Don James is an enigma. He is one of the Town’s favorite MC’s. His musical abilities are diverse. He might rap his ass off on a mixtape style album. He could sing and swoon and give us some heartfelt, musical Hip-Hop/Soul. Or he could flip the script, get dirty and cold, and show us his G side. On his latest offering, “Cold Game Vol 1”, we have the latter. Don can go hard on the ladies and give dudes the coldest of shoulders. Draped in an all white, trench, bomber, looking extra icey; James is freezing the game with some of his most severe raps. This is his newest drop and it has been a minute so get yo winter-coat, scarf, and gloves cause Don James has brought the blizzard with this one.
Coming in at a frosty 11 tracks, this is cold-air, see yo breath iciness. Don truly has so many quotables that I am going to give ya one frozen bar for each song. The first track is “Rain Today” and it begins with James introducing himself in a comical accent but then the seriousness begins. Don James is like a natural sounding auto tune crooner. He has a knack for making his singing sound incredibley futuristic, current, modern, and electric. It does not sound manufactured like Future though, it has a certain organicness to it that reeks of authenticity. He does not have to try. He is drip, the epitome of musical swag. There is not a more natural sounding artist/MC than Don James. He was meant to use his vocals for Hip-Hop and thank all the GODS that he has chosen his path correctly. Don James brings a true musicality to Tacoma Hip-Hop that the city would sorely be lacking if it was not for his contribution. Here’s a line from “Rain Today”. “I think that it rained today. But I wouldn’t know cause I didn’t leave the house. I was stuck inside my ways. Still trying to find a way that I can get up out.” Don James let’s listeners into his mind-state, his struggles, his wins and his losses. That is one of the many things that makes him so talented yet so relatable.
The second song is a “Rock the Mic” sample flip. Somehow James made it even funkier than the original Beanie Sigel beat. The song is titled “Tuff Tuff (Top Cat) which is an ode to Tuff Tuff. If you do not know him than it proves you were not around Hilltop back in the day. I do not want to let the cat out the bag so this nod to a fallen neighborhood elder is for the ones that know. Don James is dancing all over this beat and having fun flipping styles, bending words, and just catching wreck with plenty of wordplay. “I ain’t never been on no cocky shit. But the way I’m sliding this beat is preposterous. KT looked at me like we got a hit. So I black out on a beat on some gothic shit. I remember when we didn’t have a pot to piss. So for that I’m going piss ni$#a’s off with this. I’m really on fire phosphorous.”
Next up is “U.F.O.” (Yeah, Yeah, Yeah) which is a track going in on the women. “Up late night with the chickens but the church is closed. Ho’s that play that I ain’t fucking card be the first to fold.” The beat is a slowed-down, simple bass, high-hat Bay Area sounding slapper. It’s very stripped down and minimal so we can hear all of Don James game.
Song 4 is “Get Home Safe”. It is a soulful, more uptempo beat that begins with Don singing the first bars. The beat has a pretty, ethereal, poppy sensibility. It gives James the chance to go between rapping and singing and not many can do it as good as him. “I done come down like a screw tape. Then I came up that’s an update. Full court balling get a big plate. We’re going scrape it even if we just ate.”
“1980 COVID” features Tacoma’s Real Kozby who is an adept MC and battle-rapper. This is one of my favorite offerings. It is a minimal beat with a high-pitched melody and a funky basic drum. Kozby says, “I ain’t never been a Saint like a Latter-Day. Overload with the work like I ain’t make it to class today. No more delaying with ni$#as. Tore my ACL that mean I ain’t playing with ni#$as. When I get on the beat they gotta pray for ya ni*&as. I took off the cape I’m tired of saving you ni%^as.” Don James sounds so energetic and perfect on this beat. It is pure electricity. He says, “If I pop yo king ya peasants wouldn’t know when to cry. I’m like Janet at the funeral how the way I’m holding the mic. Talk about the best but just don’t go with the hype. Or be a pile of dead bodies on opening night.” There’s no hook here. Just two of the fiercest Tacoma has to offer. ENJOY!!!
“Put It On Me” should absolutely already be playing in every club on every night. There’s nothing funner, dancey, smoother, and more macked-out than this here. Don James shows his finesse on the mic. I promise you, your lady is probably playing this song in her whip as we speak. I’m not going drop a quotable for this one because this track is all about the chorus and the melody. Just play it for yo woman already and dance in the kitchen together.
I’m happy to report that song 7 is “R.I.P. Bobby Slicce”. Now what more needs to be said. Tacoma deeply misses one of our favorite playful hoopers, rappers, and friend to many; Darren Valentine. Don ends the funky song after completely ripping the beat for 2 minutes straight with his goodbye to our friend. “Ya know I made the beat like Diddy did. RIP Bobby Slicce, that ni^%a really slid.” The tribute is done to the beat of “Whoa” by Black Rob. It is a beat Bobby would’ve loved to scream, yell, and spit over. It is a fiery send off from the coldest one to a Town legend.
Track 8 “James Brown Flow” is as fun as it sounds. Don James jumps into a funky pocket provided by The Hardest Working Man in Show Business. Don is tap-dancing over this one as he encompasses all the rhythm of the Godfather. This whole fucking song is a quotable bar. I cannot even break it up to give you a piece. It is Don James at his absolute best. He is just such a dope MC when he goes in on some heat like a James Brown sample it does not ever get better.
“The Bluez” is another Bay sounding crunk banger. The title is an ode to feelings he’s giving you and to the nasty little pills everyone in Tac is on. All that outside activity you see on these streets is people smoking these little blue pills off foil through a tooter. Leave it to Don James to not be afraid to speak on the elephant in the room. In the 80’s it was crack is wack and in Tacoma 2023 it’s “You ni#$as on the blues. I give ya bitch the blues. I’m way to cool from my hat to my shoes. Zombies out here so I’m riding with the tool.”
Song 10 has James putting in work over the En Vogue/Brotha Lynch Hung sample that we all love so dearly. It is an invaluable part of Hip-Hop. “My new connect said the price is whatever is fair. I’m with the drill team I get the package, step on it player…I just got off the elevator I’m still pressing these squares. How I caught ya slipping it ain’t even wet over there.” This song shows and proves Don James is the best; be it lyrical rapping, pimping game, even moving work rap, he is just the most clever.
“Some Gucci” is the last song and is perhaps the sauciest drippiest. Do not leave yo girl ‘round Don James. Peep this, “I’m the shit. I smell like a dookie. Suck me like a stranger and fucked me like she knew me. She ain’t got no ass that’s a filter on her booty. She asked me where my money I said bitch I bought some Gucci. I lied to get the coochie.”
This is my favorite Don James album since his debut “For the Love” back in ‘15. There is something for everyone here and he covers all musical bases with grand slam after grand slam.
The album is available exclusively on his Bandcamp , https://donjames.bandcamp.com/album/cold-game-vol-1
I’m going give y’all a test. Somewhere on this album Don James shouts out Sic-Ill with a bar about his favorite choice of clothing. If you hear it hit me up! I will give the first one to message me about where they found the line a prize!
by Josh Rizeberg AKA High-Rize