ALBUM: Chemical Warfare
SOUNDS LIKE: Spooky chopped samples x pounding drums x Cali Kush
FUN FACT: Alchemist claims, "I've been smoking so long, I'm probably higher when I don't smoke. It has reverse effects."
WHY COMPLEX IS CO-SIGNING IT: Chemical Warfare (out today) picks up where 1st Infantry left off five years ago. Al thoroughly chops both odd and well-known samples to match his trademark sound filled with cynical melodies and boom-bap drums, with a set of guest appearances by a wide range of artists from Lil Fame to Juicy J.
Kicking it off with the Kool G Rap-assisted "ALC Theme," followed by the menacing "Lose Your Life," and the Eminem-featured "Chemical Warfare," the L.A.-bred beatsmith flexes his forte early. The uptempo bounce of "That'll Work" doesn't boast a catchy hook, but the experimental loop rapped over by Juvenile and Three Six Mafia has the bounce of a South record with griminess of an East Coast banger. Besides the addictive single "Smile"---featuring a show-stealing Twista and a soulful Maxwell--- the album's standout track is the guitar-riff-heavy "Therapy." Yes, we're aware that the track's been out for some time, but with Evidence, Blu, and Talib dropping rewind-worthy bars, and a blazed-out hook from Kid Cudi, it's hard to ignore the song's dopeness. Also dope is the fact that the ALC has several joints (the aforementioned Em song, "Lights Cameras, Action," with Fame and "Some Gangster S***" with Fabolous) that are under two minutes each; the quick-hitters serve to pace the album like Primo's little segueway tracks on classic Gang Starr LPs.
After traveling the world with Em, Al was in town for a breather. In addition to the album review, check out our hilarious interview with the producer/rapper (below) where he talked to us about a possible Whooliganz reunion, how he almost got locked up abroad, and his challenge to Spencer Pratt...
KEY TRACKS (LISTEN):
"That'll Work" feat. Juvenile & Three Six Mafia
"Therapy" feat. Evidence, Blu, Talib Kweli & Kid Cudi
"On Sight" feat. Tha Dogg Pound & Lady of Rage
Interview by Jaeki Cho
Complex: Here's our latest issue.
Alchemist: [Points at our issue with Jonah Hill on the cover] He's a funny ass dude. [Laughs.] We met this kid at the MTV Movie Awards.
Complex: Was the Bruno-Eminem encounter staged?
Alchemist: Of course it was. They rehearsed it the night before. Bizzare kept laughing so [Sacha] was like, "You got to leave him out. Nobody can laugh." Couple times he landed on Kuniva instead. But the actual thing was executed so well and Em looked so mad. I talked to Prodigy and P was like, "Yo! Son! I was fucking heated man!" I was like, "Come on, you know none of that shit is real, man." Em looked so mad though. I mean it ain't hard to look mad with the motherfucker's ass on your face. [Laughs.] But I met him [points at Jonah Hill] afterward.
Complex: Did he grow up around your way?
Alchemist: No, but it was funny because we have mutual friends. Matter of fact, Jonah Hill is one of Em's favorite actors. Like Superbad is one of Em's favorite films. "Piss off! I was gonna do it, but there was a security breach." Em says that shit like 15 times a day out of nowhere. So when we saw [Jonah Hill] Em was like, "Yo, you got to come back and kick it with us." So I introduced myself and he was like, "Are you the producer Alchemist?" I was like, "Yea. What's up?" He was like, "Oh! I'm a fan. Were you in The Whooliganz?"
Complex: [Laughs.] In your past interview with us, you've mentioned your privileged past.
Alchemist: You don't know, son. Brian Austin Green [of Beverly Hills, 90210] and I ran that joint. I was the hardest guy in Beverly Hills just so you know.
Complex: I could tell.
Alchemist: Straight up! Any arm-wrestling match or thumb match...
Complex: I guess we'll have to holla at Spencer Pratt.
