In life there are three things promised: death, taxes, and a new Boldy James album every month or so. We have become so spoiled that we truly don’t appreciate the consistent level of quality in each of his projects. It is genuinely a miracle that the prolific Detroit MC has managed to sound this entertaining for so long with his signature deadpan delivery. His incredible ear for beats and larger-than-life storytelling has put him at the forefront of underground hip-hop. However, when you are at the top, there is nowhere to go but down. Even though Boldy James has not declined, the general consensus was that he had plateaued following the release of his Alchemist collaboration Bo Jackson.
Recently, I had noticed that James had not dropped an album since late June. As it turned out, this was no mere coincidence. He suffered a severe car crash in January that resulted in a broken vertebrae in his neck and multiple fractures in his legs. Even though this injury would keep most artists out of the studio, Boldy decided to push through his injuries and deliver his latest album, Penalty of Leadership. Entirely produced by Nicholas Craven, this project serves as a sequel to the previous LP they collaborated on titled Fair Exchange No Robbery.
Image via Throw Up Magazine
Penalty of Leadership marks an improvement from both Craven and James. Craven’s production feels more spacious, emotional, and dynamic compared to the repetitive sample loops from Fair Exchange. However, the most noticeable change is in James’ lyricism. The recovery process from the car crash has not only tested his mental fortitude, but seemingly breathed new life into his lyricism. Up to this point, James was known for semi-autobiographical, but heavily exaggerated drug dealing stories.
This album marks a change in this formula as James opens up on the challenging rehab process following his brutal car crash. He also speaks on the current state of affairs for his family on tracks such as “Brand New Chanel Kicks” and “No Pun Intended.” James even flexes that he didn’t “graduate from high school, but [his] daughter got straight As” on the track with a similar name.
Boldy James’ new sense of vulnerability and sincerity since the car crash has added a new aspect to his music, and shows that there is a flawed man behind his cold deadpan delivery. It’s something not often seen from the rapper. The sparse sonic palette provided by Nicholas Craven truly allows James’ heart to shine front and center
Official Maurice Crawford Score: 7.4/10