c/o Ollie Longo

c/o Ollie Longo

Students gathered to witness rapper Boldy James play a one-off show at Beckham Hall, the first of the Concert Committee’s 2023–24 series, on Saturday, Sept. 8. In January, James was involved in a serious car accident that left him with a broken vertebra. Even so, he has continued to put out multiple projects in the months following his recovery and appeared unfazed as he put on a brief but memorable show at Beckham Hall. While Beckham Hall was far from packed, the students that did attend had been looking forward to James’ performance on campus.

“I saw the poster and when I found out he was gonna come here I was in shock,” Warren Little ’27 said. 

Opening with “Straight & Tall”, James performed some of his most popular songs at Beckham Hall: “Diamond Dallas”, “Designer Drugs”, and “Giant Slide”. The show was an intimate one; front row listeners stood only a few feet from the stage, prompting handshakes and dialogue between James and his fans. 

Little stood in the front row of the concert and was a fan of the intimate setting, noting how it seemed like James was rapping directly to him. He has been listening to Boldy James since the release of Manger on McNichols in 2020. As a long-time fan, the opportunity to see James live was especially exciting.

“Since [2020], he’s been dropping consistent albums,” Little said. “He’s great. He’s definitely one of my favorite rappers. His beat selection, his flow, his storytelling, it’s all great.”

The Atlanta-born, Detroit-raised artist–currently signed with the renowned Griselda Records–boasts collaborations with notable names such as The Alchemist, Freddie Gibbs, Action Bronson, and Westside Gunn. Since the release of his debut LP, My 1st Chemistry Set, in 2013, James has quietly gained a loyal following in the alternative rap sphere by appealing to the underground with both a versatile sound and prolific rate of release. 

Throughout his discography, James is consistently efficient and effective in delivering emotional stories and impactful content full of clever punchlines and hard-hitting hooks. His complex rhyme schemes sneak up on listeners and his gravelly, seemingly effortless delivery makes for a smooth listen. Inherent within each of James’ songs is masterful beat selection and quality production, a testament to his ear for music. Take James’ “I Tried” from his newly released project Prisoner of Circumstance, where he contrasts the grim experience of the street drug trade with the high lifestyle of hip-hop, pulling a sample from ’60s trio The Deceptions. James raps: “Pradas on my tippys, moving product out in Ipsy / Whipped a Brick in Flint water then I popped up in a Bentley.” Throughout the track, James’ survivor guilt echoes with the laconic refrain, “I got more friends in the grave than I got that’s alive / Pray for forgiveness and repent my Lord knows that I try.”

The rise of Boldy James and “Coke Rap” as a genre from the underground to the mainstream has been buoyed by progenitors such as Pusha T and Freddie Gibbs, who caught ears with a combination of soulful sampling, boom bap flavor, grimy production, and dark lyrics.“Coke Rap” marries a luxurious sound with brooding storytelling, having gained traction in the early 2010s with cosigns from Kanye West, Future, and Meek Mill. The new popularity of “Coke Rap” expedited Griselda Records’ rise towards the limelight, with many of its members utilizing an even sparser sound often referred to as “Drumless Hip-Hop”. The Griselda Records’ collective and their collaborators maximize simplicity with catchy loops and witty, braggadocious, and even topical lyricism, ranging from gritty dope dealings to the Haitian-American experience (“Pray for Haiti” by Mach-Hommy is a must-listen.) Even within the Griselda Records catalog, Boldy James occupies a particular niche and has proven himself an adaptable performer.

After Boldy James tremendous success at Wesleyan, we cant wait to see who the Concert Committee will bring to campus next.


Oliver Longo can be reached at olongo@wesleyan.edu.

Oliver Clackson can be reached at oclackson@wesleyan.edu.

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