It’s been five long years since the California-born emcee and producer the Alchemist released his debut solo album 1st Infantry. Yet after numerous supposed release dates and producing countless hit records for the likes of Prodigy, Cam’ron and Lil Wayne, the Alchemist is set to return to the frontlines with his sophomore album Chemical Warfare, coming July 7 on E1 Music. He says that while the wait is unfortunate, the end product justifies the means.
“I’ve been working on this record for a while,” noted the producer. “I’m sure we were like ‘the Boy Who Cried Wolf’ with the release dates. Any [later], I was about to get put on the Detox list. So basically, through the long journey, when it was time, I was able to do a lot of records. The good thing about that is that some records that I did a couple of years ago for the album didn’t stand the test of time. Every time you make a song, you ‘re like “This is it. This is going to make the album, this is going to be the first song.’ As time progressed, I guess I was able to shake out the bag and see what stuck, and certain ones just didn’t stand the test of time. Some other ones got better over time. Same shit with beats. I make beats frequently, as you all know. Sometimes, a beat will get better over time. Other ones that I thought were just, ‘This is it, call Jay-Z right now, this is it,’ two to sixth months later, you’re like, ‘Good thing I didn’t call Jay-Z.’ With this album, I guess that’s how it ended up. I’m really happy with how it ended [up], but there were some songs that I thought were definitely going to make it that didn’t.”
Alc says that while Chemical Warfare follows the same format as 1st Infantry, its sound shows a definitive progression. He also describes the challenges of crafting an album like Chemical Warfare in respects to maintaining a sonically cohesive discography.
“Actually, it’s not much of a [change from 1st Infantry],” he noted. “It’s a good progression. It’s great. I listened to 1st Infantry again recently, just sat with it after the album, and I was like ‘Ah, good, alright.” It was a nice progression from [1st Infantry] to [Chemical Warfare], for a lack of a more descriptive and exciting way to put it. It is [an album] that reflects the time now.”
He then added, “Let’s say I’m working on an album with Prodigy…there’s a certain zone that I go to and it’s like a mentality and we’re talking about things everyday, watching certain movies, listening to records. That [experience] was like the input goes towards one direction. When I do an album [like Chemical Warfare], what do Eminem, Kool G. Rap, Juvenile, Blu and Maxwell have in common? Nothing, and I’m putting them on the same playing ground. It’s always a challenge when you’re doing an album like this to make it play from beginning to end and not make it sound a little crunchy. I feel like I’ve got to be…the string that ties all of these funky Hip Hop guys together.”
Like 1st Infantry, Chemical Warfare boasts upward of 20 guest artists, from the street-tested Jadakiss, to west coast up-and-comer Blu, to even former Cash Money artist Juvenile. Yet the Alchemist says that the process of choosing which songs would make the cut was something of a musical natural selection. As opposed to pick-and-choose
“I was conscious of a lot of things when it came to this album, but it was more about the final selection of records,” he noted. “It wasn’t like I had all of these names on a list and threw them in a hat and shook them up and I was like, ‘These are all going to be on these songs and these are the guys that I want and these are the beats.’ It was much more spontaneous and natural thing of working for three years. In the end, when it came time to pick, I really just selected based on…[a] more sound-driven [urge] than lyrics-driven as far as what made the cut.”
In a divergence from 1st Infantry, Chemical Warfare finds the Alchemist expanding his repertoire working with so-called “golden age” emcees like Kool G. Rap and KRS-One. The producer went to describe the experience of working with such legendary rappers.
“[Those types of artists] have got this golden sound that’s just so golden and shiny,” explained the producer. “I was like, ‘Let’s go back to the golden age of Hip-Hop and pick out…a golden, shiny specimen of Hip Hop,’ like a real, real, real chachkied-up rapper. So I got Kool G. Rap’s number, and I was like ‘Now this guy is golden. I didn’t even think about it. I guess I’m from that era. I really just thought about guys who I loved, like [rappers] who I would’ve been ecstatic to have on my album.”
He then jokingly added, “I was being selfish and really fucking greedy I guess, because I really didn’t think about…anyone else. I really was like, ‘Hey, fuck all of them. Who do I want to hear on this album?’ [It’s a] very selfish, self-centered way of producing. [Laughs] But anyways, basically, a guy like KRS-One, how could I not? KRS-One? Shit…I gladly can say in 2009, I have a song with KRS-One on my album, and it’s crazy.“
Another noticeable feature of the Alchemist’s recent work, in particular on the few song leaks form Chemical Warfare, is his use of percussive, MPC-made synth beats. He describes how he developed this specific style of production and how he feels it is unique to his production.
“Just on some real, real, nerdy producer shit, I felt like people already knew my sound at this point and the samples I use, [like] ‘Oh yeah, I know Alc’s beats,’” said the Alchemist. “I felt like I wanted to do a step [in a different direction]. Let’s put it this way, I started fucking with the MPC more, and if you listen to ‘Wet Wipes’ [by Cam’ron], you can tell it wasn’t a sample. It was just taking little sounds and playing them. Basically, I started doing a couple of beats like this. ‘You Ain’t Got Nuthin” on [Lil] Wayne’s album was like that, too. I started taking little pieces, chopping them…and moving them like hi-hats. I don’t know if anybody else would get that or understand it, but instead of moving a bunch of hi-hats around…I was moving around chops. All of a sudden, by pitching up certain loops and chopping them to little pieces and moving them like that, they almost had a percussion feel. It was like I don’t even need to lace this with all of these hi-hats because I like the boom-bap anyways, sometimes too much hi-hats throws me off. So it was like, ‘Ah, this is a new style I’m stepping into,’ and I made a bunch of beats like that. There’s a beat that’s on Raekwon’s new album [Only Built 4 Cuban Linx II] that’s also the same technique where I felt like, it might have just been in my weirdo head, but it was like I was starting a new sound…like when Large Professor came out and killed three bass lines, it was like you knew at that moment, it was a technique.”
Even after Chemical Warfare is unleashed upon the public, Alc plans to keep busy with his upcoming collaborative project Gangrene with fellow Californian rapper/producer Oh No. He explained how the project came about and how the two musicians first met.
“Gangrene [with Oh No] is up next, simply because it’s ready to go,” said the Alchemist. “Me and Oh did the project mad fast. It was more like a collaborative thing…I didn’t even know Oh that well and we came up with the idea, and every pitch he said to me or any pitch I said to him, it was getting hit, no question. Everything was a challenge, everything was exciting and it got done fast. [The] Gangrene album is like a zone. It’s just like the name ‘gangrene.’ It’s like a disease, some sick shit. It’s dark. It’s both me and [Oh No] on the beats, but it’s the type of beats you wouldn’t expect from me. It’s just a fucking zone, man. I love the Gangrene album.”
He added, “[Oh No] opened up for Evidence [of Dilated Peoples] one night in L.A., and I was actually trying to get in touch with Madlib at the time. I saw Oh at the show, and I was like, ‘Oh shit, I didn’t even realize that was Madlib’s brother’… afterwards, we were just smoking, and I was like ‘This guy smokes as much as me, maybe more.’ After like the seventh or eighth blunt, he gave me a CD and said he had just put out this instrumental joint and that maybe we should do something. I listened to the beats and they were just crazy. So I get on my email, maybe a week later, and it was a song from Oh No. I played it, and he was rhyming on it and shouted me out…it inspired me to make a beat that same night. I sent him back the song with another beat and I laid a verse to it, like ‘Let’s go.’ He sent that shit back to me in like 20 minutes with his verse on it. We just started competing, just frisbee after frisbee.”