There are producers, there are crate-diggers, and then there’s The Alchemist.
In his own words, Alchemist, 42, is a “hunter” of records, an apex predator continually sniffing out the next great sample. To see the rapper-producer—born Daniel Alan Maman in Beverly Hills, California—at work in the studio is to watch the rap game Edward Elric create iron and brass from dirt. Samples naturally bend and refract time, but Alchemist has spent almost 30 years cultivating his ear for the psychedelic and the grimy into a sound bed with a life of its own.
Instrumental projects like 2015’s Israeli Salad and his Rapper’s Best Friend series have earned homes in many fans’ libraries while being similarly coveted by vocalists the world over. Mobb Deep, Eminem, Action Bronson, and even Smokey Robinson have blessed his production in the past. Standalone beats are dandy, but Alchemist’s style shines when he locks in with one artist for an entire project. At their best, Alchemist’s collaborative albums achieve a perfect balance, giving rappers space to rap while backed by the cushion of Al’s eclectic approach to breakbeats.
Alchemist has teamed up with everyone from Prodigy and Evidence to Domo Genesis and Curren$y over the years, and in honor of The Price of Tea In China—his latest project with Detroit rapper Boldy James—we’ve ranked the 10 best collaborative projects in Alchemist’s discography. See you in the comments.
10. My 1st Chemistry Set (with Boldy James)
We use the word “deadpan” to describe many straightforward no-frills rappers. Boldy James is one of the few who actually lives up to the title, his voice as static as a rain-slicked New York afternoon. In 2013, he was met halfway by some of Alchemist’s most silvery beats to date. On “Give Me a Reason,” the producer channels the drab surroundings Boldy attempts to find the humor in: “They say it never rains in Southern California / But when you from a state where it’s always raining / You tend to not believe the things people tell you.” The monochromatic nature of My 1st Chemistry Set’s can border on the one-note, but Boldy and Alchemist sure know how to make that note sound good.
9. The Antidote (with Fashawn)
In 2009, Alchemist and Fashawn decided it was time to save hip-hop. The Antidote was a warm-up tape—released a month before the Fresno, California MC’s proper studio debut Boy Meets World—with self-imposed stakes. The hip-hop savior ethos has grown beyond stale over the past decade, but the rapping and production chops on display on The Antidote retain a rejuvenating spirit. “It’s Barnum & Bailey when I go hard up in breakbeats,” Fashawn snarls on the title track. Alchemist’s beats are busy, filling every space with sound but creating pockets for Fashawn to find his place in. The Antidote can be a touch too self-righteous in retrospect, but it remains an entertaining sparring match.
8. The Silent Partner (with Havoc)
Alchemist and Mobb Deep are rap kindred spirits. For all his work with the late Prodigy, it’s surprising how long it took for Alchemist and Havoc to come together for a full project. 2016’s The Silent Partner harkens back to a New York when every manhole cover spewed steam, and every kick and snare sizzled a little longer. Havoc’s higher register skates across the production well, his direct bars bouncing off foggy piano keys and muted drums with ease. Havoc slides into many of these beats like a well-worn hoodie. At times, he becomes a little too comfortable, fading into the background of several songs. Giving its players equal amounts of stage time is The Silent Partner’s idea of fair trade.
7. Lord Steppington (with Evidence as Step Brothers)
Alchemist and Evidence are brothers in step. When two California traditionalists are so in-sync creatively and philosophically, it’s only a matter of time before they come together under one roof. 2014’s Lord Steppington is the first and only album released under the name Step Brothers; no filler, no bullshit, just bars, and beats meant for neck-breaking head nods. The steady tempo of Alchemist’s production clashes with zany sample choices, giving both Evidence and Alchemist free reign to have fun with their raps. “Fun” is the operative word here. Lord Steppington isn’t some grand rap manifesto. It’s two siblings hitched back in their folding chairs, embracing the joy in doing what they do best.
