Review Summary: The Price of Dope in Detroit
“One plant after another has abandoned Detroit,” quips a nameless newscaster sampled at the opening of Giant Slide. The rapid outsourcing of jobs has left the city grimy and desolate, and many of its residents as cold as its winter nights. One such icy inhabitant is Boldy James, who has collaborated with legendary producer The Alchemist to create a chilly cut of street rap titled The Price of Tea in China.
After the sample finishes and Giant Slide begins, the listener is immediately assaulted with a haunting sample from Alchemist, and shout-outs from James, who soon leans into a smooth, methodical flow that becomes his modus operandi for the duration of the album. This track is a perfect showcase of all the duo have achieved on The Price of Tea in China. Alchemist delivering some of his most precise and gritty production to date, and James calmly rapping over it with the measured indifference of a hardened gangster.
The following track (and album highlight) Surf & Turf, finds the duo once again putting on a street rap clinic in both production and flow, with the addition of a vicious Vince Staples feature. Vince delivers what is perhaps the best of many excellent features on the album, which also include Benny the Butcher, Freddie Gibbs, and Evidence. While James’ low-key delivery is by no means boring, the inclusions and pacing of these features ensure that the tape never lulls into monotony.
The remainder of the album follows on mostly the same path of the aforementioned tracks, with James laying down bar after bar in his coldly calculated Detroit flow over Alchemists’ uniquely ominous production. While James never strays far from his subject of street accolades, and Alchemist keeps the beats discreet, the duo give no reasons to switch up the successful formula they have created. While the restrained production and delivery do cause the tracks to become dull over time, it seems that there is always a hard line, featured verse, or intriguing production choice to jar the listener right back into the album. Alchemist’s tact in delicately placing samples makes them all the more hard hitting, and James’ verses about life in his hometown remain engaging without getting lost in the stellar production. Any other emcee might have done too much, or too little over such gorgeously simple production, but Boldy James is not any other rapper. In fact, both artists’ styles blend together perfectly to create a moody atmosphere reminiscent of the streets of Detroit James raps about. Overall, The Price of Tea in China is a cold and crushing street rap album that sounds like it could survive in the very place that is the subject of its rhymes.