Even though Schoolhouse Rock parodies have become a bit cliche in the 21st century, it’s nonetheless amusing to look at the cover of Alchemist’s “Rapper’s Best Friend.” One sees an old school b-boy with his gold chain and four finger ring carrying a ghetto blaster Radio Raheem would be proud of – speakers so loud they can apparently bowl over a canine, who immediately procedes to defecate on the ground. In other words, as A-L-C says on the back cover of this CD, “Fuck a dog, beats are a rapper’s best friend!”
Curiously the back cover of “Rapper’s Best Friend” also describes this as number five in a series, which means either volumes 1-4 were never distributed to stores or it’s an in-joke for Alchemist and his camp. There are no liner notes to speak of for this disc, although to be fair one hardly needs them when all tracks are produced by Alchemist and no rap artists need to be credited. As for the beats themselves they are largely culled from A-L-C’s best tracks over the last few years. Some are fairly obscure, some are fairly obvious. “Back Again” by Dilated Peoples falls into the former category while “G-Type” from The Product’s “One Hunid” is among the latter. These songs aren’t necessarily Alchemist’s hits, but they hit hard regardless. In fact as is often the case with instrumental hip-hop albums there’s a surreal pleasure to hearing the subtle intricacies of the beats when there’s not an MC over the top of them, such as the previously Jadakiss track “Still Feel Me” or Tony Yayo’s “Guns is Razors.” The best analogy is that of trying to look at a scenic mountain landscape through a tinted car window while wearing shades. Step out of the car, take off the glasses, and suddenly you see the beauty as clear as day.
Some of the Alchemist beats are familiar from other tracks, but flipped in completely different ways. “Stop Fronting” immediately brings to mind a remix of the classic Black Moon joint “I Got Cha Opin,” both of which borrow from Barry White’s classic “Playing Your Game Baby.” It’s hard to flip such a smooth groove bad for either Alchemist or the Beatminerz, but after owning and hearing the non-rap versions of both I would maintain the Alchemist’s execution was superior. A-L-C captures the same essential horny horn break, but lets the groove ride a little further, layers in some extra bass and rhythm, and even gives a snippet here and there of White’s deep croon. While Black Moon’s track is a classic for the combination of the beat with Buckshot’s melodious rhyme delivery, Alchemist’s “Stop Fronting” can truly stand on it’s own as a tribute to the original from a producer deeply in love with the R&B funk and soul of the 1970’s who can still put his own unique stamp and imprint on the style.
Alchemist is not a slave to any one technique or sound though. He’ll chop up airy pop with a speedy drumbreak on “Carved in Stone,” or opt for an original loop made up of heavy piano keys punctuated by eerie background noises on “The Thirst.” Even if you don’t recognize all of the songs these instrumentals come from, or the samples Alchemist used in many of them to create hip-hop masterpieces, the source information is not essential to understanding why his beats are a rapper’s best friend. I’m sure his work doesn’t come cheap, but if you’re looking for a rap song that will be remembered 25 years from now, kick your dog to the curb and use that money for dog food and vet appointments for a down payment on immortality.