Beat Drop Revisited: Alchemist.

You know how most hip hop magazines will have that issue where they go back and gave perfect ratings (5 Mics, XXLs and what have you) to certain albums that they had given lesser ratings to before? You know, basically rewriting history to cover up their prior mistakes? Well, we here at ML have no respect for such tactics…

Just kidding! In fact, we’re kind of doing the same thing now.

Back in June 2007, when DJ01 and I came up with the Beat Drop idea, our guest lists were practically non-existent — in fact, our very first Beat Drop post, covering Alchemist, was just he and I. And I laugh at myself for suggesting in that first post that we’d try to put these out on a weekly basis. I was so ambitious in my early blogging days!

In our past few Beat Drops, though, we’ve established connections with some great hip hop bloggers (and even a couple of artists) — so, we reached out to as many as we could and asked them what ALC productions we missed the first time around (including his work since June 2007, of which we can’t fault ourselves for not picking). In the process, though, we encountered a couple of big-name first-time contributors who weren’t able to read our first Alchemist Beat Drop in advance, so some picks may overlap. Oh well, charge it to the game.

Are we re-writing history? Well, if we are, that would mean that we had made history before, which is something we wouldn’t want to say about ourselves. But, thank you for suggesting it.

Start here with our original Alchemist Beat Drop post — zShare divShare links (zShare’s been acting shifty lately) have updated for your listening pleasure. Then, read on and listen to what our special guests would add to (or agree with from) the list…

Download: High & Mighty – “Top Prospects” featuring Evidence and Defari (off Home Field Advantage, 1999)

“Top Prospects” is one of those beats I’ve listened to dozens of times and still cannot figure out how the hell the producer pulled it off. Released on High & Mighty’s debut album Home Field Advantage in ’99 and featuring Evidence and Defari, this is one of Al’s most surreal productions. The opening, spacy sample sounds like you’re floating in orbit high on oxygen, “calm as a Hindu cow” to quote Tyler Durden. It was Dilla-esque but darker and colder. The change-up for the verses features either a dirty bass guitar or minor piano cord with the octave kicked down to its heaviest and darkest range. In retrospect, “Top Prospects” sounds like a leftover from Deltron 3030 or Cannibal Ox’s The Cold Vein and suffers from three kinda aiight verses from Mr. Eon, Ev, and Defari, because none of them philosophize on quasars, Robotech, and that spaced out shit that don’t even make no sense. This particular chamber from Alchemist has rarely been revisited but it’s great to know that the same guy who produced the grittiest and most brutalizing beats for Mobb Deep, Freddie Foxxx and company got something for the lazerface in all of us. — Zilla Rocca from Clap Cowards

Download: Pharoahe Monch – “No Mercy” featuring M.O.P. (off Internal Affairs, 1999)

Searching through Alchemist’s catalogue, I was unexpectedly awe-struck when I came across the sleeper joint “No Mercy” on Pharoahe Monch’s Internal Affairs. My favorite CD of 1999, maybe all time. “No Mercy” features M.O.P., the monsters of hard rock rap, and complements the meeting of their raw energetic flows with the maniacally (pronounced meh-nye-ick-lly) lyrical mind of Pharoahe Monch. It opens with a themed yet subtle sample that fades out to introduce a hi- to mid-pitch string melody and an incredibly precise stab rhythmically placed. Inspiring rhymes as quotable as “You know that my hammer is heavy and it got kick like tae kwon do”, “This rhyme/ will remain in the mind/ of my foes forever in infamy”, and “The epitome/ of lyrical epiphanies/ Skillfully placed poems with carefully plan symphonies/ Who would be ignorant enough to have the audacity/ to fuck wit the likes of I and my tenacity?” , which gave me a shameful feeling that I was going to write about the beat “Desire” when I could give an ode to the type of rap that turned me out when I was young. An emotionally-charged backdrop for true lyricism the type of music Alchemist is known for. This beat is a historic landmark in the world that is Alchemist’s career. — Kirk Franco from Hot Block and The Last Dragon

While “Hell”, the track immediately preceding it on Pharoahe’s album, is a glimpse into the dark recesses of Hell, “No Mercy” is an adrenaline-filled ride through Hell itself. The beat sounds like you’re being thrown into the midst of a thermonuclear, biochemical World War III fought between Dick Cheney and Beelzebub. Alchemist salvages this gem of a sample from an obscure, B-grade ’70s action flick, The Last Run, and constructs the beat almost entirely from different elements of it — from the terrifying-but-beautiful string loop to the intermittent stabs to the foreboding flute intro. I like to put this on in the car driving home from work. Because after a long day of slave labor leaves you spiritually broken and battered, nothing else gives you that rush of power like banging your head and screaming “SHOW NO MERCY! For the love of this shit here, niggaz are bloodthirsty!” at the top of your lungs while the three other cars around you in traffic pretend not to look or hear or laugh. But y’know what? Fuck ‘em because this song is serious. — Quan from Hater Player

Download: Prodigy (of Mobb Deep) – “Keep It Thoro” (off H.N.I.C., 2000)

