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A Listener’s Guide to My 1st Chemistry Set with Boldy James

Words by Daniel Isenberg (@StanIpcus)

Detroit MC Boldy James has been in the game for a minute, laying down his blunted brand of gangster raps on various solo mixtapes and features, and making a name for himself as one of the dopest talents the Motor City currently has to offer. And though Boldy is no spring chicken, his latest release My 1st Chemistry Setout now via Decon Records and produced entirely by The Alchemist, is actually his official debut LP. And the shit knocks, top to bottom, with nothing but hard bars and beats.

To get a closer look at My 1st Chemistry Set, we got on the jack with Boldy earlier this week to have him break down his full-length collaboration with ALC track-by-track. And the man they call Moochie gave us an in-depth look at the meaning behind the themes and lyrics on the album, what it was like partnering with Alchemist and collaborating with Action Bronson, Freeway, King Chip, Vince Staples, Odd Future, Da$h, and his hometown partners Mafia Double Dee and Peechie Green, plus much more. But most importantly, we got to know Boldy on a personal level, which in turn led to a more comprehensive understanding of his music.

1. “BOLD”

Boldy James: “That was the first song that me and Alchemist actually recorded for the album, before we knew it was gonna be an album, when I was just going out there to work with him, and was thinking ‘mixtape.’ It was cool to be cooking with the Chemist, and that’s the first song we cooked up.

“It’s called ‘BOLD’ because that’s where my name derives from. Bold is the whole makeup of the Boldy James image. That’s the root of the equation. I had to start it off, and let them know. Show them the meaning of bold, and why I’m stressing that word so crazy. Me and my niggas was the first ones on that bold shit. Don’t nobody stress or say it like us. That’s our word, that’s our world. Now everyone’s trying to shine light on that shit. You got bold barbecue sauce, Blackberry Bold phones. We’re the reason motherfuckers took that shit and started running with it, because we say that shit everywhere we go, and we’ve been stressing that shit all in our raps.

“That’s some Detroit shit. Back in the day, when we were kids, if a motherfucker did something wrong to you, or said something crazy, the response was always, ‘Damn, that’s bold.’ Everything was ‘bold.’ Before I even knew the meaning of the word, I already could tell that it meant some real cutthroat, stand-up guy type shit. Heavy on the bold and cold. So for the song, I’m letting motherfuckers know that I’m bold. I try to be on some different shit, not the same shit everybody else be on.

“The whole purpose of me going out to L.A. was to do an Alchemist project, [but I didn’t think it was gonna turn into an album at first]. Chuck Inglish from The Cool Kids let Alchemist hear some of my music prior to [us connecting], and Al thought I was dope. He’s got a tricky ear, so he probably was listening, and I probably reminded him of the old school Prodigy shit that he was working on. He heard it. It was a whole different angle. It was Detroit. And he knows Detroit, because he fucks with Em, and Al knows Trick Trick. He’s been mixing and mingling in the Detroit streets on the rap scene, and behind the scenes, for a long time, just with his own relationships that he’s built around the way. So we just kept working, and we looked up, and we had eighteen, nineteen joints. But by the time we were halfway in, we already had a situation on the floor that was ready to push the album.

“It was a no-brainer. That’s the Chemist. His style to me, it complements the shit me and my people do. We ain’t the flashiest people in the world. We’re clean cut, civilized gangsters. We be on some real distinguished gangster shit.”

2. “Consideration”

“That was the only song we recorded in Detroit. Alchemist came out to the studio, to my man Prevail’s shit, smoking out the zip, slammin’ on his MP, and he cooked up ‘Consideration.’ That’s where we cut the joint at. That was one of the last songs for the album.

“It seemed like [in the second song slot on the album] is where the song fit. Al did his magic to it once I picked the tracklist, and he let me know that was the tracklist he was feeling. It ain’t hard to work with him. He ain’t a complicated guy. He’s real easy going. Al knows what he’s doing, so I can pretty much follow his professionalism, and know that even if I’m way off target, I’m gonna hit my mark somewhere. It may not be a kill shot, but I’m gonna hit the board, and get some points off it.”

3. “Moochie”

“I got a superstition with the number 3. My real name is James Johnson III. But my nickname Moochie. The third song on the album, which is my favorite [number], is usually the best song on the album. People usually hit you with that heat rock in that three slot.

