Car Crash, “Drug Dilla” and more

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Car Crash, “Drug Dilla” and more

“There’s two things you can’t escape, n***a, they’re death and taxes,” recites Baldy James on his B-side single with Nicholas Craven of the same name ahead of their 2022 joint album. Fair exchange, no rip offs. Despite Craven’s laid-back soul beat and hint of Midwestern hospitality, Baldy James is a fatalist. Death and taxes – expected but never foreseen, these are the only guarantees in life. But despite this, Baldi always favors taxes.

Calling from his living room in Michigan, Boldy looks comfortable smoking behind his glass table. A gold cross hangs on his chest over a red and black flannel to match his backwards red national cap. Baldy James’s voice immediately felt moist. Sleepy and detached, he is unusually relaxed, perhaps hardened to a fault. He discusses everything from the murder of his namesake, Baldy James, to the changing landscape of Detroit with a reality that usually only carves out the voice of an elderly man.

Boldy talks about a gray Detroit built in a bleak twilight: “The sky is the same color as the concrete most of the time,” he recalls. He draws an industrial checkerboard: “Detroit looks like fun, but if you know what you’re looking at, it looks like danger.” Boldy speaks, and the paranoia remains. He laughs to keep the conversation light. “I’m the danger, so I know what I’m looking at and what I’m looking for.” Boldy got what he wanted, and now he’s riding through the whispers at the bottom of the 7 Mile, living on a newfound, second wave of success.

By rap standards, Baldy James is an old cat. His demeanor immediately lets you know, “I’m one of the older cool p****s,” he tells me. Baldy, 40, grew up in Detroit’s cassette culture, buying tapes from local headliners like Dayton Family, MC Breed, Boss, Street Lord’z and Esham. His memory seems so distant that he jokes, “My son doesn’t even know what a cassette tape looks like.”

Baldy James comes from a changing world. “I am the bridge,” he says. “I’m from the threshold of where the world went digital but was transitioning from the analog world.” Boldy recalls booking studio time decades ago in Detroit, watching artists sell tapes and CDs out of the trunks of their cars. Boldy explains, “The Golden Age was more scripted; now we’re doing a lot of beats and freestyle.” But of course, Baldy James knows he can fight anyone, in any style: “I’ve got to let the youngsters know, I’ve still got enough and I talk just as slick, if not slicker, than when I do.”


Between 2007 and 2010, Baldy James collaborated with Sterling Towles on a project that would later be known as Manger On McNichols. The album chronicles Boldy’s first three years as a rapper, where Toles gave him the space to engage in a therapeutic exercise of rhythm and rhyme. These are the original sketches of the artist Baldy James, the first time he dealt with his emotions in this way, his first therapy sessions. “Music is more personal,” he says. “I’m not really trying to show talent for the most part, I’m trying to get all that crap out… the crap that’s playing tricks on my mind, I show it in the music.”

On “Mommy Dearest (A Eulogy),” Tolles samples an interview in which Boldy explains his tribute to Biggie’s “Suicidal Thoughts,” as well as Boldy’s explanation that: “[Toles] he always told me to be more private, but the more private I got, the darker my music became. People had to bring me back to the light and started saying, “Why don’t you have more and party more with your music?” so that’s where we are with him now.

“Mommy Dearest” is a hushed moment of intimacy, a repressed uncertainty that rarely escapes the brain, unadulterated by any thought of exhibitionism. This is Baldy coming to terms with the fact that his mother wishes to have an abortion. It’s Boldy spilling into the bottom of his stomach, releasing the acid that’s eating away at him. That’s why Baldy raps and assures me that the Detroit-born producer saw it in him: “[Sterling Toles] I knew I had a story to tell.

Take “Wednesday of next month” for example. The vaguely sampled fanfare is immediately disorienting, with choir, drums, bass, trumpet, scattered shouts and more jostling for the song’s wavering downbeat. In the album’s intro, “Medusa” sees Baldy return to the streets to provide for the baby he had on the way, and only months later we find Baldy Baldy chattering between his teeth: “I just lost my two twins in an accident/ They were going to to be my first-born children, I guess it was not meant to be.”

We closely observe the onset of Baldy James’ paranoia: “I’m getting really suspicious about who I call my friends” as he continues on “Wednesday of Next Month”. The studio had become Baldy James’ personal therapist and psychiatrist, with a microphone recording and a “doctor” prescribing everything from medical tampons to codeine.

Manger On McNichols didn’t come out until 2020. Boldy released it in a mix of three other projects that year, including The Versace band, A real badass Baldyand The price of tea in China. Each was a full-length collaboration with one producer: Sterling Towles, Jay Versace, Real Bad Guy, and The Alchemist, respectively. After another pair of collaborative albums with Alchemist in 2021, he released four more full-lengths in 2022 — the aforementioned Nicholas Craven disc plus projects with Real Bad Man, Futurewave and Cuns. When RichGains-produced Indiana Jones fell at the top of 2023, it was Boldy’s third album in three months. He continues to release project after project because the combination of his unwavering work ethic with his drive to provide security for his family provides an inexhaustible engine.


On January 9, Boldy was injured in a two-car accident. The fact sits in the back of his mind as he clenches and unclenches his right hand during the interview, still surprised by his own recovery. He tells me exactly this: “It’s still affecting me right now. It was very traumatic. My life changed physically, I had to be mentally stronger. Everyone wasn’t prepared for this blow, I wasn’t either, but I have a lot of people that I rely on, and even more people that rely on me.”

Unsurprisingly, Baldy’s nonchalance is unscathed as he reports the injuries he has sustained. “My arms were dead, my legs were dead, my neck was broken, my spine was damaged,” he recalled. “I had a crazy operation. Thank God the surgery went well because all my nerves started fusing and my body was like this for a minute with nothing but my eyes and mouth moving.

“Everything had changed dramatically. I was in rehab, realizing that I had crippled myself, so it was racking my brain. Just a grown man’s shit. The bills, the family, the relationship crap, a lot of crap that I had to look at on the bright side because when I think about it, I’m blessed.”

Boldy explains to me, “I’ve never felt sorry for myself.” If anything, he suggests, “Once I processed the reality, it was easier to push through because… I’d been brainwashed so many times and the streets did something to me, so that nothing surprises me, and that I don’t feel like there’s an obstacle I can’t get over.”

Whether or not J Dilla is getting it together donuts while being treated for lupus in the hospital or Kanye recording “Through The Wire” with his jaw wired shut, a great artist can’t help but create. Every bone in their body aches to be great. Baldy James is no different: “I couldn’t write when I first got home because my arms were cramped and my hands didn’t work, so I had to do everything loose in a minute.” With his prose styling his own salvation, Baldy James can’t stop rapping.

Boldy excitedly tells me about his upcoming album Dilla the drug, on which he raps about “Dilla’s latest stash”: “It’s recorded. It’s done. The papers are signed on it — everything. Now, more than ever, he understands the importance of a project with Dilla. “I feel like [Dilla] he was cheated of what was really coming from the kinds of talents he had and the artists he inspired,” he explains.

Boldy continues: “When [Dilla] passed, his legacy means more…”

Just like that, the conversation abruptly ends. His last words hang in the air. In this car accident, Baldy James’ legacy almost suffered the same fate as James DeWitt Yancey. It really makes you wonder if Baldy James cheated death or was just trying to evade his taxes?

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