“Definitely “Keep It Thoro”… just the way he pieced it. For one, I know the drums, where he got ‘em from, and as a producer and a person that digs and like to make beats. Other producers like to dissect the beat. Like, I wanna pull the drums apart, figure out the pattern, see, ‘Oh, he got that from there.’‘ I wanna figure everything out to just make sure that I’m that sharp and vice-versa. I’m sure he wants me to be just as sharp on my level. So, the way he pieced it together — and it was so simple — and then Prodigy melted it. It was that dope. That and the joint he did… “The Realest” with Kool G Rap and Mobb Deep on the Murda Muzik album. “Keep It Thoro”, though. Oh, and “We Gon’ Make It”, Jadakiss. All of those are number 1′s to me, all three.” — DJ Premier (transcribed by Knobbz)

Download: Jadakiss – “We Gon’ Make It” featuring Styles P (off Kiss Tha Game Goodbye, 2001)

… also known as …

Download: Ras Kass – “Home Sweet Home” (unreleased, 2000)

Alchemist’s dramatic strings were an ideal backing for Ras Kass, the track’s original owner. But while Ras’ Van Gogh sat in limbo at Capitol, Al passed it on to a rapper who would actually release an album. Jadakiss and his LOX partner Styles tag team the track classically. Ras was obviously displeased. Disses followed, shitty diapers were dropped from bunk beds and when the smoke cleared (yes, shitty diaper smoke), the record proved to be just a minor success for Kiss. Meanwhile, Van Gogh remains unreleased. (Al and Rassy have since squashed whatever beef stemmed from the incident.) — Noz from Cocaine Blunts

Download: Big Daddy Kane – “The Man/The Icon” (12″ single, 2002) (also appears on DJ Babu – Duck Season, Vol. 1)

The weird loops of nostalgia and reverse nostalgia coursing through Alchemist’s “The Man/The Icon” beat are nearly too much to parse out. Let’s start with Alc taking “Lucky Me” — a piece of near disco from Philly soul legends The Stylistics — and chopping it back into the warm R&B they were doing five years earlier. Those disco party strings become warm Thom Bell orchestration, near Santa Esmeralda horns revert back to the gloriously maudlin sound we associate with The Stylistics; it’s all tight and immediate instead of loose and bell-bottom ready. Alchemist’s fingers are no doubt dusty due to DJ Premier, but he’s particularly Primo-like on this track. The sample’s chopped so tight the record fuzz is barely there, and the focused-but-all-over-the-place drums invoke boom bap in a major way. Then, the rapping starts and you’re in the ’80s with Big Daddy Kane. Oh yeah, and there’s scratching from Mister Cee, who goes way back with Kane and had a hand in the ’90s hip-hop too. In a way, Cee brings the whole thing together, musically and conceptually. So, you’ve got a disco song turned into a blaxploitation banger, produced in the style of DJ Premier, with a rapper more from the Marley Marl era, that’s also undeniably the rarified work of the Alchemist. This beat sees beyond all the superficially disparate elements at work and comes together to sound current and nostalgic, with one foot actually in the past; an apt description for Alchemist’s production as a whole. — Brandon Soderberg from No Trivia

Download: Infamous Mobb – “Mobb Niggaz” feat. Prodigy (off Special Edition, 2002)

The ONLY reason I bought the album WAS because of the fact that Alchemist had his hands in a sizable chunk. Lord knows it wasn’t for the lyrical abilities of the ol’ IM3. I figured I couldn’t go wrong with a bit of Prodigy in the mix either. The song itself is perfect Champion-hoody-Carhartt-jean-and-concealed-carry music. That stupid horn sample makes you automatically throw on a screw face and limp for no apparent reason. One thing about Alchemist is that he can find that one loop that’ll send us beatmakers back to the lab. Had the Infamous Mobb actually been OK at rhyming, this song could have been beyond belief… but since they weren’t, I just have to marvel at the beat… kicko. — $port from Way More Fresher

Download: Alchemist – “Hold You Down” featuring Prodigy, Illa Ghee and Nina Sky (off 1st Infantry, 2004)

The first one that comes to mind with Alchemist, ‘cause I just seen the video for it last night on MTV Jams. I forgot about the joint, and when I seen it last night, I was like ‘Damn, that joint was dope!’ “Hold You Down” with Prodigy on it. That track was ridiculous to me when I first heard it. Especially because after I heard the track, I found out that I had the sample, and I was kinda salty about that shit. Like, ‘Damn!’ [laughs]. Wish I woulda chopped it up!” — Black Milk (transcribed by AaronM, full interview coming soon)

Download: Cam’ron – “Wet Wipes” (off Killa Season, 2006)

“Keep It Thoro” goes hard. Simple two-note piano loop on the verses, into that amazing full-on instrumental coda — it’s a really clever structure (“Heavy airplay all day with no chorus…”) and you almost forget how good the beat is because it’s such a showcase for Prodigy’s mobbphonics and infamousbonics. I think the best producers make tracks to complement the artist rather than overshadow them and “Keep It Thoro” is the textbook example… alternately, there are a million people that could have ripped “Wet Wipes” (no offense to Killa), it’s just a dooooope beat on its own. The synth-ed out Earth, Wind & Fire flip is unexpected — sonically, it’s a real departure from Alchemist’s boom bap-ier stuff, but still maintains his signature feel. At the time I thought he was gonna go further in this new direction (see also: Mobb Deep – “Cobra”) but then he went back to shit with a more traditional feel. I like that he’s exploring the sound again on records like the new CNN single “Follow The Dollar” — I’m really looking forward to Chemical Warfare. — Nick Catchdubs (still on tour, too!)

