When Boldy James officially signed to Griselda Records earlier this year, it immediately felt like the perfect marriage. Westside Gunn, the sharp-spoken label president, provides historical luxury and gritty euphuisms. Boldy meanwhile implements a healthy dose of dead-eye authenticity in his lyrics. “My son think I don’t love him/He don’t know his daddy be thuggin,'” James rapped on his phenomenal collaboration album with The Alchemist (The Price of Tea in China) back in February.
As a collective though, Griselda and Boldy just makes sense from an aesthetic point-of-view. Conway, Benny, and Westside are all terse practitioners who carry the ability to tell a thought-provoking story through one steely verse. Boldy is cut from a similar cloth, writing raps that feel even more plodding, thanks to a rigidly sincere voice that’s gotten older but hasn’t aged.
His timeless idiosyncrasies are exemplified on his polychromatic album with film composer Sterling Toles, Manger on McNichols. The project was released in July, but featured recordings from studio sessions between 2007 and 2010. You wouldn’t know though, because Boldy’s fiercely opportunistic delivery is on full display, no matter what era it may find itself in.
On his newest album The Versace Tape, the Detroit native links with former Vine star Jay Versace for another round of visceral ambition and contemplative incisiveness. There’s no change in aesthetic for either artist, but that doesn’t matter when the conceptual narrative still feels personal and perceptive.
A good example of this is the official first track “Maria.” Boldy paints a vivid picture through tiny vignettes of coke dealing and monumental slogans. His inflections might not have changed since 2010, but Boldy certainly sounds noticeably wiser. “Man make the money, money don’t make the man” is only brazenly corny if said by someone who hasn’t been through the struggle. When Boldy says it though, the sentiment is peppered with past experience and familial turmoil.
The universal line is reflective of his family’s association with the drug trade, a topic he explores on the shrewdly metaphorical “Brick Van Exel” (“Every time I met up with the plug felt like a setup/Little cuz facin’ letters, I just told him keep his head up/Only thing that I could tell him, quarantinin’ with the felons”). Boldy’s delivery may feel impassive on the surface, but he sure knows how to unpack his thoughts with astute conviction and referential wordplay. Nothing ever feels romanticized though, as James continues to occupy a lane where his topics are either fully humanized or jarringly pragmatic. Most of the time, both. “On the East side of the trenches, we call it Die-troit,” he proclaims on “Cardinal Sin.” It’s depressing to hear how normal and numbing this lifestyle must be for him.
As for Versace, it’s truly incredible how unlikely his success has become. To go from social media sensation to well-respected producer in a matter of two months (he also worked on Westside’s Pray For Paris album) is truly unprecedented. But nonetheless, he more than holds his own. Compared to Toles’ formless free-wheeling spirit, Versace’s production operates like a muffled whisper. Dusty jazz samples and muted drums create this hazy psychedelia ripe for Boldy’s unique monotone.
To top it all off, the sprinkles of cinematic skits offer more depth and color for Boldy’s harrowing narratives (a clear Westside Gunn decision). There’s references to Cartier glasses, trips to Paris, and mob boss conversations. These small additions make The Versace Tape just as much of a Griselda record as a Boldy one, without sacrificing the main purpose. I see a bright future in this partnership.