Arts & Entertainment Editor
“I’ll probably never love this rap shit more than these cash transactions / I got a passion for selling drugs,” Boldy James declares in his grim, low-pitched, nasal, monotone voice. As perhaps the coldest and most intimidating member of Griselda, a collective of trappers turned rappers headed by Westside Gunn, Boldy James is an easily recognizable artist in his circles. Having dropped two of the strongest feature rap verses of 2022 so far (on “Weekends in the Perry’s” with Benny the Butcher and “Sauvage” with billy woods), conditions were perfect for James to drop a strong, memorable project.
His new album Killing Nothing, showcases everything that makes him unique — strengths and weaknesses and all. “All the Way Out” and “Game Time” are two pinnacles of what one hopes to hear on a Boldy James track. As in many songs, James keeps the same rhyme scheme for entire verses, rhyming “under fire” with “hundred priors” and “tumble in the dryer” for a compelling effect. Today, plenty of rappers are able to rhyme so many syllables, but few can make such density roll off as smoothly as James. However, while each bar connects beautifully with the next, it sometimes hurts his storytelling ability, leading him to switch topics unexpectedly.
Producer and credited co-creator Real Bad Man put in some of his best work on the beat for “Game Time.” The fretless bass guitar arpeggios, boom bap beat, and minimal organs keep a good mix of spooky and funky, as most Boldy James songs should sound. However, while the beats jibe with James’s style, few of them are as intricately made as that of “All the Way Out,” with most being fairly simple and short loops. Though such levels of repetition are common for the genre, it feels wrong to list the producer as one of two creators when the beats are not so meticulously crafted.
A majority of the beats are good or even great for what they are, but “Medellin” and “Killing Nothing” are too repetitive to merit crediting a producer as a co-creator. The blaring two-note horn loop on “Hundred Ninety Bands” makes for an uninviting listen.
Much like the beats, James’s flows sometimes vary too little. It sounds good on its own — immaculate in any given verse — but his tendency to reuse the same syllable pattern on most of his songs makes for a weaker album-listening experience. On the other end of the spectrum, James’s attempts to try out a faster, stuttering DaBaby-like flow on “Sig Sauer” and “Cash Transactions” were poorly executed, which could be excused for a live performance, but is a head-scratcher when the material is all recorded in a studio. When he succeeds at switching his flow like in “Bo Jack” and “5 Mississippi,” he is able to craft some memorable, groovy bangers.
In “Game Time,” the couplet “Mama gave up on me early, damn near called it quits / Seemеd like I never stood a chancе until I caught a brick,” illustrates in both voice and words of hardships. He is left feeling so disconnected from others that all he thinks about is money. The droning chorus creates an atmosphere of ramping terror fantastically juxtaposed with James’s calm, hardened demeanor.
Though the song goes amazingly hard, it requires the same suspension of belief required by many Griselda songs. Lines like, “Me and West [Westside Gunn] we got a partnership / If I ever fall off he gon’ hit me with a starter kit” call into question the validity of James’s assertions of his own legitimacy. There is no way he is sincerely claiming that he will return to dealing drugs if his rap career falls flat. On the other hand, if he is being serious, he should remember the old MF DOOM line, about rap “snitches telling all their business, sitting in court and bein’ their own star witness.”
The fun “Open Door” highlights the stylistic contrast between James and other rappers in his movement. James delivers perhaps his smoothest and densest verse on the album, followed by another fantastic verse from Rome Streetz and an obnoxious, albeit hilariously over-the-top, performance by Stove God Cooks. The track showcases the stylistic diversity and synergy sometimes latent in Griselda.
Though “Killing Nothing” is not without its highlights, most tracks leave creativity and focus still desired. Neither Boldy James nor Real Bad Man do anything especially inventive, which is enough to damage the replay value of any LP. Though almost every song is good in a vacuum, neither artist seems to be inspiring the other to push themselves to new heights. The duo is making solid music, but “killing” nothing.