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Terrance “Bump J” Boykin likes to call himself the Chief of Chicago. By that analogy, Boykin is what is commonly referred to in political parlance as a “youth candidate.” At 37, his popularity cuts a swath across every conceivable age group, but Boykin is particularly happy to make common cause with younger rappers; this summer alone, he collaborated with blue-chip up-and-comers like Ty Money and G Herbo. While other hip-hop veterans grapple to contain their creeping insecurities, Boykin emanates confidence at literally all times. And why shouldn’t he have a spring in his step? He’s done the impossible: forestalled any crisis of relevance.

In a sense, Boykin predicted the “mumble-rap” boom of the late 2010s. Very few insurgent rappers can compete with Boykin bar-for-bar, nor do they possess anything like his spiritual gravitas. But these young people often affect a cooler-than-thou posture that bears the stamp of Boykin’s influence. In all his years behind the mic, Boykin has never, to our knowledge, broken a sweat. His early work seemed to anticipate coming hardship, but even there he telegraphed a refusal to shrink from the challenges ahead. No matter the trials before him, Boykin  rapped in a methodical, imperturbable cadence likely owing to his Chicago roots. (When he was growing up, the city specialized in melodious pimp shit; think Crucial Conflict, Do or Die and PsychoDrama.)

Boykin is one fifth of the Goon Squad, a Chicago rap collective that dominated the local mixtape circuit a decade ago. Of all their many triumphs, one stands out for effectively launching Boykin’s bid for Chief of Chicago: Welcome to Grimeyville. That record is so perfect, it can only be likened to a sinister millstone around Boykin’s neck; it came to haunt his every subsequent utterance. To this day, lots of Chicagoans—indeed, lots of Midwesterners—can recite Welcome to Grimeyville chapter and verse.

Boykin’s national profile is modest by comparison. He’s best known for the word-of-mouth sleeper hit “Move Around,” which distilled the essence of Chicago rap in four scintillating minutes. A Kanye West production, “Move Around” is stunning even by West’s standards, its melody and rhythm gorgeously varied. Among other fringe benefits, the song briefly made Boykin the face of cheeseburger capitalism: McDonalds licensed “Move Around” for a television ad that ran in the summer months of 2005.

Understandably, Boykin would rather not relitigate the events of the preceding decade, but those events bear summarizing. In 2007, he willfully partook in the robbery of a Chase Bank franchise in Oak Park. To the enduring credit of Boykin and his accomplice, the bank heist was a smashing success—Boykin’s cut alone amounted to just over $54,000.

In the months that followed, Boykin threaded every needle, taking pains not to run afoul of law enforcement. He also put out another sterling mixtape: Dinner Time, a slice-of-life travelogue that took us deep into the heart of his South Side neighborhood.

Then came a downstate traffic stop in the fall of 2008; as it happened, Boykin had a firearm on his person. He was remanded into custody by the Carbondale PD. Rather than assume the liabilities inherent in a protracted jury trial, Boykin jumped at the first plea bargain he was offered: ten years behind the fence. As a father to small but growing children, Boykin undoubtedly made the right calculus.

Given what he had at stake, it was, of course, catastrophically foolish of Boykin to commit a felony punishable by life imprisonment. But contrary to prima facie evidence, Boykin had his wits about him. The gravity of the situation was not lost on Boykin. He knew he had a mandate from God to smarten up, to use his divinely imparted talents for good.

“I don’t need a lot to motivate me,” Boykin told XXL last year, “but when I see the success of some of the artists that started out with me, knowing I should and would be there—if not for my situation—[that] motivates me to achieve those same accomplishments.” (It should be noted that Boykin’s management team did not respond to repeated interview requests for this story.)

This past April, Boykin was finally let go from Ohio’s FCI Elkton facility. As any parolee can tell you, community is the first line of defense for newly freed inmates. Their odds of recidivism are bleak insofar as they lack a stable support structure; their odds of finding lasting belonging and fulfillment are bleaker still. Many people in Boykin’s position find it difficult to brave life’s headwinds because what little help that exists is sorely insufficient.

Boykin came home to a blinkered community (fully one third of South Shore residents are mired in generational poverty), but also a vast network of peers, relatives and admirers at the ready. For Boykin, all signs point onward and upward. Soon will come the unveiling of Luxury Vol. 1, a seven-song appetite-whetter that promises to elaborate on Boykin’s complex tangle of emotional and legal issues.

After a lifetime of false starts, Boykin is poised to take ownership of what was rightfully his all along. In so many words, he has prevailed.

 

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