In the first part of our conversation with The Alchemist, we talked about how he got his start in the rap game and how his career progressed after that. In the second part of our conversation, we begin by talking about his first solo album, 1st Infantry.
While 1st Infantry isn't a unanimous classic, it's still a very significant record. Taking ques from idols like DJ Premier and DJ Muggs, ALC sought to create a full-length project which he saw as the next step as a producer. The album became the blueprint for the second half of his career as he crafted a few more solo albums, but also produced entire, excellent projects for Prodigy and Curren$y. The album's impact is even clearer these days. "Been waiting to get a Alchemist beat since I bought 1st Infantry," claims Schoolboy Q, on the ALC-produced track "My Homie."
Al also told us about the hassles of putting together posse cuts, why Eminem apologized to him after doing a cut on his album, and the Jedi Mind Trick he sometimes has to pull on rappers...
As told to Insanul Ahmed (@Incilin)
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The Alchemist f/ Prodigy, Nina Sky, and Illa Ghee "Hold You Down" (2004)
Album: 1st Infantry
Label: Koch, All City
The Alchemist: “It was one good day in the studio in the crib in New York. I have footage of it. A couple of times we looked back at it, we ordered food that day and you can see the food on the table.
“I definitely went back to it to try to analyze where we ordered from like, ‘Oh we gotta order from there more often.’ I was reviewing the tape to find a secret magic ingredient because we ordered from there mad other times and we never made ‘Hold You Down’ even again.
“I flipped that sample and I'm just trying to make it say something else. It originally says, ‘Hold you Stan’ and I made it sound like down. P was sitting there and he's writing while I’m making it.
“A lot of beats ended up unfinished because he starts writing while I'm making them and I feel bad because I keep stopping to keep fixing the beat and he's like, ‘I got this. Let’s go, you can fix it up later.’ And a lot of times we ended up leaving it unfinished. It’s like I gotta race motherfuckers. I see them writing and the hours of sand is turned over and I'm like fuck.
I don’t know how me rapping was received. They probably just said it was wack and didn’t tell me to stick on the beats. I kinda snuck in on like, ‘Hey! Now deal with this verse really quick. Don’t worry though, the hook will be back.’ I never wanted to be the producer guy who you don’t wanna get a beat from him because you’re afraid he's gonna wanna rap on your song.
“Getting Nina Sky on the song was probably a management call. They just felt like they it needed a hook and I kept telling them, ‘Yo ‘Keep It Thoro!’ We don’t need a hook!’
“I gave them that speech and I guess that speech is wack now. They were like, ‘No this song could be better with a hook.’ I decided not to fight everybody because they are pretty smart people and Cipha Sounds was working with them and he told me, ‘Trust me, send me something.’
“So I sent him the song, they sent it back to me, and I liked it but I was so stuck on my producer shit. I wanted to be right about it not needing a hook but everybody was like, ‘You’re out of your mind. It’s way better with the hook.’ So I grew to love it. After a week, it was like thank God I didn’t listen to myself which is a rare moment. Sometimes you're wrong and that was one of those moments.
“Illa Gee was not my artist and I had no intentions of premiering Illa Gee—who’s my man and a dope MC. He wasn’t my artist and it wasn’t my agenda. P brought him through, he dropped a verse, and it was tight. I actually cut his verse down. He had eight more bars but mad people were telling me to take him off of it. Label people, like, ‘It doesn’t make sense.’ I said, ‘Fuck it, he deserves it, he earned a spot on that record.’
“I don’t know how me rapping was received. They probably just said it was wack and didn’t tell me to stick on the beats. I think it went well. And Prodigy was first on the song so you are into the song already and I kinda snuck in on motherfuckers like, ‘Hey! Now deal with this verse really quick. Don’t worry though, the hook will be back.’
“I never thought too hard about the rapping thing but I also never wanted to be the producer guy who you don’t wanna get a beat from him because you’re afraid he's gonna wanna rap on your song.
“So over the years I only worked and recorded rhymes with people who were really in my circle. My friends who fuck with me and know my skills as a producer. But I do enjoy saying dumb shit on my beats.”
The Alchemist f/ The LOX "The Essence" (2004)
The Alchemist, 1st Infantry (2004)
Album: 1st Infantry
Label: Koch, All City
The Alchemist: “1st Infantry was hot. I infiltrated so it’s real infiltrizing [sic]. I threw everybody for a loop, ‘What is going on here? Who is this Puerto Rican guy who’s trying to rap like Prodigy? Get him out of here B. Put on some real shit.’
“The reception to it was more than I could have ever expected. It sold almost 200,000 copies and that was like amazing. I never would have thought that. I always do something that I like and that’s as far as I go. I'm always amazed when I see a bunch of people singing along, I'm like, ‘Word? Dope!’ I know I like it, that’s as much as I can say.
