Alchemist isn’t slowing down. The 36-year-old producer/MC is pumping out quality project after quality project, and producing entire LPs at a rate that’s hard to believe. Since 2010, Alchemist has produced the entirety of (with the exception of co-production work with Oh No on the Gangrene projects) a total of 13 collaborative albums. Rappers like Prodigy and Boldy James sounded right at home over strictly Alchemist beats, but it was collaborations with rappers like Curren$y and Action Bronson that proved Alchemist could adapt to anyone’s style. His production techniques don’t necessarily change, but his moods can depending on who he’s working with. It could be argued that Alchemist makes the type of music that comes off as one-dimensional. His sample/string driven crime capers move along comfortably in largely mid-tempo beats, and one project can definitely end up sounding like another. But for someone as consistent as Alchemist, there’s really no complaining. Quality beats are always a given, while the rappers he works with don’t always pull their weight.
And then there’s Evidence. The two have been working together for about 14 years since (obviously) the early days of Dilated Peoples. Evidence and Alchemist remind me so much of each other because they both put out consistently quality, though not always outstanding, work in their respective fields. Furthermore, Evidence even makes some beats from time to time and Alchemist has been rapping since his first solo outing in 2004 with 1st Infantry. Neither are anything special in this regard, but my point is both of these guys are really made for each other. The best tracks on Evidence’s 2011 project Cats and Dogs were the ones Alchemist produced. Now, in 2014, we’re getting a full-length LP and yes, it sounds like what you would expect.
Evidence and Alchemist together are Step Brothers, and their album is Lord Steppington. The project has been hinted at for a while, but not much on the LP really ever got released up until a few days ago when we heard the Action Bronson featured track “Mums in the Garage”. Things start off on a high note with “More Wins”. The opener boasts a soulful vocal sample, looped-up in typical Alchemist fashion. From the get-go, we hear Alchemist himself trading bars with Ev and it’s clear that Lord Steppington will be a collaboration between rapper and producer/rapper a la Run The Jewels. This is disappointing in only one way, and that’s the fact that Alchemist can only rap around half as well as he can produce. That isn’t to say he sounds bad — his voice sounds like an MC’s should — but he doesn’t say much and his flow is a bit slow, not unlike fellow producer/rapper Madlib. Still, his lyrics here are pretty much the best they’ve been since 1st Infantry and again, the chemistry between the two is undeniable.
Track two “Dr. Kimble” sounds like an outtake from the Boldy James project with John Carpenter synths and strings again looped in the way that we’re all used to. Alchemist is a talented manipulator of not only funk/soul samples, but electronics as well. We hear a fuzzed out psych guitar on “Byron G” that sounds a bit like some of the stuff we heard on Alchemist’s 2012 solo outing Russian Roulette. The track features a nice verse from the ever-improving Domo Genesis, but the beat grows tired due to a simple lack of variation. The guitars continue on “Legendary Mesh”, a hard and menacing song with some nice Evidence lines (“still I’m so personal in third person offerings/Look ma, a verse is what I caught again/I said it to the mic and poof appeared an audience.”)
“Swimteam Rastas” embodies the classic sound that these two have developed for over a decade. Alchemist starts out with a droning whistle sound (or maybe a car horn?) with drums accompanied by an eerie ride cymbal with a faint and muted bass interjecting periodically. About two minutes in the beat completely changes up in a way that reminds me of DJ Premier, and the track transitions from threatening to slightly upbeat. For a third time, the beat changes again around the three minute mark and “Swimteam Rastas” finishes up as a definite highlight of Lord Steppington.
Frequent Alchemist collaborator Roc Marciano shows up on “See the Rich Man Play” which sounds a bit like something Marciano himself would produce with a pitched vocal loop laid over wispy and barely-present drums. Underrated California rapper Fashawn contributes a verse on “Banging Sound” and Rakaa Iriscience appears on the Dilated reunion track “Tomorrow”.
Step Brothers are a team that you would think would have existed long before 2014, but Alchemist puts in enough work for it to be understandable. Lord Steppington doesn’t really feature anything that sounds like something we haven’t head before, but it’s up to the listener whether or not this should be considered a criticism. The beats are solid, the rhymes are solid and isn’t that really all hip hop music should boil down to? Call it an acquired taste, but at least give Alchemist props for making so much music these days.
Listen to the whole thing below.