It’s by chance that Boldy James started working with Alchemist. Long before 2020’s Price of Tea in China came out, Boldy was hanging out in his car when a guy who was chilling with his friends got too fresh with him. Boldy proceeded to knock the guy’s five front teeth out so hard that you could probably see objects circle his head like Elmer Fudd. When someone appeared to hand the laid out dude something that looked like a gun, Boldy rightfully skated off. The guy got in front of the car and was in for a rude awakening: Boldy accidentally went full Richie April, put it in drive, and slammed him to the ground again. Boldy’s cousin Chuck Inglish, of the hip-hop duo the Cool Kids, recommended that he come to South by Southwest to lay low so as to not make him a target for the police. It’s at that event in Austin where he was introduced to the legendary producer The Alchemist.
It’s a partnership that has been fruitful for both of them. 2020’s The Price of Tea in China is a rich text on life as a coke rapper in the streets. Where acts like Clipse were eager to impress you with punchlines and an aura of coolness, Boldy approaches his raps with subdued mystics. Meanwhile, Alchemist’s beats are different from the lush and athletic beats that Freddie Gibbs or Griselda get, and more in line with Prodigy’s Return of the Mac — without a blaxploitation bent to it. It goes perfectly with Boldy’s flow, which reads in a technically precise way. He builds tension as slowly as a Hitchcock scene. You’re on pins and needles waiting for the climax of the verse to happen.
Songs like ‘’Carruth’’ deal with familial trauma from being poor and from the streets. “cussin’ me out/‘Quit running in and out the house/What’s all the fuss about? It’s either cut me in or cut it out,’” Boldy raps, with a weariness like he is telling the story on a shrink’s couch. A lot of the Detroit-bred rapper’s pain comes from the Rust Belt city that Boldy hails from. Detroit has been through its own tribulations, having to declare bankruptcy in 2013, making way for the federal government to take control of the city. It’s a hard realization when the city you live in becomes yet another downtrodden aspect of your life. The bleak view of the city seeped into its aura, in its water, and doubly in its streets.
Today, Boldy and Alchemist are back with their latest, Bo Jackson. The music is more soulful on this one than Price of Tea in China. Standout track “Turpentine,” for example, features a sample that functions as the background vocals, not unlike a mid-2000’s Roc-a-Fella track. The Curren$y and Freddie Gibbs aided “Fake Flowers” strikes the deepest chord. It’s a star-studded affair, quite like The Price of Tea in China, and the features work more as a symbol of how far Boldy has come without losing the solid chemistry that his albums always have. Alchemist is on a late-career stretch of quality work that has cemented his status as a hip-hop legend. After The Price of Tea in China, he did Alfredo with Freddie Gibbs in May. This year collaborated with underground rap duo Armand Hammer for the abstract and operatic Haram. Still, he doesn’t have his three-album run like Preemo with Gang Starr or RZA. With Boldy, Alchemist has a rapper that he wants to do that with. With Alchemist, Boldy has the genius that held him down and gave him his vocation, the Tarantino to his Christoph Waltz. The duo talked to Rolling Stone about the making of Bo Jackson.
What’s the difference in mindset on Bo Jackson versus Price of Tea in China?
Alchemist: We accomplished what we had to do on Price of Tea in China when it comes to showing the world how good Boldy is. I have nothing to prove now. Now, I just want to show Boldy at his best. I also had a long-term goal to do a three-album run with somebody. I haven’t had that. EPMD, A Tribe Called Quest, Ghostface, they have that. I felt like after Price of Tea in China, me and Boldy could go on a three-album run. We had one seven years ago but we pressed reset. So, this is the start of our three-album run.
Was this album from the same sessions as Price of Tea in China?
Alchemist: No. This is after. I need to feed him my best beats while he’s in his bag, because I felt like, no matter what it is, I love it. But I’m always like, ‘we could do better.’ I like the challenge of going up more each time. So I just felt like Price of Tea in China was my shit. I was confident but now he’s taken off on all these other projects. They are hitting and I’m like, let me keep the momentum. Thinking about that three-album thing I was telling you about and just, you know, I love every project Boldy does, like everything he does, is unique with every producer that he hooks up with. But, we all compete. I want to have the best three collections of albums of all time.
