Alchemist: Mixing Dangerous Chemicals

By Bear Frazer  |  01/07/2008

The Alchemist has finally gone mad. In 2007, the producer spent most of the year promoting Return of the Mac, the collaborative effort from both him and Prodigy of Mobb Deep. But while he was hitting the streets with the volatile collection, the mad scientist locked himself in his New York studio to work on his second full-length album, Chemical Warfare, to be released in February courtesy of Koch Records.

Though his sophomore set is musically darker, he recruited heavyweights like Snoop Dogg, Twista and Kool G Rap to add a stronger twang to his already rich devil's food cake. Also, Alchemist dusts off his mic skills and gets loose on a few tracks.

With the street date drawing near, Alchemist stops by to reflect on his earlier days in the Los Angeles hip-hop scene, explains how he is a great fit as Eminem's resident DJ, talks about the business side of producing and drops a few bombshells about Chemical Warfare. So what was it like living the posh neighborhood of Beverly Hills?

Alchemist: It was awesome, man. It was great. A lot of rich kids, Evian in the sinks. Oh, that's wonderful ... and quite fresh. So I heard you hooked up with artists like Shifty Shellshock and Evidence when you first started out in west L.A.

Alchemist: Yeah. The west part of L.A. had a lot of people end up doing a lot of things. Mickey Avalon, Shifty Shellshock, Scatt Caan doing the acting thing, my man Ethan Browne, you know, Jackson Browne's sign, my homeboy Bernard passed away recently, rest in peace. A lot of people came up from that circle. We were growing up together on the west side of L.A. doing different things. It's funny when you think back, "Aw sh**, how the f*** did these guys branch off?" DJ AM is another one. I could probably bust out pictures with all of us together. The sh** was f***ing hilarious when you think about it now. When people grow up, they carve their own paths and there were definitely opportunities available. The ones who took it, you could tell. There were other homies in our crew who didn't make it. A lot of people got f***ed up in drugs and a lot of dumb sh**. They couldn't find the focus. But the ones who did followed their dreams and did well. And we're all still family. I don't get to see all of them much. But it was cool. How was the scene back then?

Alchemist: It was the sh**. Hip-hop was everywhere in L.A. and there wasn't no categories and there was no lines. We skateboarded, we rhymed, we made beats, we went to the parties where they were dancers. I don't know if you know Will from Black Eyed Peas was ... he was down with our crew too. If you lived in the west side and were creative ... like every Thursday there was a party at one of the clubs on Sunset. Everybody would go there and have freestyle battles. Will won like three years in a f***ing row. He was always an incredible dude back then, but he was also a great dancer and great rapper. If he wasn't going to blow up, nobody would have. A lot of people don't know that because they see the Black Eyed Peas. Will was the best rapper out of all of us, and then, he started making the beats. He was sick with the beats before all of us. Nice. How did you hook up with DJ Muggs?

Alchemist: That was the same time coming up. Me and Evidence were going to high school and we had different crews. Scott [Caan] was my rapping partner and everyone on the west side started knowing each other through shows. Cypress Hill was running that. I think it was our old manager who had introduced us to them and we just vibed. I started working closer with them. I was already in a group. I was a young little kid writing lines and rapping, but that showed you right there what was going on with rap music. It was already invading. This was before us. The Beastie Boys made me wanna do that sh** anyways. Do you feel more people started to recognize you when you started working with Mobb Deep?

Alchemist: For sure. That started it. It really just solidified it I think because I started working real close with them, and I still do, and it became more than just throwing a beat out. I wanted to develop a sound with them, so people would know that sound. Like they call it the ALC and Mobb Deep sound. That's a sound on its own now. I'd play a different sound little bit and that's the sh**. But definitely, after working with Mobb Deep, that's when people and a couple of other heads in the game were like, "Hey." It changed. I still have people who come to me and are like, "We want that sh**." They know the type of dude I am and what to expect from me. They know if their artists and me vibe, and get on a level, we could make something that's incredible. People who know me know how to get the best thing out of me and that's when we just create. Right. You know, we always hear about the grind of a rapper, trying to play in clubs, get a buzz on radio and all that jazz. But how has the grind been for you? What was it like trying to build your name and in what areas does it differ making it as a producer?

