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  • Writer's pictureXlo

Fair Exchange No Robbery by Boldy James x Nicholas Craven


Only the real remember the ToothPick Clique, the semi official collective of Midwest and West Coast musicians which included: The Cool Kids, Pac Div, and some at the time lesser known but now massive talents including Cardo, the legend Sheefy MC Fly, and Boldy James. Way back in the blog era (2010 or so) when all the parties in and around Wayne State were the place to be when you weren’t taking a trip to East Lansing that weekend, TAUT(The Air Up There,) Iron Street, the Untitled Bottega days and Red Cup Sessions… Boldy James was already a local hero and became an internet blog sensation from his collabs. Shortly after his ascension with T.P.C. he signed with Nas, and had a debut album produced entirely by The Alchemist.

A decade later Boldy is one of the most prolific artists in America, standing on par with other members of Griselda in terms of both skill and output. He’s held his own with some of the best of this generation from Freddie Gibbs to Big Sean, over everything from Alchemist, to Exile and Don Cannon has been over some of the best. His latest effort with the seemingly unstoppable Nicholas Craven is proof that quality equals longevity in the art of Hip-hop.

Fair Exchange No Robbery is a concise and effective 35 minute addition to one of the most acclaimed catalogs in rap at this point. With only one feature, Boldly and Craven completed the recording of this album in just a matter of days, some of which was recorded with the now infamous paper towel mic stand.

Sample chops and drum breaks rule the minimalist production, Craven is becoming one of the artists in conversation with Alchemist and Madlib when it comes to finding obscure forgotten records and using them to create a mood with just 4 bars. I'm glad to say I could not immediately identify ANY of the samples used on this album on my first 3 listens. But one cannot survive on loops alone. I hope to hear more interesting song structures and arrangements from Craven in the future, especially with Boldy who historically shines over challenging and varied production, as evident on his Manger on McNichols project with Sterling Toles (although that album had a CONSIDERABLY much longer incubation period.)

A gritty and unpolished display of lyricism is what we have come to expect from Boldy, and he delivers as usual. What separates him from his peers like Roc Marciano, Mayhem Lauren and the like is the pervasive grittiness and bitter emotive moments in the tales he casually weaves. Having grown up in one of the most wild hoods of the west side of Detroit, losing friends and family to the life, no matter how fly or luxurious it sounds, there is always a solemn/sobering element especially on tracks like “Straight & Tall" and "Power Nap.” Grim and stark lyrics like:

Catching pops at the Valero, I was selling dope Big can, barrel look like the back of a telescope Weather the storm, had the shivers, damaging my liver Had to plow through the snowstorm, now my neck a blizzard - Boldy James, Straight & Tall

His baritone, (some might say monotone) and laid-back delivery meshes well with the sparse sample-driven soundscapes Craven crafts. Neither Boldy nor Craven misses a beat or overstays their welcome. Though each track is 3 plus minutes, it is broken up with conversations and instrumental changes interspersed. This album is for the fans and is a welcome addition to the library of a legend.


words by Xlo RELEASED: SEPTEMBER 30, 2022

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