risk, n—- might skip bond.” These details of a dangerous life come together best on “Illegal Search & Seizure,” an odyssey of betrayal and paranoia condensed to a trim 2.5 minutes. Boldy’s tale of learning a childhood friend gave him up and a raid on his house is grim and arresting. The track is lent gravitas by another gorgeous vocal sample, a wander down memory lane, instead of a nightmare recollection.
Stepping into Alchemist’s circle is a co sign in and of itself, and no small feat. Boldy has reached the inner sanctum, getting Alchemist to talk breathlessly in interviews about his desire to complete a legendary three album run with the Detroit artist, a compliment of the highest order. The first two are a model of consistency and growth, making the third album a highly anticipated inevitability.