Boldy James has been off the rap scene for almost two years. For Boldy fans keeping track, his last release was Trapper’s Alley 2: Risk vs. Reward on February 27, 2015. From then to his DJ Butter-presented EP, The Art of Rock Climbing (which dropped on January 27, 2017), Boldy has been laying low. He says most of his time was spent recording new music, but it was one run-in with the law in November that nearly ended his career.

Boldy tells me about a situation leaving the studio in a neighborhood in Detroit when he got pulled over by local authorities. He had some weed on him, and he was arrested for marijuana possession. He was taken to Wayne County Jail, released on bond for his misdemeanor offense, and received six months probation. His freedom, though, was short-lived.

It’s a cool day in March, and Boldy is selective on the details of violating his probation—the main reason he’s been gone for so long—in a conference room at the Mass Appeal offices. “I ended up violating probation while I was on the run from the probation violation. I caught a whole ‘nother case running from the police. Had some drugs in the car. I had a high-speed chase with the police. I got away,” he says, gripping a blunt in-hand that he’s saving for later. He talks about how the police took the car that had the drugs inside, even after he tried to get rid of some by throwing them out.

A mix of luck and good fortune, James says he got a “slap on the wrist” for the outstanding warrants pinned on him. He had a bond for fleeing and eluding charges, which meant he had high hopes that he’d be back on the streets again. The judge didn’t see it that way. In and out of court in ‘15 and part of ‘16, he ended up getting 90 days (dodging a seven-year sentence) for his possession of marijuana offense.

The whole ordeal grew taxing on him knowing he had to put his music career on pause. “[I was] just hoping I didn’t drop the ball on my situation,” he explains.

“Like, damn for me to get locked up three-four five years right now, it’ll fuck up everything I had been building musically. Not only will my music come to a screeching halt, but I could get dropped from my situation [with Mass Appeal Records]. I was just going through a lot of stuff in my head.”

From May to July, Boldy served two months in Pontiac, Michigan at Oakland County Jail. He was thrown into a maximum-security cell because they believed he was a high-risk prisoner. Outside of the wall, fans who knew that Boldy was missing kept his name relevant. Even his cousin, Chuck Inglish—one half of the recently reunited The Cool Kids—frequently tweeted #FreeBoldyJames to remind us of his impending return.

Though he was able to get out earlier than expected, it certainly isn’t easy to ready material to feed audiences when you’re away, especially when there’s a new artist to grasp listeners’ attention everyday. It was a wake-up call for him.

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“I’m supposed to be out there with my kids. My family, my wife. In the studio working so I can give my fans music. I’m bullshitting. I’m fucking up right now. I looked at it [like] there’s a reason for everything,” he expresses.

“I could take this and soak up the game that I’m getting from the old heads in here and apply that to when I get out this bitch, keeping my head up and concentrating on shit that’s more important than fast money and shit that’s going to hinder me in the long run.”

Boldy’s ties with the streets are a recurring theme in his music, ranging from his Trappers Alley series to his critically acclaimed debut album, My 1st Chemistry Set, produced entirely by The Alchemist. Some of his biggest underground hits touch on the trap doing numbers (“Crunchin’”) or giving us a lesson on his street slang (“Moochie”). He routinely shouts out Concreatures 227, an organization he’s affiliated with, that embodies “a creature of the concrete, a real street lifer.” He draws from these experiences because it comes from a place of authenticity, sharing stories of survival living in Detroit. One of his earliest songs, “Oil Sheen (Grease Monkeys),” features a hook that shouts out all of his come ups from hustling at a young age. “We driving Benz, counting stacks, we keep winning/I got a Lam, not bad for some street niggas/We poppin’ tags, rocking premium denim/If you about this cash, then my nigga let’s get it/Dropped out at 14, getting street money/Doing the Charlie Sheen on these fuckin’ grease monkeys,” he raps.

Boldy admits that coming from the pavement is his main source of inspiration. It’s allowed him to build a dedicated fanbase who sees him as the voice for the real ghetto boys. When I asked him if he’ll continue to draw from this perspective, he says getting caught up in this lifestyle is bigger than Detroit and how the city raised him. “I’m not going to say that’s all I know. I know other things,” he says. “But for the majority, when it comes to putting money in my pocket, or being able to do [something] for someone I love or others, it’s always been that. It’s always been my crutch, my backbone. That’s who I fall on when it gets tight. That’s my biggest influence.”

Since his return, he started 2017 with The Art of Rock Climbing, and his latest project House of Blues that dropped in February. The Art of Rock Climbing was completed before he went to jail, yet it stands out as one of his more refined projects with deeper songs about cooking crack and doing work on the block. He trades bars with Kool G Rap on “Married to the Streets.” With Kokane, he writes a dedication to his city on “To Live and Die in Detroit.”

House of Blues takes the same harrowing path, delivering more bangers for your paper chase found on “Hit It” with Gunplay, “Maserati Rick,” and “Do It.” The title itself is a metaphor; we could interpret it as his depression from the never-ending cycle of making ends meet or a lucrative trap house with a lot of foot traffic. Says Boldy: “It’s about a blue house on the street called Bluehill, with a blue pitbull in the backyard, a blue-faced Rolex. A table full of blue pills. Blue steel pistol on the couch. Blue everything. We just ain’t Crippin’, but everything else blue.”

At some point though, you have to wonder if Boldy will be fully removed from his past. Now that he’s back and picked up where he’s left off, is there hope that he’ll leave it all behind for the spotlight that inevitably awaits him?

“I guess it’s a gift and a curse for me because I know I’m supposed to show my face for the fans,” he says. “I’m not used to doing everything on camera, I’m not used to being in the light. I’m used to running from police lights. I’m used to ducking cameras and not speaking around microphones. 20 plus some odd years of that, it’s hard to ever get used to this.”

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