The Alchemist - Chemical Warfare

Posted July 9, 2009
Tags: The Alchemist,

Alchemy is an ancient art. A mysterious process that could somehow turn lead into gold,...

Chemical Warfare Album Review

Alchemy is an ancient art. A mysterious process that could somehow turn lead into gold, combining ingredients in unexpected ways to create a new substance of extraordinary value. Fittingly, that’s exactly what The Alchemist does. Coming from the infamously zip-coded city of Beverly Hills, The Alchemist, birth name Alan Maman, has not-so-quietly become one of hip-hop’s leading producers, turning his introductory beat work for Dilated Peoples and Prodigy into a thriving career that has nearly every rapper on the game on speed dial. Anyone can throw together some tracks and put their name on it (I’m looking at you Khaled), but it takes an alchemist to make gold out of nothing.

With The Alchemist’s first album we watched The Infantry invade our speakers, but now it’s 2009 and the hip-hop battleground has become a little more technologically advanced. Enter Chemical Warfare, the blisteringly dope second album from The Alchemist. A sadly rare work in the age of ringtone rap, Warfare is hip-hop at its most elemental, laying down stellar production work as the foundation for premier rappers to build some truly impressive tracks. Not every cut is a classic, and unless Flo-Rida and T-Pain jump on a remix it’s hard to see Chemical Warfare moving a lot of copies, but the album does contain something else. Something more elemental. Something more powerful. Good music. (I know, it sounds crazy).

In one of Chemical Warfare’s just tolerable skits – why does everyone insist on including these pointless skits? Why Jesus, why? – The Alchemist imagines a clash between his two most extreme fan bases, the backpackers and the street bangers. It’s a good metaphor for a man whose music is becoming increasingly hard to categorize, and one I have no problem using too. We’ll start with the streets, more specifically with the lead single Lose Your Life, a grinding track that brings together both coasts over a quietly menacing beat. On Lose Your Life Snoopy D-O-Double-G provides a typically relaxed hook while Jada and Pusha T flash their respective mic skills – it’s the classic example of how tight production can magnify a solid rap, and vice-versa. Unfortunately, Eminem’s short lived appearance, by far the album’s most high-profile feature, doesn’t fare nearly as well. It’s not so much that Em doesn’t deliver, he’s enmeshed in the same serial killer rapper style we heard on Relapse, it’s that he doesn’t deliver very much. On a mixtape you can get by with a one verse track, but on a full length album a track like Chemical Warfare sounds unfinished at best and forced at worst. Luckily, Chemical Warfare has more than enough high points to make up for Eminem’s barely there cameo, ranging from the rock hard Acts of Violence to the stripper ready That’ll Work featuring Three 6 Mafia and Juvenile, another reminder of the regional versatility and flexibility Alchemist is capable of. Long story short, if hip-hop is at war, Chemical Warfare is not a weapon you want to f**k with.

On the other side of the tracks lies Alchemists backpacker-ish roots, a more soulful and intelligent side of the man that had earned him an intensely serious following in the underground (for lack of a better term). The most obvious example of this would have to be the KRS-ONE fueled Grand Concourse Benches, a track that primarily proves KRS is still almost impossible to stop once he gets going on a tight beat. As good as Grand Concourse is, the album’s most innovative track has to be the slowly winding Smile, a cut that brings on the unlikely combination of Maxwell and Twista to impressive result. Smile is a perfect example of Alchemist’s ability to seamlessly combine seemingly disparate elements: as crazy as it sounded at first, the old-school soul of Maxwell and Twista’s automatic weapon rhyme style balance each other perfectly. That ability to see beyond the obvious, to create a masterpiece no one could have seem coming, is precisely the hallmark of a great producer, and the reason The Alchemist is hip-hop’s best worst kept secret. He’ll have to go nuclear in order to top Chemical Warfare, but for the time being I’m more than happy to keep the album on steady rotation. I suggest you do the same or end up on the wrong end of some musical anthrax.

DJBooth Rating - 3.5 Spins

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Posted July 9, 2009
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