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

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  • Pierzy

    I think 1st Infantry is a bit underrated. That’s a sick album…

  • http://-- gaddic

    I respect Em for keeping this guy in his camp
    His beats are ill and overall he’s a talented and growing musical genius
    Can’t wait for the album!

  • http://www.myspace.com/maxprofit Max Profit

    Alchemist always does good interviews. No hater talk and real opinions.

  • Beergangsta

    Every since Alchemist got that 350,000 from Universal. He fell real Royality. That’s what make me won’t to hurry up and DJ and do Beat Making. These guys are living it up. I hope to meet Alc see one day when I get this DJaying and Beat Making down pack.

  • 619

    Heard ‘Chemical Warfare’, and I wasn’t really feelin’ it as much as some of Al’s previous stuff. I don’t know if 2006′s ‘No Days Off’ counts as an official album since it’s not mentioned up top, but I liked that one better, with a couple hardcore joints from Prodigy, joints from Ras Kass, Evidence, and Dogg Pound’s reunion. If you haven’t heard ‘No Days Off’, check it out.

  • oskamadison

    Alchemist is ill. 1st Infantry was OK but that Insomnia mixtape was smashing that. Same for the No Days Off joint. I’m checkin’ for thatChemical Warfare joint.

  • $ykotic

    About time Alc is getting his sunshine.

  • Lion

    Yes… buy this album, I know I will.

    I dont usualy blog n shit but this album is Rediculous! It is perfectly balanced start to finish. You can really feel his progretion from his past to present. The many grimmy sounding skits throughout give the album a very uniqe feeling. There were Perfect collabs from three six mafia (which have a fuckin reciculouse beat to glide over!) to talib, twista, snoop, jada, fab, DPG, and so on, ohh and KRS who put it down like I havnt heard for a loong time. The artist matched the production seamlesly and so do the rhymes to rythem. GREAT WORK…( CLASIC ) This Will Sit comfertably next to DETOX

    Thank You Alc for Keepin It Real

  • Teddy

    haha in that pic AL looks like spitting image of a white version of prodigy check the mean mug squinted eyes hahah

  • matty21

    Tyte sht alch! keep dat sht up, realll good sht….really feelin alchemist and da interview piece….gooood sht

  • joey doe

    1st infantry was way way better than this new album first off. i dont know but ALC is like a person i look up to overall in music and i was kinda dissapointed with the first listen to the new LP. He could have done a better job on the beats and got NAS on it somehow, NAS is falling off hard and needed to put down some hard shit on this album to keep his brand out there. Also very stupid that the title track “chemical warfare” by Eminem is about 1 minute long and one of the illest Em verses I ever heard, what the hell is going on with that song and why didnt they make that at least a 4 minute song? The asshole that interviewed ALC on here for XXL didnt bother to ask this question? Fucking moron! There now your magazine wont have so much trouble to sell. ha. later haters. learn love life Joey Doe. Hip Hop lifer.