Download: Evidence – “Letyourselfgo” feat. Alchemist and Phonte of Little Brother (off The Weatherman LP, 2007)

I’ve been a fan of Alchemist after first hearing “No Mercy” by Pharoahe Monch (off Internal Affairs) and have since been keeping tabs on his amazing production skills. Before moving to Queens, New York to work tediously with the infamous Mobb Deep, Alchemist lent his hand and MPC to one of Dilated Peoples’ most recognizable albums, The Platform. And, ever since, Dilated front man Evidence and Alchemist formed a close relationship, which in turn inspired the monotone MC to pick production up himself — which leads us to Evidence’s debut solo, The Weatherman LP, where Alchemist handcrafted 5 of the 21 cuts, my favorite being “Letyourselfgo”. The song starts off with his trademark choppage of a soulful sample (I’ve yet to figure out the original sample!) and slow marching drums and a slightly high-pitched synth which occasionally slips in and out. This is definitely a neck breaker — and Evidence sets it off speaking on sticking persistently to his grind in order to reach where he stands today. Phonte lends his vocals for the hook and Alchemist spits the second verse, focusing on his come up from his humble beginnings in LA, the ABB record label, as well as life behind the boards. Although it may not be a certified “classic” track, it works for me, both sonically and lyrically — subtle, yet enough head-nodding snap to give you whiplash. — Ges from KNOWxONE’s Business

Download: Pharoahe Monch – “Desire” (off Desire, 2007)

I’ve been bumping this since June of last year, and I still can’t kill it. Al stretches and stutters some lovely soulful strings and pairs them with thudding claps. The M.O.P. samples woven into the beat are genius. It’s a testament to Al’s talent that a year and a half after “Desire” dropped, I’m still discovering parts of the beat I’ve never noticed before. Put on a good pair of headphones so you can hear the bass line that subtly echoes the melody of the strings. Pharaohe and Alchemist need to do more tracks together. — AaronM

Download: Prodigy – “The Life” (off H.N.I.C. Pt. 2, 2008)

I don’t know what sample Al flipped, or what instrument he played, or what small animal he tortured to create the wailing, screeching sound effect that stretches over every 4 bars of this beat, and sounds like it’s in stereo halfway through. But, whatever is was, it was well worth it, because this shit is beyond ill… unless, maybe, it was that third option. (I’ll take this moment to state that neither ML nor any of its contributors support or condone cruelty to animals.) — Buhizzle

Download: Evidence – “Calmly Smoke” featuring Alchemist (off The Layover EP, 2008 (forthcoming))

I don’t even smoke and I’ve been bumping this nonstop since it dropped. Everything about this track is so precisely put together. The delicate keys over the pounding bassline perfectly create the “psychedelic, dreamlike quality” described by the voice in the beginning. And the beat dropping on the bong hits effectively cancels out those “Just Say No” ads. It’s that awesome. — Knobbz

Download: Alchemist – “Key To The City” featuring Prodigy and Nina Sky (off Chemical Warfare, 2008 (forthcoming))

I’m going to have to put it down on “Key To The City”, the lead single off Chemical Warfare. I could slap this beat on repeat all day and I’ll be vibing out just as hard in the early morning as I would be in the late night. The half-time intro should tip you off to the ridiculous funk that follows — it’s that setup that just reels you in. Alchemist smacked it out of the park with this one. He creates this beefy, organic, absurdly soulful motion that only masterful producers can nail. Sample-wise, I’ve heard Primo hint at this — it just embodies a funk that makes you move. You really can’t help it. This one is something special, feels good. Grown-folk music, you betta check yo’ self, sucka! — Jorge at Bang The Box

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  1. Beat Drop Revisited: Alchemist @ Metal Lungies « HaterPlayer

    [...] Beat Drop Revisited: Alchemist @ Metal Lungies 27 10 2008 I had the pretty prestigious honor (like seriously, I’m kinda high off this) of being invited to participate in one of Metal Lungies’ renowned Beat Drops. For Beat Drops, Metal Lungies invites various bloggers and even artists that they’ve connected with to talk about their favorite beats from a single producer. This time, the subject is Alchemist. They only let us choose one beat each this time which is actually great because I know criminally little about Alc. I chose Pharoahe Monch’s “No Mercy” with the incomparable M.O.P. because I’m always trying to find excuses to talk about Pharoahe. Writing my contribution for the Beat Drop was actually the inspiration for the brand new Mondays with Monchichi series. Check it out: While “Hell”, the track immediately preceding it on Pharoahe’s album, is a glimpse… [...]


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