There’s an odd sense of unfulfillment when an album actually does meet expectations. The body of work does its job—there’s no discrediting that—but when it doesn’t exceeded what the audience envisioned for it, it’s a small failure because it doesn’t really capture the imagination like art is supposed to. It’s good but not necessarily memorable.
My 1st Chemistry Set, the collaborative effort between coke game connoisseur Boldy James and the always great Alchemist, does just that by giving up those amazing beats and the rugged rhymes they’re both known for. What makes it a great release, however, is how it somehow does capture the imagination in multiple moments. The Alchemist and James both carry their weight on this LP and for a symbiotic relationship with the former making a comfortable bed for James to spit in this wiseass monotone and the rapper bringing out a sense of focus from Alchemist’s beat selection.
Even with that said, the credit goes to Alchemist for making this James’ most cohesive project to date. He doesn’t swing toward psychedelics or NYC boom bap, but melds them both in a way that kind of symbolizes the absurd amounts of self-assuredness James spits with. From beginning to end, there isn’t a single weak beat on this LP. That was never in question when the vocal sample starts off the album on “BOLD”, which sounds like a glitchy but glorious Sunday morning smoke. You’re probably already dead if you don’t feel the tension by that haunted female voice on “Surprise Party” or if your head isn’t bobbing when that crisp bass on “You Know” kicks in. That soul-incinerating guitar sample on “Give Me a Reason” is, well…it just isn’t fair.
James’ finds inventive ways to vividly describe the streets in a way that’s part playful, part ruthless. On “Consideration”, James launches off a Swizz Beatz reference in the second verse and keeps the rhyme scheme as he deadpans about dirty business by a Little Caesar’s and turning selling grams into a lucrative venture. It almost gets mesmerizing to an extent. You snap out of it by the time “Surprise Party” comes around: “Took what was rightfully ours/I see no bravery that’s why he died the death of a coward/I shot him right in the face in front of his baby mama.” One second it’s a nonchalant Pistol Pete Maravich reference (“What’s the Word”), then human life is a means to an end in the next: “The last n***a 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.” James’ tone barely changes on M1CS—that can be a detriment for some—but there’s an element of unpredictability throughout.
The guest verses are good for the most part, but they are supplemental to James’ grimy drug game-inspired grandeur. Vince Staples matches up James’ eye for detail in another standout verse on “Give Me a Reason” (“Piss poor so I skip classes/Still got on them J’s though”). Earl Sweatshirt’s verse on “Reform School” feels atmospheric, although credit must also be given to The Alchemist’s piano loop. Action Bronson performance on “Traction” is a bit of clunker, but not so much so that it drags down the track.
My 1st Chemistry Set is essentially an album about how cool Boldy James is and the possibility of him catching a body if he’s crossed, which can be a limited perspective for repeated listens. But the irony of My 1st Chemistry Set if you take Walter White’s word as law is that chemistry is the study of change. It’s the same ole James and the same ole Alchemist here, and that’s just fine.
3.5 out of 5
You can buy My 1st Chemistry Set on Amazon.