If the Kanye thing was in my cards it would have happened already. I didn’t see myself the way he saw himself on the stage with that many people. You have to see it. I realized that I wanted to make what I wanted to make and then find my lane as I progressed.
“It was a big stepping stone for me because it’s like where do you go as a producer? I made beats for different artists and made a name for myself. People know who I am but what do I do now? Do I keep being this beats for sale guy? What’s the next step?
“If the Kanye thing was in my cards it would have happened already. I didn’t see myself the way he saw himself on the stage with that many people. You have to see it. I realized that I wanted to make the shit I wanted to make and then find my lane as I progressed.
“People hate when I rhyme. Like I read the reviews, ‘We don’t really care much for his rapping but we like the beats.’ So it’s kinda cool I get to piss people off as long as the beats are good.
“I love the fact that I can pull off a lot right now. I DJ parties, I help Gangrene, and I rhyme with too. I like the opportunities that I have now and I think 1st Infantry gave birth to that. I’ve been working with Schoolboy Q and Domo Genesis and both of them are like, ‘1st Infantry man!’ They were both really into it and it’s dope to see that it had some type of effect on people that I think are dope now.”
Jadakiss "Still Feel Me" (2004)
Dilated Peoples "Back Again" (2006)
Cam'ron "Wet Wipes" (2006)
Album: Killa Season
Label: Asylum Entertainment, Killa Entertainment
The Alchemist: “Girls wipe their ass with wet wipes? I don’t know what the fuck Cam'ron meant. Let’s call Cam’ron and ask him what he meant. I remember when they told me about the name of the song. They sent it back to me and I said, ‘What the hell am I about to listen to?’ But he killed it.
“I was on a mission at the time to do something for Cam. Me and people in his camp were boys. I just told them, ‘I'm getting something with him this time.’ I made it my mission. I kept sending him new beats and finally he said, ‘Aight we got one.’
Girls wipe their a** with wet wipes. I don’t know what the f**k he meant. Let’s call Cam’ron and ask him what he meant. I remember when they told me about the name of the song and I said, ‘What the hell am I about to listen to?’
“That was one of the times I got to do something for Cam. I'm a fan of his shit. I was there when they did ‘Losing Weight.’ Cam has always been so innovative and ill. People don’t know I did that beat because I really wasn’t fixed on putting my ‘Alchemist’ drop on everything.
“That was a turning point for me cause that was the first beat I made on an MPC. Since then I've been messing with the MPC. That ushered in the style I was doing at the time because I chopped a lot on ‘Wet Wipes. On some nerdy producer shit, I was trying to move the samples like how you would move high hats like chop shit and pitch it up.
“I had this whole style in my mind that I was trying to do and I did a whole batch of beats like that. ‘Wet Wipes’ was the first that came out. The next was Evidence’s ‘Let Yourself Go’ which is a similar style. Then I did it on Chemical Warfare’s ‘Keep The Heels On.’ Then I did it on Wayne’s album which was also like that.
“I was doing a style which I've [stopped doing since then]. I was like, ‘Alright enough.’ I do that for myself so I can look back and see my progression. Challenge yourself to do different things. The last beat I did like that was ‘Surgical Gloves.’”
Prodigy "Mac 10 Handle" (2007)
Album: Return of the Mac
Label: E1 Music
The Alchemist: “All the producers I came up on made albums first and then they got know as a producer. Like Muggs with Cypress and Premier with Gangstar. They all made albums and then their production was found after by people. I felt like it would be a feat to do that.
“At that point P trusted me and it was like, he wasn’t gonna rap on anything he didn’t like, but he was like, ‘I like it. Keep it coming.’ We just crafted it. Maybe it’s because he wasn’t thinking as hard because it was after the G-Unit thing and he felt like, ‘I gotta prove everything to 50 and people who are fronting. We’re survivors man. Let’s do a mixtape.’
“Then he was more focused on killing it and not on beat selection and so I got to craft it. But he had input of course. The name sparked it and we just went from there. The album was a moment of creativity for us that we were able to pull off.
It’s crazy to be able to do that with a company like Koch which was so wack. Sorry. The people who worked there were great people but the overall execution was s**t. It's amazing we were able to pull that off. Their meeting room smelled like pickled feet.
“It’s crazy to be able to do that with a company like Koch which was so fucking wack. Sorry. The people who worked there were great people but the overall execution was shit. It's amazing we were able to pull that off. Their meeting room smelled like fucking pickled feet.
“We did a lot of good things but it was a weird transitional period where they were starting to get more success with more commercial shit that wasn’t that. It still did good for them but it wasn’t exactly the direction they were going as a company.
“So to me it’s a feat that shit even came out. With good artwork and all that, not forced commercial bullshit. They limited it too but I think that shit did what it was supposed to.