“I’m the dude from the hood who gave everyone their nickname, and who nickname the blocks, and who’s always tangling and twisting the words. No matter what we’re doing, handling some business or just coolin’, that’s how we converse in the ghetto. So I was just trying to let people know about this slang shit, and that we don’t talk crazy for nothing. There’s different languages and translations for every race. So I’m just trying to let people know about all the Conc reatures in the hood, and how we be talking that slick shit. You know, ‘I nickname everything, my nickname Moochie/My dank Mary Jane, and my big chain Julie/A deuce is a split, a baby is a Stewie/A kilo is a brick, a quarter is a quewy/If you tellin’ you a snitch…’ I’m just explaining ghetto politics, and how we finesse it when you’re original, and you got your own personality.

“My name is actually Little Moochie, because my old dude is Big Moochie. My old dude gave me that name. But Moochie, he stay in trouble, so in some neighborhoods and certain areas, you don’t want the problems that come along with [the name] Moochie, so I just try to keep him under wraps. But I’ve been rapping for a minute now, so now it’s just music. I can always tell a motherfucker [that might have a problem], ‘It’s just music.’

“I’m a Big L fan, but I’m not gonna lie. There’s certain shit that I did hear from Big L that I liked [in terms of the ‘Ebonics’ song and how he broke down his slang in a similar format], but his song had nothing to do with what I wrote on the paper. I do what the beat tells me to do. I don’t really go into the song premeditated.”

4. “Traction” ft. Action Bronson

“That’s my guy. Shout out to Action, Paul, Em, and the whole Shady/Aftermath. Once you get to kick it with people, you get to understand them better, and what they’re about. Some people do shit to feed their kids, and fight their demons, and that’s all I be doing. Just trying to do something positive, and not get myself in trouble with a life of crime. And Al and Action and people see, I’m not just a street nigga. I’m a loving father, and a mentor to the youth in the ghetto, a good brother, and a good guy to my dudes, and a good friend to my people. I’m not out here scumballin’ and sleezebaggin’ and shit, so niggas respect that. I’m from Detroit, where they’re quick to judge a book by its cover. And I fall victim to the shit sometime too. But that’s just naturally people’s attitude around here. And Action understands. He’s got his own family, too. We’re grown. It’s bigger than rap music. It’s bigger than me and Action. It’s a whole world out there. And we’re the type of people that understand that.

“But Action was ready to work off the bat, because Al fucked with me, period. Everybody knows Al ain’t fuckin’ with no flukes, no lames, or no square-dancers. If you fuck with Al, you a good nigga. You gotta be, because Al ain’t gonna deal with you if you’re not. He be too high, and he got too much money, and he got other shit he could be doing.

“Action’s always out in L.A. when I be out there. Action be everywhere. When I pop up, for some strange reason, Action [is always around]. He got some business every damn where. Action is my guy. If I hear a nigga talk slick to him, I’ll sock a nigga in his mouth for Action, you feel me? That’s my guy. What he say? ‘Boldy hold the four fifth, pull it.’ Them boys know how we rock, bruh.”

5. “You Know”

“This beat sounded like Cali. It made me think of how it’s real sunny, and there’s a lot of shit going on in the underworld, and I’m not sure if people are hip to that or not. That’s the shit that comes to my head. I don’t think like everybody else. Everybody else be thinking about some gym shoes and a car. I be thinking about millions of fucking dollars, man. That’s all I think about. ‘What’s the quickest way to get some millions?’ Let’s cut to the chase. Let’s get to the money. ‘I’m in L.A. with jefe on that Mac Mall shit ‘cause I’m all about my fetti.’ You feel me? [Laughs.]

“That’s how I really be feeling. I’m out there smoking so much good weed with so much money in my pocket, out there fresh as hell, with The Alchemist. Chuck Inglish not too far, and Mikey Rocks. There’s Benzes, Beemers, coupes. It’s life to live out there. Same shit I do in Detroit, I want to do it comfortable like that everywhere. But you already know. This song is about to be about the same shit, I’m just about to reword it. This is my life bruh. Ain’t no change-ups or switch-ups. You get what you get with me.”

6. “Surprise Party” ft. King Chip and Freeway

“Shout out to King Chip and Philadelphia Freeway. The whole Cleveland stand up. Matter fact, the whole Ohio stand up. Freeway heard the song and went crazy, and wanted to jump on it. [My manager Ced] shouted through his people, and he was fucking with it. I had met Free for the first time down at SXSW this year. And Free don’t fuck with no fake niggas. You gotta be doing something beneficial or conducive, or something that’s dope in his eyes. And he fuck with Boldy for a reason. I ain’t out here trying to pull the wool over nobody’s eyes.