Alchemist: I never felt like I was struggling like, "Man, I got to get my name out there more." There was never a negative energy. The energy was always positive. I think that makes a difference instead of me staring at a wall angry. Energy is energy. Mine was always positive and the ball kept rolling. There was never a moment where I was like, "Aw f***, I might not make it." I didn't give a f***. I knew the sh** I had was dope and I knew when the time was right, it would happen.

Once I moved to New York and gave a feel for where I'm at, I was like, "Great, it's a brand new season. Time for me to make my name and just build it up." It just happened when I first moved out here, I was doing sh** for like the independent records cause that's when Stretch and Bob were on radio, and Fat Beats was, when you could put out records and have a career like that. I was just trying to make something I thought was fly. I was just trying to get respect from people I respected like Premier, just to get the stamp in that world. I didn't give a f*** about pop or masses, or this whole image of how producers are. That was never the thing. It still isn't. That's why my career is what it is. It was definitely a grind, but it was more organic than I feel it is with producers nowadays. Nowadays, I feel producers got managers, lawyers and all these pressures, but back then for me, it was nobody. It was me in a f***ing room. I don't think I had a manager or a lawyer. I would make beats for a CD and cassette, I'd find out who was in the studio at the time because I was in with a couple of people and I'd call, make arrangements and see who wanted to play my sh**. It seems like production has become more business, or corporate, to a degree.

Alchemist: Yeah, I think to a degree on some level. I don't see as many new, young producers on the grind. It's just different. The business is more involved, but the quality of beats is not done. The quality sh** is crazy now. I see sh** from different people on the Internet, but it doesn't make it to the masses sometimes. But that's nobody's fault. Believe me, I know there is some fly sh** out there 'cause I hear it all the time. So I'm like, "Ok, so what J. Dilla did wasn't a waste because he gave birth to all types of new kids ... the generation of kids who are going to carry that song." So what we're doing isn't a waste. I think the production game, how it is now, it's corny just like how some things in rap are corny. As the years progress, the line is thinning between producer and an artist, and I really don't think there's much of one anymore. Sh**, Snoop's making beats? Great! That's gotta be crazy. I know Kanye West is very talented. I think the line is thinner, but it's great because it gives artists the opportunity to expand and create, and take sh** a little further and not doing something everyone is accustomed to. True. Let's talk about your first record, 1st Infantry. What was it like putting together that record?

Alchemist: That sh** was fun. It was like the next level after doing what I had done. It was like, "Ok, I made beats for people, did the beat thing, running around like a beat whore. I got done with certain camps and worked with them. Now it's time for the next level: make my own album." It was like a journey. Like how I thought it to be in the beginning and how it ended up was so different. I even have some preliminary notes on paper in the crib like, "Ok, these are the songs and these are the artists," and I like imagined if I put that sh** out? That's how I knew it was my first album; when I realized making an album is like a journey. You don't know where it's going to take you. Just like when I was making a beat, like, "I gotta put something in the intro or I got to put something after the first verse. I gotta flip the beat here." So I'm doing it with 16 songs on an album and it felt dope to me because it felt like I was putting together a product. Like a year or so after you dropped 1st Infantry, you became Eminem's resident DJ. How did you get that gig? Did Em call you and ask, "Hey Al, come be my DJ?"

Alchemist: A lot of people don't know because I don't blow it up and I don't wear it on my chest, but I've been managed by Paul [Rosenberg] and Goliath artists for the past three or four years. My brother, who is my official manager, works there and they together manage me. Paul Rosenberg, who manages Eminem, I've been affiliated with him right before he blew up. That's when Paul first came to New York and got [Eminem] the deal. I was there the whole time because Paul was originally my lawyer. So when Em blew up, he was like, "I can't even be your lawyer anymore. I have to be a manager." So we stayed cool over the years and I got to see the whole sh**. I got to witness the whole sh** and after the second album, Paul and I got back up. We did some stuff for Tony Touch's album, but over the years, we stayed cool. My brother moved to New York five years ago and worked at the offices, and they started managing me three or four years ago. I'm like family with everybody over there and have known everybody from the gate. So I think it was more like I'm not the most qualified technically, but at this point in his career and what's going on, they don't want to bring anybody brand new into the circle. I know the protocol to the camp. I know how it works. We have a cool relationship, so it made sense. Maybe he won't pull the illest tricks on stage and do the craziest "Samurai" scratches, but this sh** will be dope. Plus, the day him and I get to work on some music is going to be the sh**. So are you saying you don't do the "Samurai" scratches?

