In today’s age of indie hip-hop, the market is so dry that there’s only room for the cream to rise to the top, leaving many of the stars (and non-stars) discovered over the last decade, frankly, out of a job. Thankfully, a guy like Alchemist has proven himself, rising above the cold, dark and lonely underground, but never sacrificing his signature sound to do so. His new album, Chemical Warfare, addresses this fact, as Al humorously uses the album’s skits to poke fun at the industry as a whole, respectfully treading the line between backpack uber-producer and curator of gangster theme music.
Al’s distinct, sample based style has made this all possible, gaining respect from both sub-genres of hip-hop music, while completely ignoring the ring-tone and club rap formulas, but still gaining the respect of platinum selling artists. Chemical Warfare gets off to a bit of a slow start, first with Al trading barbs with Kool G. Rap on the “ALC Theme”, where the duo spells out sixty million ways to die over a re-cooked Clockwork Orange sample. This leads into the thumping, brooding “Lose Your Life”, featuring an axis-of-evil emcees, in the form of Snoop Dogg, Jadakiss, and Pusha T. While the teaming of these three seems a bit random, each do Al’s beat justice, showing that great production can bring out the best in it’s accompanying artists, whether you’re a fan of them or not.
Meanwhile, the album’s title track, “Chemical Warfare”, features Eminem showing respect to his deejay, with a cadre of maniacal freestyle rhymes, much in the same vein as his recent Relapse material. While this pairing is a match made in white-rap-fan heaven, it’s curious why Al’s never contributed to Em’s full-lengths, or why this collaboration clocks at under two-minutes. To this critic, Al’s “sinister” (lol) sound would fit right in next to a couple of Dre beats…
The album kicks into high gear towards the middle, with Al producing some of his best material in recent memory. “Therapy” is a gorgeous, hypnotic track, featuring an all-star backpack team-up of Evidence, Blu, Kid Cudi, and Talib Kweli, as Al’s winding, reversible track forces the head to nod. “That’ll Work” is a nice juxtaposition to this, as Three Six Mafia and Juvenile bounce over Al’s ridiculous chopped soul, once again proving how a producer can make or break a rapper. The gospel-tinged “Smile” follows, as Twista and Alchemist flow in double time, as Maxwell drives the hook for a beautifully executed track.
Al later closes out the album with deeper selections, ending things on a high note. Fabolous sounds reinvigorated as Al lends him an almost 90’s west-coast style track on the aptly titled “Some Gangsta Shit”, while Al takes it back to the 80’s on the reflective solo cut “Take A Look Back”, sounding like the score to late night Skinemax “AO” flick.
Alchemist’s sound is all his own, as he is one of the few producers left in the game that has truly mastered the art of sampling. He’s less concerned with making big, commercial hits, and more focused on letting his beats slowly burn into your skin. With just about everyone in the game giving him respect, he shows that true talent in this industry will not remain unknown, unrecognized, and underground forever. – DJ Pizzo
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