“It wasn’t supposed to be a commercial smash, it was supposed to be some raw shit. It was ill because the outlets and the attention we got from that it was like wow. It showed P and myself that you just gotta do what you believe in and not worry about anything.
“I can’t take any credit for the video that was all P. He went on his own and did that shit he didn’t even tell me. It was so ill that’s what sparked everything. That was all P, I just saw it one day like, ‘Wow this is great. This is for us?’ He didn’t even tell me nothing it was just like he had to do something, but I'm glad he did.
“Good rap times. Let’s go home crack open a bottle and enjoy a little rap. Go home, pour out some wine, and throw on a little rap music to finish your day. It’s good stuff. Rap hor’s d'oeuvres.”
Pharoahe Monch "Desire" (2007)
Prodigy "Illuminati" (2008)
Lil Wayne f/ Juelz Santana and Fabolous "You Ain't Got Nuthin" (2008)
Album: Tha Carter III
Label: Universal Motown, Cash Money
The Alchemist: “I sent it to him to get on it and then he said, ‘I’d like to use it on my album’ and I made the wise decision to agree. He hoped on ‘Who Can I Trust’ with Cormega which I produced with my man Jonathan Lightly for the Violator compilation.
“They came to New York and they were the Hot Boys still and I can’t sit here and say like, ‘Yo I knew he was the one!’ but he always has been super dope and anytime we’d ever see him anywhere with Mobb Deep the love was always reciprocated. ‘We fuck with you. We fuck with you too.’ It was always, ‘Yo I gotta get you some beats’ in passing.
“He’s just like amazing, it’s hard to even pinpoint when it happened. He was so ill that people were trying to say he had ghostwriters. That’s how you know your ill, like, ‘Somebody else had to have written that.’ Like, nope, he wrote it. He's capable and he's taken his shit to new heights.
Numerous times I had a beat I wanted somebody to get on, they weren’t tripping on it, and I was like, ‘Yo can you get on this for my project?’ Then they record it and the next day the call you like, ‘Nah we gotta keep this, this is hot.’ So sometimes I gotta do a Jedi-Mind trick.
“It's definitely an honor to have contributed to a project with him. I'm never afraid to send him any type of beat. Like some artists you would say, ‘Oh I gotta send them certain types cause I know that’s what they are looking for.’ I feel like he's such an artist that I could send him anything. Wayne is ill.
“A lot of beats that I use people don’t see the light [the first time I play it]. I'm not saying they think it’s weak, they just don’t see it. Numerous times I had a beat I wanted somebody to get on, they weren’t tripping on it, and I was like, ‘Yo can you get on this for my project?’ Then they record it and the next day the call you like, ‘Nah we gotta keep this shit, this shit is hot.’
“So sometimes I gotta do a Jedi-Mind trick. That’s what happened with this song. That was supposed to be for my album, even Juelz and Fab got on that for my album because they weren’t fucking with it like that. I sent that to Fab and said, ‘Can you get on this for my album?’ He recorded it and then said, ‘Nah I want to keep it.’
“I can remember times with 50 when me and P played him songs. P would play him a Mobb Deep song and be like, ‘I need that beat.’ Once he hears someone rhyming on it they see it. You get used to that. What I do is just play beats over and over for people until they go, ‘You played me that already,’ and I go, ‘Alright, he's not one of those guys.’”
The Alchemist f/ Snoop Dogg, Jadakiss and Pusha T "Lose Your Life" (2009)
The Alchemist f/ Eminem "Chemical Warfare" (2009)
Album: Chemical Warfare
Label: E1, ALC
The Alchemist:“It's funny we laugh about it now cause that’s the era where he [Eminem] was just sobering up and he was still coming out of those accents. I was so happy and it was so dope at the time but he was kinda like over the accent thing.
A couple times Eminem has been like, ‘Yo my bad I had to give you one of the accent joints for your album.’
“A couple times he’s been like, ‘Yo my bad I had to give you one of the accent joints for your album.’ Like are you kidding, if I can get an adlib from Eminem I'm lucky. He's the greatest, possibly, of all time. Regardless of me DJing for him. Em is the man.
“I worked for him too he's a great boss. Great guy. Good rapper, pretty good. I'm expecting big things from him, if he keeps it up, at least some jewelry for this Marshall guy. The kid’s got something, a little spark.”
Slaughterhouse "Microphone" (2009)
Raekwon "Surgical Gloves" (2009)
Cam'ron and Vado f/ Kid Cudi "Ya' Killin' Me" (2010)
Album: Boss Of All Bosses 2.5
The Alchemist:“I actually hooked up with Cudi first. I forget who told me about Cudi, I think it was like 88 Keys. We were on tour and he showed me some footage of him at his crib singing and I said, ‘Yo he's dope.’
