Boldy James is a Detroit rapper whose new album, “My First Chemistry Set,” is one of the year’s best. I spent two hours talking to him about his children, his recording process, his loyalty to Detroit and his past. Here are some highlights:
Arts & Entertainment: Were you listening to a lot of local stuff growing up or were you more into the stuff coming from the coasts?
Boldy James: I listened to a lot of east coast/west coast stuff, but there was a lot of local stuff going on at the time like Detroit’s Most Wanted, Chaos and Maestro, Awol. Detroit used to have some dope artists back in the day when hip-hop was at one of its peaks. I listened to a little bit of everything. I guess that’s why you can hear different ways around my flow.
AE: Your first two mixtapes were close to 30 songs each, and I read on NahRight the other day that you did 19 songs in four days with the Alchemist.
BJ: Nah, nah, that’s not in four days. That was in increments of one week. Three days out the week on a Cali trip, then months later go back to Cali and do two more days at the studio, so that’s a total of five days. Then we did a third trip, probably spent like four more days. Then I did a day here in Detroit, so it took like 10 days to make the album, and that was like in segments and pieces. It wasn’t like me and Alchemist got in there and cranked out 19 joints. You’ve really got to be on, working to do 19 solid songs that you’re willing to let the world hear.
AE: Still, “My First Chemistry Set” is one of the best albums of the year and you made it in 10 days. You definitely don’t seem to suffer from writer’s block. Where does all that inspiration come from?
Inspiration comes from my situation that I be going through at the time and whatever types of crazy ideas are running through my head. I just try to channel all that and make sure it’s positive energy. You know, with this game we play, everybody takes cheap shots and sneak disses so I just try to keep my mind occupied and off the bulls***.
AE: You talk about discussing your own world. You make a lot of local references in your songs, like (227), 7 Mile, 8 Mile, Drug Zone, etc.
BJ: Yeah because those are my guys. They are the stars in my eyes. Just because you got some rap fans, that don’t make you famous in my world. … Seeing is believing around here, you get what you get with people around here, you know? People don’t wanna hear you talking, that’s why I try not to talk people to death and talk too much. I try to keep my ear to the streets and leave it at that. If you’re speaking on other people’s business, that means you a nosy person and you gotta be up on everybody else’s s***. If everyone just kept to themselves, the world would run a lot smoother.
AE: I think it’s awesome how you still namedrop your friends and your local blocks. A lot of guys go Hollywood and stop discussing where they’re from. It must be cool for those people who built with you at the beginning to hear you shouting them out.
BJ: The beauty of it is, the fan’s response to the music so far has been great, but I really write … for me and the guys and ladies that know me. My kids, my family, my street family, all my ConCreatures, that’s who I do that s*** for. Once you leave the studio, you walk away from the music feeling good. There’s always room to grow. I don’t try to overdo it and make the best song I ever made so I can never top it again.
AE: How’s balancing being a father with rapping and providing for your family?
BJ: It gets a little tricky at times because I’m always falsely accused of one thing or another because I rap. If I’m in the studio or if I’m lollygagging … with some females and some drinks and some drugs and a whole bunch of bad decisions, I get the finger pointed at me. I have a lot more restraint than a lot of guys that I know, and I’m just trying to learn how to balance the two worlds because they are two entirely different worlds and they really don’t mix. People think just because the music comes from the streets, it’ll automatically mix with that world, but they really don’t.
CD: I remember reading interviews with you early on where you said, even after you dropped [your first mixtape] Trapper’s Alley, you still had one foot in the streets. Was it hard to commit to the music and get away from distractions.
BJ: Like I said, them two different worlds, and that fatherhood is another world too. It’s like I’m getting pulled from every angle I could possibly get pulled from right now. But I’m good at juggling my problems and giving everything the attention it deserves. I’m good at making something out of nothing.
AE: It always sounds like you’re getting something off your chest when you rap. Is recording therapeutic for you?
BJ: It’s therapeutic more than anything because I need a punching bag. You can’t f*** 24/7, you can’t smoke weed 24/7, you can’t drink 24/7 you gotta have different outlets to channel that energy. Rapping is one of my main outlets to get the stress out and alleviate the pain — [it’s] like medicine. It coats my stomach when I’m having stomach aches, it unstuffs my nose when I’m having sinus issues and s***. I will run to rap quicker than I’ll run to a gun, quicker than I’ll run to a family member for help, quicker than I’ll run to one of my homeboys in the street for a couple dollars. I try to stay focused and keep my eyes on the prize.
AE: It’s obvious you care about the music. When a young person hears a Boldy James record, what do you want him or her to take away from that?
BJ: I just want them to know that if I can do this s***, s***, anybody can do it. I come from a broken family. I got junkies in my family, hitmen, thieves, drug dealers, gang bangers — you know, losers, deadbeats, f***boys, all that s*** man. I went through this s*** too, I know this s*** like the back of my hand. But you can look up my name, James Clay Jones III, it ain’t in nobody’s paperwork, nobody’s case file. That’s why I can walk around the streets with my head high, whether I’ve got $5 or $5,000 in my pocket.
AE: What’s next for Boldy James?
BJ: It’s been a lot of overseas talk. I’m working on getting my passport now. I don’t wanna miss that opportunity when it presents itself, but I just stay working man. I’ve been watching the fans and how they’ve been responding to the album, and so far so good man. I can’t complain about nothing because it ain’t gonna do me no good. If you know what I come from and where I come from, life is definitely better than it was. I have no complaints, man. I’m a real easygoing dude. I’m blessed. It’s a dream come true for me to be doing what I’m doing, so at the end of the day, I feel like I already won.