Alchemist: I don't really do the "Samurai Kowasake-Suzuki" cut, man. I really haven't gotten that one down yet. I'm still trying to get the "Crab Scratch" down. I got the "Lobster" cut down, though. I'm going to show it soon. When we go on tour next time, me and Em got something planned. Just remember the "Lobster" scratch. It's not ready for at least another three years. So, this is some serious stuff. I'm working on it. Three years ... 2011, you will hear the "Lobster" scratch. I almost perfected it (laughs). It's almost there, kid! I'm setting my watch up for three years.

Alchemist: I'm telling you, man. It's some sh**. I'm not a master DJ-miester, but it wasn't like Green was a problem either. But from whatever happened, they didn't wanna bring somebody in the loop who was a problem. But I'm cool, so it's good. Wicked. Speaking of new tricks, Chemical Warfare is being released through Koch?

Alchemist: Releasing the chemical explosion on Koch. They're responsible for the virus. It's Chemical Warfare, but there will be some exploding going on and some pyro-technics. There will be a lot of exploding going on. Yes. Boom. Bam.

Alchemist: Kaboom. Why go through Koch?

Alchemist: Because they gave me a f***ing sh**load of money. Man, that's all I can say. They pay me? Why else would I go with Koch? I don't know. That's why I'm asking you, dude.

Alchemist: (Laughs) Yeah, not to totally sh** on them, but they're cool. They paid to play. What can I do? Obviously, it wasn't my number one choice, but it's their business. And it is a one off, and we're here. Second official album and the last one I did with Koch too, so they're already in touch with the fan base. They already sold the product, so I felt like they would be the most equipped. At the same time, there was the cake that was a nice, great, fattening cake. Not fat free cake with a lot of icing, but they knew they fan base. Is there a statement you are trying to make with the title?

Alchemist: Not really other than the fact that it's warfare, man. Warfare. Explosions. Like, you know, mixing elements you shouldn't mix. But basically, it's Chemical Warfare because the first album was 1st Infantry and this is a futurstiic version. Chemical Warfare is the type of war that isn't fought with sticks and bats type of sh**, where people start dropping. There is a power you don't see. You don't know where it is and that's basically the concept. I'm not the most visual, but when I drop, it's chemical warfare. And the sound of the album is dark. Without feeding into it too much, I like how it came out. Don't expect a candy album. So tell me about a few of these records.

Alchemist: I got records and records (laughs). I got this sh** with Snoop, Jadakiss and Pusha from the Clipse, and it's like I would put it out right now, but if they're not ready to put the album out, then I'm not going to waste it. But I got a record with them that will definitely cause problems. I also got one with Twista, me and Maxwell, which well probably put out at the album's release. I got up with Kool G Rap this time. Me and him did some dope sh** on Mobb Deep's album, so I got him on two joints. He got a joint by himself and there is one with me and him. The one with me and him, it's some rap sh**. Rappers will appreciate it. It's real creative. I got some sh** with Keak Da Sneak that will f*** some people's heads up. What does Chemical Warfare say about The Alchemist?

Alchemist: The album is me in all aspects. I never really listen to it as I was making it. But once I listened to it as a whole, I was like, "Wow, this is dark." Whether I like it or not, it's me. It's like looking at a picture of me and going, "Oh my God, that sh**," but that is me. The album is a complete musical reflection of me, so if it's dark, then I'm dark. That's what's going on in my head. That's how I feel and creatively, when I put it all together, I think it's bringing to the game what I wanna bring. This is my response to what you think about what's going on in rap or whatever. People always want your opinion. Instead of saying what I like or don't like, I'm just going to put out this Chemical Warfare and it will explain everything.