He had a helluva year.
Alchemist: It was a tear. And I think I always knew everybody knew was always capable of doing it, but he came back out to LA he locked in, and the game is a little different now. The freedom that we have to be able to line up the ducks and just go. I think Boldy took advantage of that and did it the right way. Where it was like damn, every project was unique and special. And that’s another reason why I wanted to get right back into the studio was like, all this shit is dope I want to add to our catalog and keep the ball rolling. I work with a lot of artists. Over time, there are certain artists that you click with. Like my shit is designed for him where he can say I’m going on a lot of different types of beats, but I think it’s the similar register to Prodigy’s tempo.
I was going to say, Boldy and Prodigy are so alike in how monotone their flow is.
Alchemist: Oh, yeah, we could put in work and I’d say like 80 to 90 percent now, like how it got to be when I was with P. When we did Return to the Mac, It was like 90 percent of the beats if I liked something for him, he was like ‘Yep.’ Maybe 10 percent he was like I don’t know about this one. But I feel the same way [with Boldy]. If it’s something I like for him, he pretty much gets it.
What’s the difference between your career now than in the 2000s?
Alchemist: It’s funny, and feels like it was more fame-related. In the early days, because the artists I was working with were Mobb Deep. They were doing pretty well. I think it took some time to get to where it is now. It got to a comfortable spot after a certain amount of years of training to get to where we’re at now with being able to put these projects out freely and doing them in our comfort zone and our speed and in our studios. Doing our own work like microbrewery style. I don’t feel the pressure to do stuff: I care about the discography more now.
Is there a memory you can tell us about working on Return of the Mac with Prodigy?
Alchemist: From those sessions? I mean, he was out to prove something with that old tape. You remember the temperature at the time? The “Outta Control” remix is a great song. It was great, but the album came out and it was kind of like it didn’t really do anything. It wasn’t exactly what people wanted, let’s say. And I think P was on a mission. He wanted to prove to 50 and everyone else. I remember sitting in the crib, he’s like, ‘they think we’re not hot.’ He was like, ‘Are they crazy? Man, we got to show 50 we got it.’ So it just came from conversations like that. And that’s how we got the idea of Return of the Mac – to go back to that era. And then that’s when we decided to use blaxploitation films, just because of the name. But it was good. It was a good moment for P. When he gets like that it’s always good.
Boldy, what’s it like being in the studio with Alchemist?
It’s like torture. No, I’m lying. Alchemist literally gets into shape in the studio. He kicks ass in there. It’s a privilege too, because he is the big bro. It’s family. We chill, soak it up.
What does Alchemist bring to the table for you as a producer?
Nothing at all. absolutely fucking nothing. Nah, he’s just brutally honest, man. We have a good relationship so he is honest, telling me whether this one is hot or cold.
You were dealing with some legal issues around the time Price of Tea came out. Can you speak to how Alchemist was there for you when that was going on?
Boldy: My son was saying, he is my best friend. I just rock with him and so I wanted to work with him. Like I say, That’s the beauty, I get to work with my brother.
What does God mean to you?
Boldy: Everything that can’t be explained bro.
Has your mindset changed with Bo Jackson?
Boldly: Yes, it has a great deal because my kids are getting older. I’m growing as a person. I’m learning — like this is a career move for me.
Do you remember a time where you never thought you would make it out of Detroit?
Boldy: I still feel that way. I guess that is because I caught my wave a bit later. But I am in a good space. Can’t complain about anything. I’ve learned how to write about how I’m feeling now.
What’s being a Dad like?
Boldy: That’s what I’m trying to tell you. Like, it’s like a godly feeling because I can’t explain. Every day I’m learning. I’m learning to trust more. Let go more. And like I said, this is a constant learning experience.