Even though the terms “mixtape” and “album” have overlapped greatly in the last decade the nature of Boldy James’ “House of Blues” is still confusing to me. So far as I can tell this is just as much of a James album as “The Price of Tea in China,” with the former being released on Mass Appeal and the latter coming out on ALC Records. The Bandcamp for this one even declares it to be “his first full length project since 2015.” Now who wants to argue with them? Wikipedia, that’s who.
Even though I’m inclined to disagree with their assessment I might concede the anonymized collective has a point. Despite being called “full length” this release is nine songs and clocks in just short of a half hour. That’s longer than albums in the 2020’s but pretty short for one from the 2010’s. He also gave up 55% of this album to the same guest stars — Rocaine, 50 Guwap Jay C, and Gunplay. The longer you listen to “House of Blues” the less it feels like a Boldy James album. I’m not sure I’d call it a mixtape either though. I’d expect a mixtape to be longer than this and I’d also expect it to feature a lot of familiar instrumentals being recycled. “Maserati Rick” is an original song and unless I missed something so are the rest of these tracks.
For me Boldy James is best served in partnership with specific producers who know how to play to his Detroit style. He tells street hustler tales with gusto no matter who laces it, but with the right man behind the boards his gangster can reach Freddie Gibbs or Benny the Butcher levels. Bandcamp doesn’t give credit to individual producers though and Discogs doesn’t even have an entry for it, which lends more credence to the “mixtape” status. Frankly wherever the beat for “A Couple” comes from I wouldn’t want to be credited for it. The bass will thump your speakers, but that’s all it’s going to do. The snare taps and synth whines are as generic and bland as can be.
There’s also a not infrequent use of pitch corrected vocals that I’m not a fan of here. You couldn’t ignore it even if you wanted to given it opens the album on “Do It” and closes it with “On My Way Up.” James doesn’t need any extra tricks to get you to pay attention to him as an emcee. It doesn’t enhance his presentation at all — it just makes him sound like a Soundcloud rapper who broke through with a viral TikTok dance. That’s not a good fit for him at all.
“House of Blues” doesn’t make me less of a fan of Boldy James (or of the live concert venue it salutes) but it’s also not a release I can recommend. Whoever was behind this mixtape (I’ll give in and call it that) didn’t do him justice. It’s too short, features too many other people, and doesn’t allow the natural charm of James to shine through. It takes him from an excellent Detroit emcee to an average trap rapper with banal beats. This is a complete disservice to him and it may be for the best that Discogs doesn’t even list it as part of his catalogue.