Gangrene - Vodka & Ayahuasca

Posted January 26, 2012
Tags: Gangrene,

I say this with all due respect, and with a healthy amount of fear, but The Alchemist is the...

Vodka & Ayahuasca Album Review

I say this with all due respect, and with a healthy amount of fear, but The Alchemist is the Forrest Gump of hip-hop. Not in the sense that he loves chocolates (although he might) or wore leg braces (I’m like 99% sure he didn’t), but because the man’s been involved in so much hip-hop history, his life feels like it could have only happened in a movie. Despite growing up in Beverly Hills, an area not exactly known as a hotbed of hip-hop, Alchemist’s group The Whooliganz with friend Scott Caan (the future Hawaii 5-0 actor) got them a deal with ‘90s powerhouse label Tommy Boy and a spot in Cypress Hill’s Soul Assassins crew. When the Hooliganz disbanded Alchemist began to focus on production, quickly becoming a staple of the Dilated Peoples and Mobb Deep. From there it was production for a long list of rap’s elite (Nas, Snoop, Ghostface, etc.), two solo albums (1st Infantry and Chemical Warfare) and a job as Eminem’s DJ.

With a resume like that most would be tempted to move to Miami and spend their days texting their famous friends, but Alchemist has remained impressively, almost shockingly, true to his underground roots. Not only is the man knocking out full-length projects with the likes of Fashawn and Curren$y, but he formed a group with fellow SoCal rapper/producer Oh No, who’s got some hip-hop history of his own, and purposefully set out to make every major label A&R recoil in fear. Naming themselves Gangrene, a potentially fatal skin infection, was a start, making a first album like Gutter Water established them, and now they’re out to complete the “radio wouldn’t touch this with latex gloves” trifecta with their new album, the dangerously hallucinogenic and potentially psychosis-inducing Vodka & Ayahausca.

As you’d expect from a title like Vodka & Ayahausca, Gangrene’s perfected a blend of aggression and trippiness, hallucination and hard reality that defies easy description, but that’s why I get paid in Subway sandwiches the big bucks. There’s no better place to start then the title track. It would be overly-simplistic to describe V&A as a rock-rap hybrid, which usually describes a distorted guitar over hip-hop drums. What we get here instead is the nihilistic punk rock energy that can also be found in the rawest of rap (see early Wu-Tang), an energy that’s echoed in the appropriately titled Gladiator Sh*t. Only someone with a history as deep as Alchemist could convince gangster rap forefather Kool G Rap to rhyme over a beat that sounds like it survived a nuclear holocaust, but the results are pure sonic violence. From the liver destroying Drink Up to the almost numbingly complex Gang Groove, Vodka & Ayahausca should not be consumed while operating heavy machinery.

That’s doesn’t mean the album consists entirely of roundhouse kicks. In fact, while it never approaches a state I could call relaxed, V&A at the very least mellows out nicely at sections, starting with Odds Cracked. As close as the album gets to that soul-sample, Dilated Peoples sound as the project gets, Cracked also happens to feature Oh No’s best lyrical work. Similarly, while Livers for Sale is more haunting than relaxed, its eerily soaring synth section does end the album on an exhale. Crucially though, while Gangrene may take their foot of the gas on these tracks they still insist on pushing the boundaries of hip-hop to the breaking point. After all, hip-hop, more than any other genre, shouldn’t have boundaries at all.

Vodka & Ayahausca’s not an impenetrable fortress of an album, it does have its weaknesses. As clichéd as it is to say, Alchemist’s rap abilities are indisputably legit but nowhere near as elite as his production skills, which holds the album back from becoming truly high-caliber. Though, no one but Alchemist and Oh No could have made an album like this, could have given birth to this exact sound, so it only makes sense that they insist on living in the house their beats built. Ultimately V&A is an album that presents a fearlessly original and coherent, if distorted, vision, something that’s become an endangered species in the age of the hit single. Gangrene’s making the kind of hip-hop they want to, the consequences be damned, and when you’ve got a history as deep as Alchemist and Oh No do, who could possibly tell them otherwise?

DJBooth Rating - 3.5 Spins

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Posted January 26, 2012
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