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Boldy James, 'Jam Master J'

Rap is youth culture, but, in recent years, older rappers have carved out more and more space to tell the stories of middle-age. 40-year-old Detroit rapper Boldy James has taken it a step further: he has really found his voice in maturity, acclimating to a composed persona, first as an original signee of Nas' Mass Appeal records and recently as a member of the indie stable Griselda. His songs bear the wariness that comes with experience and the poise that comes from a hard-scrabble life navigating obstacles.

James, always prolific, has been particularly productive since 2020, releasing his best music across nine projects, and his streak continues with the Futurewave-produced Mr. Ten08. The standout, "Jam Master J," is full of his patented roiling flows but it is the imagery that elevates them: a plate that looks like shaving cream on a straight razor, a cup of lean so noxious it should bear the health hazard symbol, a lost rap icon as an avatar for achieving greatness.

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Sheldon Pearce