Sometime around the turn of the 2010s, The Alchemist moved back to his native Los Angeles in hopes of starting a new musical chapter. He was already a well-regarded producer, thanks to his work with rap royalty like Mobb Deep and Dilated Peoples and classic hits like “We Gonna Make It” and “Hold U Down.” But he was looking for something new. 

While building his first LA studio, he simply wanted it to be an environment that was “comfortable for people to create,” he says. He wanted it to feel like “a sanctuary.” That’s all an artist can ask for, but the open-door policy he instituted at his new studio, deemed “the rap camp” for a time, did more than that. Alchemist recalls having a New Year’s Eve barbecue, organized by Chuck Inglish, which ended up turning into a week of music-making that forged artistic kinships since credited with defining a subsection of 2010s rap. 

Rap fans can always be sure that three things are eternally looming: death, taxes, and a dope Alchemist collab album. In 2021, he dropped eight projects, including two with Boldy James, one with Armand Hammer, and a pair of This Thing of Ours EPs featuring a loose crew of talented lyricists he was connected with through his close friend Earl Sweatshirt. That torrential output earned him the distinction as Complex’s Best Hip-Hop Producer Alive for 2021 (you can see past winners and read the full explanation here). 

Alchemist says he appreciates the honor, but he has no plans to wield it over his peers. After all, he credits fellow producers for helping to motivate him to lock in the studio every day and make music. He says also compelled to stay busy, because he’s his own boss at ALC Records, which saved him from a previous industry experience where his “fate is wrapped in the hands of A&R meetings, record labels, and radio guys.” Now, his fate is in his own hands, as he drops free projects, bolstered by creative merch, vinyls, and touring. 

Complex had an extensive talk with the producer about his 2021 highlights, his thoughts on “underground rap,” how his craft has evolved over the years, and his 2022 plans (which already have him on the fast track to 2022 Best Hip-Hop Producer Alive contention). The interview, lightly edited for clarity, is below.