As he tells it, Jamil Rashad—a Triangle native who had just recently started releasing unapologetic and bracing funk under the name Boulevards—didn’t know what to expect when he arrived at CAM Raleigh for his Hopscotch set in 2015. How would the crowd react to his disco dive bombs? Would there be much of a crowd at all? Would it make his name in Raleigh, or break his musical faith in his hometown? Turns out, the set instantly became the stuff of local legend. Backed by downtown party starter Nick Neptune, Rashad turned out a stylish, sweat-soaking show, the crowd responding to every hard beat and lascivious turn of phrase with instant love, as if Rick James himself had arrived via the resurrection. Sure, Boulevards had just inked a deal with hotshot New York label Captured Tracks, but this was his real step toward the spotlight, a deep leap into North Carolina musical lore.
Since that moment, Rashad has released a perfect four-track EP that became a collector’s item, issued the delightfully dirty Groove! through Captured Tracks, and returned to independent status to offer last year’s audacious Hurtown, USA. He has moved to New York, come back to North Carolina, and sojourned to California; he has struggled with addiction and found sobriety and endurance athletics. With more complicated feelings at play inside increasingly sophisticated arrangements, the young funk master asks harder questions about love and life these days. This year, he has upped the ante yet again with “Black as Hell!,” a single that emphatically updates the pride of James Brown for an era of Black Lives Matter rage and redemption. Rashad has grown up a lot since that emphatic introduction in 2015; with Boulevards, it sounds great.