“Me and King Chip actually had another version where we split the last sixteen. Me and King Chip got some dope ass shit. Me and Chip work together a lot. He met my family and shit, and I’ve been out to Cleveland to Big Duke’s lab, so them really my fellas. But with Chip, he ain’t been on no gangster shit in a long time. When he first started rapping, you know, he used to talk some street shit. And that’s all I pretty much be on. And Chip knows me in real life, so he knows there ain’t no faking with my shit. So I brought that element back out of him that he needed somebody like me to bring it back out of. Who better to get that gangster shit out Chip tha Ripper than Boldy James?

“I inspire a lot of people on the low. Like niggas don’t know, my work ethic is crazy. Chip just be coolin’. He don’t give a fuck about no rap shit. He’s getting show money. Him and Cudi doing their one, two thing. So Chip, he saw how hard I was going. But the difference is, I don’t got no Kid Cudis or no help, so I gotta go hard. So I was out there cutting all them songs and shit, and he heard I had did twenty-five songs in nine, ten days. And he was like, ‘What the fuck?!’ Then he heard them, and they all were solid songs. That’s what fucked him up. This wasn’t no scrapbook bullshit.

“Everybody that know me, they love me to death. And the niggas that don’t know me, they hate me for no reason. Then once they get to know me, they get to noticing that they were just some bitter, hatin’ ass niggas. They say, ‘Maybe he broke.’ Then they be like, ‘Nah, a nigga that calm with all this shit going on, he might got some money. Let’s rob him.’ But I don’t go through stupid shit like that, because I already be up on it. Don’t nobody know where my kids tucked, or where I live. They get thrown the surprise parties, not me, you feel me?”

7. “What’s The Word”

“That’s a true story. That’s true life. That’s me and Mafia Dee and the Gang Time Mafia out doing our one, twos on them nights when we’re feeling some type of way, you know, off them designer drugs. It’s time to pull the cars out after we done ran through the bag and counted the money up, and put this up, and took this out to go play with. It’s time to pull the whips out, and pop them bottles. Then I looked up, and a week had went by, and me and Ced had drunk like a hundred fucking bottles! I was like, ‘Wow, that was crazy.’ And with all the wild shit that was going on, that’s the shit that was popping up in my head.

“Most of my raps be like flashbacks, and me trying to grab and pick parts of my life. That ink pen will never pinpoint real life exactly, but you gotta try your hardest, and give as much of an accurate description as you can. And that’s all me and my guys be seeking to put out. We ain’t on no fuckboy shit. We’re just trying to finesse the real, and let niggas know, ‘This how shit supposed to sound when you really live this shit.’ Them niggas, they can’t get into detail, and that shit be barely scratching the surface with that shit they be talking about. It sounds cute, but I’m from a world where ain’t nothin’ cute. Ain’t nothin’ pretty about the me and the niggas I run with. We some fly thugs, we some beautiful gangsters. [Laughs.] But ain’t shit cute.

“What you see is what you get with me, depending on the mood, the day, how much weed intake I done had. [Laughs.] Sometimes I be so high in the booth, I be scribble scratching on that shit half sleep. A lot of that shit, I be sleepwalking people through that shit, and they still be fuckin’ with it. It’s just natural for me to do that, because I’ve been doing it for so long. So if y’all like that shit, I’ll never run out of that shit, because that’s really my life, bruh. There’s so many elevations to the street life, that as long as I can stay alive and do what I do, I’m always gonna have some shit to talk about. A lotta motherfuckers didn’t think we were gonna make it this far in life. We just be blessed that the motherfuckin’ clock’s still ticking.”

8. “Rappies” ft. Mafia Double Dee and Peechie Green

“Rappies are partners in crime. They’re co-defendants in cases. They’re accomplices. I do a lot of shit with the Mafia that I can’t speak on, but we rappies, you feel me? There’s a chance that one of my peoples might get snatched up one day, and I might be in some bullshit. I can’t be clean, and hop in with the wrong person with someone that’s not. Now they’re on me. It’s rappies.

“Niggas out here thuggin’ in Detroit City. Motherfuckers out here got shit to do, and you can’t explain why there ain’t no money there at the end of the day. [Their families] gotta eat. They gotta be sheltered, and nurtured, and clothed. So me and my people, we’re just trying to make sure its better for the youth, and make sure the kids don’t got no excuses about whose parents didn’t do what. That’s what Mafia Double Dee represents. That’s what I represent. And my man Peechie Green, he don’t got no kids and shit. He don’t look through the eyes of parenthood. But that’s my bro, and he still be in the streets trying to figure shit out. Me and him, we’ve had to do our one, two thing to get over the hump a couple times. That’s another one of my partners in crime.

“I took them to California. They all grabbed plane tickets and came out to California with me. We were in Al’s spot, and I talk so highly of my peoples, Al finally got to meet them. And we were in the studio, so it was a no-brainer. It was like, ‘This is a song we’re about to do together.’ As long as it came out dope, Al didn’t give a fuck.

