As a teen, Boldy James rapped to relieve the stress he suffered as a drug dealer. Now 30, that past is decidedly in his rearview mirror; he and his family have moved from west Detroit — “the drug zone,” he once said — to the city’s outskirts. However, at the start of his debut album My 1st Chemistry Set, he introduces himself as a “Concreature” — a creature of concrete (i.e. the streets). Then, he itemizes the consequences of his paranoia — much of which involves his trigger finger.
It’s moments like these, the ones that showcase his unflinching eye for detail, that best explain why James’s wife used to avoid listening to his mixtapes. (“She knew it was good, but to her it was that slow dread,” he says.) They also show why his musical idols took notice. This year, he opened for his idols Mobb Deep on their 20th-anniversary tour and worked with dream producer The Alchemist on My 1st Chemistry Set. These days for James, rap offers a newfound sense of security.
“I used to feel like I was stuck in the hood,” he says. “So to get out and do my music, while knowing that’s what’s taking me out as opposed to doing some trick for con money, it feels great.”
Christina Lee talked with James about how his past, parenthood and the Alchemist shaped his debut.
Check this out: My grandfather wasn’t around for my father. He just had his mother, but he had a great mother, because when I got out the juvenile system, that’s who came and got me. It was my grandma who was writing the judge and going to my court cases. I say that to say this: My father’s nurturing instincts didn’t kick in until he had his oldest little sister, and he’s been a cop since he was 19.
So I grew up in a household with a single-parent father who was a cop. So, when me being slick was at an all-time high — or when I thought I was — there was a lot of shit I used to have in my favor because there were all types of goods that I used to play with. He taught me how to shoot a gun when I was little. Believe it or not, my father was a gangster. All my uncles were in gangs. My father had insurance that taught me to break the law, in so many words.
I did a lot of mischievous shit behind his back. There was a lot of trouble I got into throughout the years that he forewarned me about, but he couldn’t come to my rescue because it’s not conducive to his job description. It wasn’t like he didn’t care, he just had told me. So when I was going through all my shit, he was leaving me to the wolves. “You got yourself into that shit, so you gotta get yourself out of it.” It’s the way he is.
That’s the reason why I still exist. He would even tell you — all my friends are dead or locked up. I’ve been going through real-life shit since I was a little boy in the streets. I never punched the clock, never had a job, but I always made money how I get it. I’ve always been my own man. And in that regard, my father respects that, because I own all the decisions that I’ve made. He used to beat my ass when I used to lie to him or complain about the shit that was going on.
I’ve got six kids and a wife. I’ve learned from my parents’ mistakes. I’m not a perfect parent, but I try to correct what I see wrong with me and my family. I’m head of the household, so they won’t be able to eat if anything goes wrong with me. But I’ve been through life-humbling, life-threatening situations. This is piece-of-cake shit compared to all that God has guided me through.
I know God ain’t gonna put nothing on me that I can’t handle, so I just try to pass that on to my kids. They’re still young. My oldest’s 15, my second oldest is 12. My middle boys, nine and eight. Baby girl, five. Baby boy two. I can’t ever be down on myself, because I always gotta be strong for them, so I feel like I’m a great parent. They haven’t witnessed none of the shit I grew up with. I do a good job at keeping it under wraps, because I want them to be kids for as long as they can be.
On his controlled rap style:
I’ve seen all of this shit. This shit ain’t new to me — that’s really how I be feeling. That’s why I don’t get all riled up. I’m not an animated guy like that — not for attention, anyway. You got people out in the world that, if you were to grace their presence, you would have to speak of them first every time because they so full of themselves. They come off as if they’re superhuman, when really they ain’t no different than anyone. Nobody respects when people are too bougie or arrogant.
On working with the Alchemist:
What’s crazy is that my dream really came true: Mobb Deep was already one of my favorite groups, and then Al was already one of my favorite producers. When he was working with the Mobb [Return of the Mac], that was shit that I fucked with.
Now, it’s pretty easy to do the homework and check out anything and do a report on anybody — look it up on the internet. So I got to looking up shit that Al did for other motherfuckers, and I was like, “Wait. You want to work with me? You could be doing anything else in the world. You fuck with Eminem.”
On a voicemail featured at the end of “Rappies”:
That’s my assistant leaving me a message. It was the night after my birthday, and I had to catch a plane to do part two of the album — we had three parts to how we made it. I had a rough night, drinking and partying all night. I woke up. Listen to this crazy shit: I had my chain on, I had a bunch of money in my pocket. I was fresh as hell at the bar, and I woke up in my homeboy’s car with the windows cracked, just enough for somebody to stick their hand in there.
So I was without my chain, half of money missing, no left shoe and sock, in front of the dope spot. I was just high as hell. The other half of my money was in my sock. I had my sock under my seat. My chain was under the seat. Everything was still in the car. But, I had a plane to catch in 10 minutes.
My homeboy that I was with, he was just as high as I was. So I had to walk up to the spot, bang on the door and yell at someone to shoot me to the airport. When I got to the airport at St. Louis, my manager was waiting. He didn’t think that I was gonna make it, so he was trying to find out what would be the quickest flight out so we can do our business. When I walked in, he could tell that we had a rough night — “Damn, Boldy. What’s wrong, man?” “Let’s just go catch this fucking plane.”
I had made it to the airport in seven minutes, my main man doing 130 miles per hour. I ain’t got no luggage; I had money in my pocket, so I figured I can shop when I get there. As soon as we get downstairs, I come off the elevator, make it to the bathroom and throw up. I’m in the bathroom for five minutes. We get to the gate. They were about to go on ahead and leave, but we got there last minute to catch the plane. We get to L.A., where there was a shit ton of good weed to smoke and finish the second part of My 1st Chemistry Set.
I have some wild nights sometimes, because we been in the hood so much. We come, go, get money and make sure there’s something for the kids. So when you do get to unwind, you play a little hard sometimes. My sister, Mafia Double Dee — she on the “Rappies” joint — it could be just me and her, no bodyguards and no one hassling us. When there’s good people around and we ain’t have no shootouts, ain’t the ones getting robbed, and none of that groupie shit, [life is good]. I’ve been in this shit all my life, quite literally, and I think that’s why I did get the blessing to work with Al on this album.