Droppin' Medieval Science
One of the high points of the recent Queensbridge mixtape, Welcome to 6 Blocks 96 Buildings, is Prodigy's My Priorities. Anchoring the tape and highlighting one of the most prestigious QB MC's, My Priorities also features a production display that includes a throwback guitar riff, several in-and-out vocal samples, and some playful keys. It's energetic, carries instant nod appeal, and transforms Prodigy's often abrasive lyrics into something irresistible. It's also produced by The Alchemist (and originally found on the producer / rapper's 2003 mixtape Insomnia). But My Priorities is not the first the time Al and P-Double have ever worked together, because, going all the way back to 1999's Thug Muzik, Alchemist has cemented himself as a staple not only with Mobb Deep, but within the whole of QB as well; all in all, it's pretty interesting place to be for an affluent white kid originally from Beverly Hills.
Coming up under the tutelage of DJ Muggs, Alchemist then embraced a New York State of Mind, and address, while attending NYU. And although his early days included heavy involvement with Dilated Peoples, Alchemist has become best known for working with a group of rappers who are much less mom-friendly. First introduced to the QB side of things by the Infamous Mobb, since that point, this Beatmaker on the Roof has collaborated with essentially everyone in that span of 6 blocks and 96 buildings. From underlings to overlords, Mr. Challish to the M-O-B-B, Nashawn to Nas, these projects have welcomed a steady supply of a different sort of white. And while the absolutely disgustingly gutter, blade-ready, rob-a-stranger Shook Ones might be the most identifiable Queensbridge sound, for the past seven or so years, Alchemist has injected soul into the scheme and left his own noticeable mark.
Often touting his ASR-10 keyboard, Alchemist's sample-heavy production style switches from the brooding horns of Mobb Niggaz (The Sequel) to the more upbeat tempo of Big Noyd's Bang Bang. On that latter track, Alchemist takes a portion of The Intruders' Cowboys to Girl, "I remember when I used to play shoot 'em up . . . bang bang", and turns it into an instantly catchy refrain. This is a similar trick he parlayed into a minor hit with 2004's Hold You Down. Elsewhere, you can find his work on Prodigy's Keep It Thoro, where an exhausted near-shriek comes in and out over a pounding piano; here the repeated vocal sample is more of a sound than an actual phrase, but still quite effective. (This quick "vocal sound" technique is used as well with Mr. Challish's Money.) Then, as with Keep It Thoro, the piano is another prime player on The Grimy Way, but it's a single-note strike this time around, matched with an array of horns. Feeling more sparse, there's Al doing his the-hood-meets-X-Files keyboard thing on Trag's Love Is Love, and on Lake's We Gon' Buck, he showcases a set of eerie strings. These tracks all epitomize the producer's proficiency with any number of sample sources, able to manipulate them into a style that's at times soulful, at times murky, but always QB.
While the rappers listed above range from all-time greats to mere weed carriers, perhaps the most legendary MC Alchemist has worked with is none other than Nas. The first time many people heard Nas over Al's production was on The Lost Tapes, where the breakbeat appeal of No Idea's Original and the piano-approach of My Way were both leftovers from the Stillmatic sessions. However, the first actual meeting between the two came courtesy of Lake's 2001 compilation, The 41st Side. That track, Let Em Hang, especially with its shoddy singing careening all over, was a relative disappointment from the beat's side of things. Fortunately, Nas' verse-and-a-half was good enough to make up for any R&B mistakes:
Foes decompose in their coffinsNext, the trio of Nas, Lake, and Alchemist teamed up for Revolutionary Warfare and then its unreleased sequel, One Never Knows. Again, the One Never Knows beat is a bit of a misstep. However, as with the case of Let Em Hang, this is a song more notable for its lyrical content--well, its concept, at least. Nas and Lake both pose a series of questions to themselves, addressing a laundry list of persistent rumors: everything from Nas having a run at a number of R&B females to Lake shooting at Capone. But, as stated above, although Alchemist's bassline is prominent enough, and there's some definite atmosphere, the beat never really becomes too much of anything. On the other hand, another Nas / Alchemist collaboration, Tick Tock, this time with Prodigy along, got the formula just right.
Hoes creeping with bosses
No sleep in my fortress
Break day thinking of losses
Tick Tock floated around no man's land for a while before finally settling down on the 1st Infantry album. Thankfully it did find a home, because its layered soul supplies the immediate feel of a sleek '76 Cadillac, the sonic equivalent of swagger. The groove runs so deep that you could probably play this through the cheapest of IPOD earbuds even and walk down the street feeling like Youngblood Priest with a case of Spanish Fly and a "Get Out of Jail Free" card. Nas and Prodigy come off strong too, but this is the Beverly Hill kid's shine all the way. He's doing Queensbridge right.
RTA: The Alchemist QB Collection
Includes: Alchemist f/ Illa Ghee, Nina Sky, Prodigy: Hold You Down; Big Noyd: Bang Bang; Big Noyd f/ Prodigy: The Grimy Way; Capone-N-Noreaga, Cormega & Lake: We Gon Buck; Infamous Mobb f/ Mobb Deep: Lake f/ Nas: Let Em Hang; Lake, Nas: One Never Knows; Mobb Niggaz (The Sequel); Mobb Deep f/ Chinky, Infamous Mobb: Thug Muzik; Mr. Challish: Money; Nas, Prodigy: Tick Tock; Nashawn: Write Your Name; Prodigy: Keep It Thoro; Prodigy: My Priorities; Tragedy f/ Jinx: Love Is Love