Alchemist: Holla at Spencer, man. I'll have a thumb-wrestling match or ping-pong. I'll serve him!
Complex: It'll be a triathlon.
Alchemist: Spencer Pratt it's on, B!
Complex: [Laughs.] You're a grown man now, but how do your parents see your current endeavors?
Alchemist: They hated it. They were like, "Alan, go get a real job! Marijuana is a gateway drug." They didn't understand especially because I was with Cypress all the time. [Cypress Hill] birthed me. Soul Assassins raised me. I think my parents in the beginning... I was active, smart in school, I could have done anything. I know you hear people say that shit all the time.
Alchemist: I truly believe if I put my mind to whatever... I was skateboarding when I was young and I was like sponsored when I was 12. I remember doing a contest in Venice Beach and I got fourth place for 13 and under. And there was this one guy who was doing the most outlandish shits way better than everybody that ruined my spirit.
Complex: Who was he?
Alchemist: He ended up being Guy Mariano.
Alchemist: He was like 13 when he competed. He was this little dude who was light years ahead of everybody. That's when I moved on. Whatever I did I wanted to be the best.
Alchemist: I mean a lot of friends I grew up with got fucked up on drugs. I'm from a Beverly Hills era when kids could afford to get high. A lot of my friends who didn't have ambitions ended up smoking weed to doing other shit. Some got fucked up and died. But I got past that through music. When I brought back the $30,000 check from Tommy Boy at 15? My pops was like, "Okay! I don't like your music but let me see how much you got there? You need a partner?"
Complex: [Laughs.] "Let me put on that Cypress Hill T-shirt... "
Alchemist: [Laughs.] Yea, until this day, my pops has a hard time understanding why I'm not as big. He sees Em and others on the level that they're on, and he doesn't...
Complex: "Why aren't you on his level?"
Alchemist: Right, he doesn't get it. When he meets people, like a black or a Mexican dude, he'll be like, "You like rap? You know who my son is?" He likes to tell people that his son is The Alchemist. And he bugs out on how much they respect me. So he's confused why I ain't a superstar. Like he sees the Eminem performance at the MTV Movie Awards, and they always show my hands. He doesn't get that I'm just Em's DJ. He'll be like, "Why don't they show you more? You need to be on the front! Let me be your manager!" He doesn't get it.
Complex: You pointed out skateboarding. What do you think is the connection between skate culture and hip-hop?
Alchemist: Well, for street skating you need to know the beat, and have your own style. If you have a wack style, it doesn't matter if you're technically dope. That's when cats like Christian Hosoi just come with their own ill styles. Another thing with skating is that you use parts of the urban environment, and you figure out creative ways to flip them. You're like, "Look at that rail that's used for somebody's hands? I'm going to bust an ollie and slide down that." It's no different than going, "Let me take that record and use that snare for some other shit." So in that aspect, it's the same thing. And skating was anti-establishment. Remember those "Skateboarding is Not a Crime" stickers? Skateboarding is anti, to a degree, like how rap was.
Complex: Since we're on the subject of your past, when will we see a reunion of The Whooliganz?
Complex: Are you serious?
Alchemist: You know what, man? I was listening to the album with Evidence in the tour bus recently. And Evidence looked at me and said, "Yo, you were a better rapper back then."
Alchemist: It was true, man. At that time in my life, I was like MC Lyte mixed with Grand Puba. I idolized them so much. I was all over the place with it because I didn't know anything else. If I fuck around with it, and re-master that shit, I think it can sell more than Chemical Warfare. Like Prodigy's son? He's like 12 years old and skates. He has a crew of skaters who are really good. They listen to The Whooliganz and they are like, "Yo! This is our skate music!" Maybe we were off by 15 years, man.
Alchemist: Scott [Caan] and I talked about it though. I was with him recently in L.A. and we hung out. We don't know where our masters are and we don't have a good copy of the album. They're all dusty cassette tapes. I have them digitally [in my computer] but you could hear the hiss. So we were thinking about making a fake documentary where we go to Tommy Boy and get our reels and digitally re-master the album.