“Yeah, [we had a good time]. We smoked a whole fuckin’ pound in a week.”

9. “Cobo Hall”

“Cobo Hall, Joe Louis Arena, those are like monumental, historic places where they throw the auto shows, and they have big events. Cobo Hall is one of the things that makes us Detroit. It’s one of the highlights of the city, right in downtown Detroit. So I just wanted to shine some light on Cobo Hall, and make sure that was seen and noted, so once they see it, they won’t feel like it’s new to them. They’ll already be up on it.

“Al’s making the beats on the spot. And if he makes something, and you don’t get to finish it that day, he’ll set it to the side for you, and it got your name on it. Al’s good. If you ain’t with him, you’re against him. All the beats [were calling my name], that’s why they made the album. Those beats is crazy! They’re different. They come from that one world of hip-hop where you really had to be an MC to rhyme and ride over those beats. Me, I’m the type of person that’s not gonna do nothing if it’s not me. I only pick the beats that I can hear me on. I don’t really force myself on tracks.”

10. “Give Me a Reason” ft. Vince Staples

“Vince kills everything. He’s a wild little young California nigga out of Long Beach who I just love. Like, that’s my little guy. I got so much love for him. Vince been a fan of mine since before I even knew it. And I was out in Cali, and he was out there, so I told my man Ced to hit him up. Why wouldn’t I fuck with him? I fuck with who fucks with me. And me and him made a couple of joints that were so dope, and they’re unreleased. He got one for his project, and Chip tha Ripper took one for the King Chip project.

“Everything I do with Vince is dope. Actually, Vince would’ve been on my album three times if I would’ve let him. But I couldn’t just put Vince on there, and have a people feeling a certain kind of way, like there was favoritism. So I just tried to spread it out with the guys I did work with, and make sure I leave room for my guys on the next go around that [I didn’t work with on this project].”

11. “400 Thousand”

“’400 Thousand’ is the number that I couldn’t get over the top for a minute. My son, he asked me what’s the most money I ever counted? And I had to really think about that. And it was like, me personally, [that was the number]. And I can’t trust a soul to help me count this. Nigga’ll take your wig off for a couple thousand, a couple hundred if he’s pressed enough.

“We were in the studio, and we had a hook on the song. The girl who was doing the background vocals, she had sung a hook on it. And Al wasn’t really feeling the hook. But I had a hook in my head for the beat before, so it was like, ‘Let’s put this together, and let me see what this do on here.’”

12. “Reform School” ft. Earl Sweatshirt, Da$h, and Domo Genesis

“I’m an Odd Future fan. But I didn’t know Earl and Domo were up on my music. I didn’t know that many people listened to The Cool Kids as they did. They heard me through them. So when I was out in Cali, we [linked up in Al’s] studio. Then, when Earl put his verse on there, I started thinking about how he got sent away to school, and how I’ve been to a youth home and all that shit. So I just remembered what it’s like to be sent away, and to be going through the bullshit without your family there, and having to adjust. So it made me think of him coming home from reform school. So I named it ‘Reform School,’ because Da$h a little badass youngin’ too. They all my people, but they the future. And you know what the fuck the youngins is on. They on some new shit.

“So it’s like, I’m not gonna sit there and tell them not to do this, that, and the third to put food on their plate. But I will show them, if you’re gonna do [it], how to lace your shoes and do that shit right. So that’s all that was. Me and my youngins on the track. A bunch of little motherfuckers who don’t give a fuck about nothing. That’s what that track represents. Don’t none of us give a fuck.”

13. “KY Jellybeans”

“KY is the abbreviation for Kentucky, and I call Kentucky ‘The Jelly,’ because, you know, K-Y Jelly [the sex lubricant]. So I done been in Kentucky with jellybeans. So when you’re down in The Tuck with your jellybeans, put your seatbelt on, and take off that hat, you heard me?

“Al’s been doing this shit all his life. You know he knows what he’s doing. You don’t ever have to question a genius. He’s like an evil scientist with this. And me, I fuck with chemicals, and all types of substances. So it was perfect for me. This was my first set of Alchemist beats. And the ‘KY Jellybeans’ was the cutoff point. Just like ‘BOLD’ was the intro, and ‘Consideration’ felt like the opener, ‘KY Jellybeans’ felt like the closer.”

Boldy James My 1st Chemistry Set is now available on iTunes.

Pics via Boldy James’ Instagram, Vince Staples’ Instagram, and Brock Fetch 

Previously: A Listener’s Guide to Masterpiece Theatre with Willie the Kid