FEATURE: The Alchemist, Topdog/Underdog
The Alchemist has come a long way since his days of producing album cuts for Dilated Peoples and Mobb Deep. While he’s still closely associated with both acts (he produced Prodigy’s entire Return of the Mac in 2007 and is slated to release Stepbrothers with Evidence later this year), Alc has expanded his hold on the industry and is widely considered one of the most talented and respected producers around. Only months after releasing The Alchemist’s Cookbook—the follow-up to his solo debut, 2004’s 1st Infantry, the Cali native will be dropping Chemical Warfare on E1 Music next week (July 7). XXLMag.com recently caught up with the producer to speak about getting back in the studio with Eminem, what it was like to work with Raekwon on Only Built 4 Cuban Linx 2, and why Drake reminds him of Mase.
XXLMag.com: Does this album have a different vibe than the other?
Alchemist: I listened to 1st Infantry recently and I listened to Chemical Warfare and I think there’s clearly a growth as far as the quality of the beats. It’s like if you look at a flower in its infancy and you can tell it’s gonna be something and you look at it later like, “Yo, I didn’t know it was gonna grow to that.” It’s a good representation of where I’m at now. I rhymed a little more—three plus the bonus makes it four total. I’m sorry in advance for putting people through four Alchemist verses on this album.
XXL: How was it getting back in the studio with Em?
Alchemist: He’s the illest. How do I explain this? He definitely has enough money to never, ever, ever pick a pen up or utter a verse into a microphone ever again; yet, we’ll be on the road in Europe in the van and all of a sudden, out of nowhere, he’ll just fall out of the conversation, grab a little folded up piece of paper from a plastic bag and scribble some little shit on it. It’s literally 25 hours a day that that guy is on. If rap is a sickness, he’s terminally ill.
XXL: You guys had worked together before and of course he’s making his return to rap. How did you decide who else you were gonna try to get on the album?
Alchemist: Just me thinking of people I liked and respected and where there was mutual respect. At this point in my career, I don’t wanna have to reach out to someone’s manager who I don’t know through my manager to make music on one of my albums. I just wanna fuck with the people who fuck with me. That’s how I do my thing: who do I think is ill and I can actually get in touch with and build with?
XXL: Were there any artists that you would have liked to collaborate with that didn’t work out?
Alchemist: I was hoping to get Jay Electronica on there. Jay-Z, too. I also sent a record to Kanye that cause of whatever reason he didn’t get on. When you do an album like this, you kind of throw a lot out there and see what comes back. It’s never really anything personal, because I’ve been in the same position before where I find out later that someone was trying to get in touch with me. I wanted Scarface, but Face might see this one day and be like, “Man, I’m right here, I’ve been waiting for you to get in touch with me!” So it’s usually some confusion or timing. Having Face on this album would have been amazing.
XXL: You did a track for Slaughterhouse’s upcoming summer release. They’ve gained a devoted following since coming together. What was that like?
Alchemist: Those guys are sick. That’s like four ballplayers all on the same team in the schoolyard who are all really just tryna shit on each other—everyone’s bangin’ every time they get the ball. It’s a pretty dope synergy of four muthafuckas who are all nice. Crooked I, to me, has been getting better and better. He was always good, but he wasn’t fully on my radar till the last couple years and it was like, “Holy Shit.” Oh No and myself have a project called Gangrene, and I was like, “Oh, man, if Crooked I gets on this fourth verse he’s really gonna bring it home.” It’s on the album called Acts of Violence. Big up to Royce, too. Big up to the whole Detroit.
XXL: It also must have been crazy to work with Raekwon on Cuban Linx 2?
Alchemist: That was the shit. We’ve been choppin’ it up for years through the Mobb Deep camp, and we always bump heads at shows and it was always mutual love. Rae is ill. He went into the booth and sat down in the chair with a couple of lines like, “Play the beat.” Put the headphones on, smokin’, like “Aight, I’m ready.” And when he was done he chilled in there for like a half hour listenin’ to it. He mighta even passed out for a minute, too (Laughs). His ear for beats is crazy. All the beats that I play for other producers that I know they’ll appreciate, he liked those, too, so I knew it was gonna work out.
XXL: The video for the “Smile” record was recently released. How do you feel it came out?
Alchemist: Shout out to Jason Goldwatch, one of the best directors. The smiling thing could have been corny, but the way they executed it during the hooks made it work. There were label issues that prevented Maxwell from being in the video, but he really wanted to be in it. He reached out to the head of Sony, he did what he could do. I’ll never understand to this day why labels and management would do such a thing. To me, it would only make more sense to put him in it because he has an album coming. He really pushed to make it happen, so I gotta salute Maxwell for that. And the good karma behind that is that the video came out dope.
XXL: MTV blurred out the “Free Prodigy” shirt you were wearing in the video. You know what’s up with that?
Alchemist: I don’t know what to make of that. Maybe they’re trying not to condone that P got caught with a gun. I don’t know, I’m reaching. That’s an MTV question, I guess. I don’t think the reason they took it down was because they felt I wasn’t being sincere, so I’m not worried.
XXL: You were at the Drake show in New York recently. Any talk of getting in the studio together?
Alchemist: Yeah, we’ve discussed it. I might get him on a remix for a record on my project, but I would love to do something for him. Dude is super talented. I think he’s like of those rappers like Mase, not that he sounds like Mase, but where the females loved him but the dudes were not mad cause they’re like, “Yo, he’s ill.” I like where he’s going with it, he’s gonna do a lot of big things for sure.
XXL: What other young cats have you been feeling lately? You have Kid Cudi and Blu on “Therapy” off Chemical Warfare.
Alchemist: My favorite two rappers right now are Blu and Jay Electronica, as far as new artists, although I can’t even say that Jay Electronica is new. My best explanation of him is that he acts like a student but he’s really a teacher. He’ll give hope to people who aren’t as strong; he’s ill. Fashawn is really dope, too. He’s a new artist coming out of the West Coast. More than just hearing a verse here and there from him, you gotta hear his album. He made a great album with Exile. Be on the lookout for that in September.-Adam Fleischer