6. No Idols (with Domo Genesis)
A defining trait of Alchemist collaborations is his ear for younger talent. In 2012, he extended an olive branch to Odd Future’s Domo Genesis. Of his groupmates at the time, Domo’s flows had a more nostalgic bent, which made him a favorite among underground stalwarts like Alchemist. No Idols was Domo’s chance to prove he could run with the OGs he idolized, and he didn’t disappoint. Alchemist’s sonic palette is layered, veering from the gloomy (“Prophecy”) to the saccharine (“Me And My Bitch”). But Domo isn’t here to be tossed around: “Oh so cocky, you can’t stop me in this old Versace,” he yells on lead single “Elimination Chamber.” No Idols is more than just a mixtape as co-sign. It’s a veteran beatmaker sending a kite to a disciple he finds worthy.
5. Fetti (with Freddie Gibbs & Curren$y)
Waiting on a Freddie Gibbs and Curren$y collab album is one thing; waiting on one produced by Alchemist is a wholly different kind of struggle for rap fans. The weight of expectations is heavy for a surprise collab, but every player came dressed to impress on 2018’s Fetti. Alchemist brings a mostly steady stream of mid-tempo loops to the table, offering few frills to distract from the rapping of his peers. Gibbs and Curren$y waste no time using their different styles to zig and zag across the beats with deft bar work. Gibbs is a strict marathon runner (“Willie Lloyd”) to Curren$y’s careening distance jogger (“Saturday Night Special”). Moving at different speeds to reach the same goal on time is why all three walk away with the fetti and the fanfare to match.
4. Return of The Mac (with Prodigy)
Alchemist has more collaboration albums than most artists have solo projects. His work with Prodigy, however, creates a unique environment. The late Mobb Deep rapper’s mid-register voice mixes with Alchemist’s smokiest and grimiest beats to not just harken back to rap days of old; it extends them with help from a legend who walked these streets years ago. 2007’s Return of The Mack was the duo’s first project to establish their mutual love for full-length capers. Muddy organ keys (“Return of The Mac”) and swanky guitar loops (“The Rotten Apple”) give Prodigy room to lay out stories of screw faces and the spoils of street war. Every second of Return of The Mac drips with sewer water without ruining the finish of the whip Alchemist and Prodigy built to hold it.
3. Rare Chandeliers (with Action Bronson)
Action Bronson has a flair for the ridiculous. He thrives on beats as animated as his raps about eating exotic foods while cartwheeling off of yacht diving boards. On 2012’s Rare Chandeliers, Alchemist offers swelling loops to set the stage for some of Bronsolino’s most outrageous stories. Listen to the way he tells enemies to keep their chains tucked over the guitar wails of “The Symbol”; or how ominous piano keys and sharp snares of “Demolition Man” complement his request for green M&M’s in his dressing room. Rap is a stage for the best performers, and Rare Chandeliers is Alchemist and Action Bronson’s attempt at Masterpiece Theater.
2. Albert Einstein (with Prodigy)
We can’t create nor destroy energy, but we can exchange it. In 2013, Albert Einstein, Alchemist and Prodigy’s second group project, created enough sparks to power a nuclear bomb. The promise displayed on Return of The Mac six years prior wasn’t a fluke. Prodigy’s raps are steely-eyed, and punchy and Alchemist’s beats are sharp enough to puncture tires on the Cadillac. The atmosphere is purple with blood and regret, smoke billowing through bullet holes (“Give ‘Em Hell”), and bouncing off of brick walls on unforgiving nights (“Death Sentence”). Listening to any of these songs is a felony in the Lower 48 states. Albert Einstein is Alchemist and Prodigy at the peak of their collaborative powers, chasing demons with boom-bap.
1. Covert Coup (with Curren$y)
What do California and New Orleans sound like after you throw them in a blender? We found out in 2011 when Alchemist and Curren$y came together on Covert Coup. The project is a lean and hazy collection of 10 songs meant to sweep the rug out from unsuspecting listeners. Curren$y’s unique ear for vocal pockets both conforms to Alchemist’s production (“Double 07”) and punches holes in them to create exhilarating tunnels of sound (“BBS”). Curren$y finds the smoothness in jagged rhyming, complementing Alchemist’s ear for beats in a way no other artist has managed before or since. Almost a decade after its release, Covert Coup remains a career-best body of work for both Alchemist and Curren$y. It’s the grimy gift that keeps on giving.