James Garcia is a rapper without limits. Few artists in underground hip-hop—few artists in any type of hip-hop—have the range of this Colorado MC, the rare sort of rare lyricist who can spit quick, devastating rhymes filled with vivid depictions of carnage then drop back and speak from the heart, opening his life up to all his fans. On The Return of the Prodigal Son, his new LP, he even sings, bending notes while experimenting with AutoTune. He also produces all his own beats.
James Garcia first made waves as one half of the Axe Murder Boyz, a group he started with his brother Mike Garcia, who also goes by Bonez Dubb. The pair began making music when James was 9 and Bonez was 12, joining their dad in a classic rock cover band. Three years later, their world was turned upside down when Bonez brought home records by Twiztid and Insane Clown Posse. “We started listening to that 24-7,” says James. “We decided then that we wanted to be rappers—and/or wrestlers. But we stuck with the rapping.”
They began on the streets of Denver, hustling independently produced CDs until the city took notice. By 2005, the year they inked their first record contract, they had grown into local stars.
Today, both the Axe Murder Boys project and James Garcia’s solo career are signed to Twiztid’s Majik Ninja Entertainment. Why go solo? James’ answer is refreshingly simple: “I felt like I could make a really sweet album on my own.”
Slaughter, released in 2015, proved him right, earning the rapper FaygoLuvers’ Underground Album of the Year award. His follow-up,The Return of the Prodigal Son, builds on this success: This time, the stories cut even deeper, and the self-produced sounds are even more adventurous. “There’s lot more singing and a lot more emotion on my solo shit,” James explains. “I’m not afraid to be a full-blown pop singer for one song if I have to.”
The roots of James’ range go back even further than his dad’s wedding band, back to the childhood jam sessions that would highlight visits to his Grandma Garcia. “That was a really Mexican household, as far as the food and the religious views and the upbringing goes,” James remembers. “Every time we’d be at my grandmother’s it would be my uncles and us with the guitars. Everyone had an instrument, and because of their heritage we would all play music, constantly.”
What do those family members think of the music he and Axe Murder Boyz make now? “They all love it whole-heartedly—even the super Christian ones,” James says, laughing. “They don’t bump it as much, but they’re still happy that I’m doing what I’m doing. They know at the end of the day we’re bringing a positive message to people.”
This message remains crucial to James Garcia’s music. Though he can rap as hard as anyone in the genre, it’s versatility that makes him a fan favorite—and has helped him cross over outside his original fan base. He still gets messages from listeners thanking him for tracks like “Drinkin’ on My Fiff,” a real-life account of his struggle to overcome alcoholism. “Gone,” a memorial written after his grandma’s passing, remains one of his most beloved tracks.
“I don’t know how to write from many places besides what I’m feeling at the time,” James says. That’s why the new album is both defiant and encouraging, challenging listeners to push on in the face of overwhelming adversity. “Stronger in the Finish” expresses that outlook with a sound so uncanny that even James Garcia has trouble describing it. “It sounds like you’re walking in the rain at night,” he says. He pauses and rethinks. “It sounds like you’re walking in the rain at night while you’re smoking a cigarette and thinking about revenge.”