Rapper Boldy James is older than your average rising rap star. Much like more eccentric fellow Detroit-er Danny Brown, he's been rapping for years, held back by the disadvantages of coming up in flyover country. He does have one advantage: he's first cousins with Cool Kid Chicagoan Chuck Inglish, who introduced The Alchemist to Boldy's music. Alchemist seems to have recognized a kindred spirit in Boldy, because the two have released a record that suggests—insert album title joke here—they have chemistry.
Boldy's debut album, Trapper's Alley: Pros and Cons, was a sprawling, fully-formed release. It created an entire realistic, lived-in world, which only underlined how incredibly undervalued the Detroit MC had been. In comparison, My 1st Chemistry Set has a smaller scope, and works at something of a remove. But in other ways, it's tighter, more compact, and more immediate. Alchemist remains one of hip-hop's most consistent producers, with a distinct aesthetic touch and a sense of songfulness that eludes many of the more mercenary beatmakers who inundate underground hip-hop.
From harpsichord-assisted "Ebonics" update "Moochie" to the crashing cymbals and sparse horror film pianos of "Cobo Hall" to the screaming guitar licks of "Give Me a Reason," Alchemist uses brief samples to create compelling mood music, but his attention to detail and ear for track construction prevent them from slipping to aural wallpaper. And although Boldy's verses feel less specific than they have in the past, they are no less brutal: "The last nigga who slept on me took a nap/And still ain't woke up from that/It ain't nothin' for me to bust a cap." We advise not sleeping. —David Drake