The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

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His 2020 album, ‘The Versace Tape,’ is an exploration of James’ grim and illicit past
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On “The Versace Tape,” James doesn’t care about making himself the hero of the story, he’s simply selling a product.

James Clay Jones III, better known by the stage name Boldy James has been in the music industry on and off for over a decade. At 41, he’s definitely on the older side compared to some of his contemporaries.

His relatively late entry into the mainstream has a couple of explanations, the most prominent being the drug trafficking from his younger years which kept him in constant trouble with the law.  

It’s the less-than-perfect method he used to get by in the once bustling, but since deteriorated, city of Detroit, Michigan, where James spent most of his life. This method of survival is also the inspiration for most of his music. 

When James finally decided to leave his old life behind and honestly pursue rap, he did so with an eagerness and a work ethic that quickly turned him into a prolific songwriter.

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He has 18 albums on official listening platforms and other projects floating around the web, as is common with artists who spend a lot of time in the underground, but the one that introduced me to him about two months ago was “The Versace Tape.”

Its name is an obvious reference to the luxury clothing brand, but it’s also a nod to its producer Jay Versace, the former internet personality who took a sharp left turn into music towards the end of the 2010s.  

With basically no context of his other work and really just the recommendation of a video essay to go off of, I was able to go into this project with an open mind and something about it immediately caught my attention.

His voice intrigued me with a dull monotone quality that would probably be criticized in most musical instances outside of rap. But in his case, it’s sort of perfect.

The laid-back and undisturbed demeanor he delivers his lyrics in sharply contrasts the extreme nature of the themes he writes about. 

The average listener probably wouldn’t expect that kind of stunted emotion from a man who speaks about murder and drug dealing in such excruciating detail.

While James isn’t the first rapper to use a low, seemingly uninterested voice as a tool in their music, it plays into the aspect of his music that sets him apart from the crowd.

It’s quite evident in “The Versace Tape” that its main character who lurks through the streets of Detroit committing crimes and making a living off the downtrodden and addicted in his community isn’t being sold to the audience as the protagonist. 

This is a surprisingly unpopular approach. The likes of Freddie Gibbs, Pusha T and others whose music boast a similarly drug-consumed subject matter tend to set themselves up as quasi-antiheroes in their songs.

There’s an energy and a passion behind their words that successfully convinces many to root for them, but not James.

His music is still expertly crafted, but it’s served with a haunting, detached tone. A great deal of James’ discography is a sort of deadpan recanting of stories he’s not necessarily proud to tell. 

This isn’t to say that he’s remorseful. He did what he did and, from how he tells it, he’d do it again if he deemed it necessary. 

To use the common colloquialism, it was all a means to an end for him and still is. By the way he describes them, he approached those past actions with a cold, clinical precision and his musical approach is no different.

Lyrics like “I want the money, not the fame/ on the block we used to sell cocaine” on “Cartier” or “I told him I would kill him/he didn’t believe me when I said it” on “Brick Van Exel” construct a heartless shadow of a man, unconcerned with how he’s perceived. 

On “The Versace Tape,” James doesn’t care about making himself the hero of the story, he’s simply selling a product. The type of product might have changed, but his methodology never skipped a beat. 

Take the line from track 6, “Long Live Julio” where James sarcastically asks God if he can still “wear (his) ice” if his actions eventually send him to hell. 

The play on words is a braggadocious line about jewelry, but also adds an undertone of darkness as the listener is further reminded of James’ questionable morality.

But another thing I like about this album, and James’ music in general, is that as grimy as it gets, it still manages to be playful in moments.

Elaborate sports analogies on the previously mentioned “Long Live Julio” and “Brick Van Exel” and James’ overall knack for metaphors and double entendres throughout the project hint at his love for storytelling.

His unbothered demeanor belies the enjoyment and genuine talent he has for making music, a subterfuge that appears to be at least somewhat intentional. 

At an even 10 songs and just under 23 minutes, “The Versace Tape” is a trim and efficient tour inside the grim, aloof mind of Boldy James. It’s quickly becoming one of my favorite albums and I would suggest you give it a listen on whatever platform you use to consume music.

Obadiya can be reached at [email protected].

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About the Contributor
Oludare Obadiya, Business Manager
Oludare is a fourth-year journalism student and this is his fifth semester on The Spectator. He likes watching basketball and is pretty mediocre at it, but that doesn't stop him from playing it. He has a small but growing record collection and believes Woody Harrelson is a style icon and national treasure — fact not opinion.

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