Cudi is just like Snoop where the minute the beat came on, he had the melody immediately. So he put the words on a little bit after and any beat we played, if he didn’t get it after like a minute, I'd play something else.
“Then me and Cudi hooked up. Plain Pat is my man, so he came by my crib. ‘Day N’ Night’ was just out and Paul [Rosenberg] was telling me he liked him too. So he came through and he just was like, ‘Yo I just wanna knock some hooks out for you.’ And he laid two hooks down on beats and we didn’t really get to get knock anything out for him.
“He was telling me he might sign to Kanye and I was like I think you should do it. He’s just like Snoop where the minute the beat came on, he had the melody immediately. So he put the words on a little bit after and any beat we played, if he didn’t get it after like a minute, I'd play something else.
“Then he knocked out the hook for ‘Therapy’ so I had those beats with hooks on them and I was like, ‘He's gonna be that hook dude.’ The way he recorded his shit was so perfect, like his doubles you couldn’t even tell.
“So I had the beat with the hook and I sent it to Cam. Then Cam and Vado got on it. Vado.”
Curren$y, Covert Coup (2011)
Album: Covert Coup
Label: Jet Life Recordings
The Alchemist:“It was organically planted in organic soil and the seed grew into potent strain of rap music that we clipped and cured. But we didn’t even sell the fucking weed, we gave it away for free. How about that. We coulda sold that weed right? Would you have bought that weed? It was good weed!
That’s my thing now [doing projects with one rapper that I produce entirely]. I got a project Domo Genesis, Action Bronson, Step Brothers, Du-Rag Dynasty, Body James, and I got to finish a Gillie The Kid project too.
“He came through the studio in L.A., the rap laboratory, and we started cooking immediately. He was like, ‘Can we work today? Can I record something today?’ And I was like, ‘Yes you can. If you can write I have a beat.’ We knocked two out that night.
“He came back the next day and we just kept working. At like three or four songs we were like, ‘This is a project. Lets keep going.’ That’s just how it happened really.
“That’s my thing now [doing projects with one rapper that I produce entirely]. I got a project Domo Genesis from the Odd Future, I also got an Action Bronson album, I got a Step Brothers album coming out this year, Du-Rag Dynasty album, a Body James album, and I got to finish a Gillie The Kid project coming out this year. So I've got a lot of funky rap in store. Turning it up man, watch out, here I come. Coming back on a horse.”
Schoolboy Q "My Homie" (2012)
Album: Habits & Contradictions
Label: Top Dawg Entertainment
The Alchemist:“I was out here in the West Coast just connecting. My man Brock brought him through to the studio with Kendrick Lamar and Mos Def. It was like a rap camp. We didn’t get anything recorded that day but that’s when I gave him that beat.
I'm gonna be honest that’s maybe one of my least favorite joints on his tape. That’s how good his tape is to me. No bias. I heard Habits & Contradictions and I was like, ‘Lotta good s**t on here I'm definitely not a standout.
“I'm gonna be honest that’s maybe one of my least favorite joints on his tape. That’s how good his tape is to me. No bias. I heard Habits & Contradictions and I was like, ‘Fuck, lotta good shit on here I'm definitely not a standout. I gotta step it up when we do new shit.’ I wanna be the standout, I wanna be the shit where your like, ‘Yo son! That shit son!’
“Schoolboy Q is so dope and he's going on another level. One of the best new artists I’ve work with. I'm hype to even be working with him. I hope I make his album. Q is on another level because he has his whole shit, his live show is dope, his personality, his music the way he records and writes is like no other.
“So expect good from him. Interscope, they didn’t even know what they were getting when they signed him up. They knew but now they’re really seeing. Shout out to the West Coast Puffy, that’s Q. That’s his code name. Code name Puffy.”
The Alchemist, Russian Roulette (2012)
Album: Russian Roulette
Label: E1, ALC, Decon
The Alchemist: “[That album is like] Red Dawn, Rocky IV, the video game Russian Attack, and every female Russian assassin in all the movies. Like that look. What was the girl who was going out with Flava Flav? Bridgette Nelson assassin look. And those big furry hats. I wanted to make an album for people that wear that shit.
It's a good way to waste 45 minutes of your life. Roll up, smoke, and wind it back. That’s a good advertisement right? Waste 45 minutes of your life here!
“I didn’t even use any Russian samples, it was crazy. I did some shows in Bolivia last year. I found a record store and the guy who owns the record store in Bolivia was Russian. So that’s how that came about. It's an eclectic mix of music for your listening comfort.
“It's different right? It's a depature, there's no big slamming beats on there, there's no outstanding snare where your like, ‘Wow that’s a great snare.’ There's none of that, it's kinda just morsels. I just wanted to make it interesting. It's a good way to waste 45 minutes of your life. Roll up, smoke, and wind it back. That’s a good advertisement right? Waste 45 minutes of your life here!”