Complex: Sounds like a dope idea.
Alchemist: We're thinking about doing it, but you know Scott is a busy motherfucker.
Complex: Since you brought up your old friends... if Brian Austin Green and Scott Caan get into a rap battle who do you think will win?
Alchemist: Kidding me? Scott's going to kill him, man. The original Mad Skillz. Brian Austin Green got nothing on Scott. He'll get smashed, man.
Complex: You're a big smoker originally from L.A., currently residing in New York. Which do you like better: New York's weed delivery service system, or Cali's cannabis club card system?
Alchemist: Do you like fake titties or real titties?
Complex: I believe in a woman's right to choose.
Alchemist: [Laughs.] No comparison, brother. Are you kidding me? I mean peace to my peddlers in the east but the best weed you get here comes from Cali. The most expensive you're going to get here is the Kush. I remember the first strain of Kush found on the record. The Kush was alive early! It's like a phenomenon now, and you can't go to any shop in L.A. without seeing one. There are so many variations so you got to have the O.G. Kush. I mean it's the best weed pound-for-pound, straight up anywhere. Cali kills Amsterdam.
Alchemist: What? They don't have that shit out there! The best weed in the world is in California. Go to 421 Rose if you have your marijuana card. It's a little publicity right there.
Complex: Then when's the highest you've ever been?
Alchemist: [Laughs] Ironically, in Amsterdam. Many years back, I was on tour as The Whooliganz in London, and we were smoking dirt weed for a week. So the first thing we said when we went to Amsterdam was, "Let's smoke!" We went to the coffee shop Grasshopper. We got a bunch of different variations, and started stuffing the bong with weed. I never forget because Black Thought from The Roots was in the shop! [Laughs.] The guy who sold me the weed looked at me and asked, "You sure you want to smoke it without tobacco?" And I was like, "Man, we're from the states! Tobacco? Shit, give me that bong!" That's when he gave me this Dutch look---this disturbing expression with veins popping out of his face. So we smoked it, and I got so high, I started hallucinating. I saw the dude who sold us the weed and he appeared to me like a devil! I felt like I was on mushrooms.
Complex: Then when was your most paranoid weed moment?
Alchemist: It was when we were going to Australia from Japan when I had a tincture [an alcoholic extract of leaves or other plant material]. It's like liquid weed. You mix like two or three drops of it with water or orange juice and drink that? You're high. So I took this with me to Japan. But in Japan, we smoked in the club that night. So next day we landed in Australia, and I didn't have any weed on me. I just had [the tincture] in my cosmetics bag. But the security dog sat next to me. So I'm like, "Shit, must have smelled the weed from last night."
Complex: So you had the tincture with you, which is flammable.
Alchemist: Yea! And they might think that's a bomb or some shit. So I'm looking at couple other dudes like 40 Glocc and I'm like, "Yo, let me trade spots with you." And he was like, "Hell no!" So I'm nervously waiting for my bags to come down. I thought about throwing the shit in the garbage can. Then 40 Glocc's like, "You throw that shit in there, you're done!" So my bag comes, I try to open it up to get my jacket because I'm cold. When I open it up, I see the cosmetics bag! So I took out the tincture, had it in the palm of my hand, and I put my jacket on with both hands in the pockets. Now I have it in my pocket. So I started to push the carts. And you know where you place the carts they have a whole roll of them side by side?
Alchemist: I let the wheels caught on purpose, so I could reach down and act like I was fixing the wheels. While doing that I threw that shit right under the carts. Yo, they gave me the third degree! They searched me for half an hour. At the same time I'm nervous as fuck thinking somebody might pick that shit up and say, "Excuse me? What's this?" I was never that nervous. After that time, I wouldn't fly with nothing anymore, man.
VIDEO: The Alchemist feat. Twista & Maxwell, "Smile"