Alchemist :: 1st Infantry :: ALC/Koch Records
as reviewed by James Corne

Alchemist is a man after my own heart. Coming from the grittiest, grimiest edge of hip-hop, he has championed a spot as one of the most sought after producers in the industry. And he's done it the hard way. Instead of conforming to what radio seasonally standardizes as the formula for a "hit," Alchemist focused on constructing the best beats possible. Instead of bantering to artists he didn't respect, Alchemist paved his way producing for rap's most sordid assortment of scoundrels, such as Mobb Deep and D-Block.

That is why Alchemist has earned his pseudonym; as someone who can transmute bland, base metals into gold. A man who can gild dusty, overlooked vinyls into gold records. A producer who can make even the scraggiest rapper sound majestic in a confines of his own soundboards. That's the Alchemist, rap's blacksmith. Fortunately, his diligence paid off with the unforeseen popularity of street anthems like Jadakiss's "We Gonna Make It" and Prodigy's "Keep It Thoro." Now Alchemist is one of rap's elite, constructing gangster-theme beats for everyone from Nas to Snoop Dogg to Ludacris.

He doesn't waste any time turning up the heat either. "Dead Bodies" features The Aftermath's new protégé, Game, ping-ponging back and forth with Prodigy from Mobb Deep to see who can get iller over Al's pounding piano.

Game: "We ridin to sugar hill bangin 'Shook Ones'
On the Westside Highway hand on the steel
If I like your chain, then blood spill
Cause I didn't get a million dollars when I signed my deal"

Prodigy: "Nigga I tie your wife to a chair and blow that bitch up
You better fire-proof your crib cuz I'll blow that shit up
I'm about crime for real, this rap shit is luck"

Next, The LOX triple-teams "The Essence"; but sadly, these three just seem to do better on their own. Graciously, Prodigy returns on the soulful "Hold You Down" to chime out a hit. He's teamed with Illa Ghee this time, and their scrofulous vocals contrast beautifully against the buttery chorus by Nina Sky. "Stop The Show" joins Stat Quo with the ever-impressive M.O.P. (Who I have personally anointed as the best cameo, guest rappers EVER. They just make every song they get on go fucking crazy.) You can skip right over "D Block to QB." It's a slumber party of all his closest collaborators like Havoc, Big Noyd, Styles P and J-Hood (who showed up late and uninvited), but the collaboration feels too forced and soon smothers itself out. The next track, "Bangers," adds Lloyd Banks to the list of Infamous affiliates. The beat is a pinch more playful than the Scarface-sonics so far, but remains inherently creepy as ever.

Then, just when you thought it was all sanguine, thug bravado and guns, Devin the Dude shows up on "Where Can We Go" to lay his patented, smooth falsetto flow. It is a steady, soulful rendition, full of jazzy horns and sexual innuendoes, that is just shy of Too $hort to being the new pimp anthem. Eventually all of Alchemist's old friends pop up. Dilated Peoples strum along the viral piano and rattlesnake tambourines of "For The Record." His old, Soul Assassin brethren B-Real manages to make an appearance on "Bang Out." It's an interesting track that combines a tweaked, gospel backdrop with a marching band's snare drum rhythm, all vaulted into fast-forward, which gives B-Real's surreal voice a nice vibrancy.

"We bump for the love and live by the gun
If we die don't cry it's just a party for one
Set me off like a warrior
remember my clashes
No casket, you can spread out my ashes
Back where I came from, once the shots rang out
Pop off at the hang out where the villains all bang out"

Old friends, recent rivals, Nas and Prodigy get together on "Tick Tock" for a laid-back gangster lullaby. T.I. and P$C banter over broads in the trumpet thumping "Pimp Squad." And last but not least, Twin and Alchemist close with a nostalgic, flashback track called "Different Worlds."

Finally, after forging numerous mixtapes such as "Insomnia" and "The Cutting Room Floor" over the past year, Alchemist has managed to assemble all of his atrocious associates from LA to NYC into one album. (Only Ghostface was missing, assumedly due to Theodore engagements.) His beats remain consistent: a sultry combination of iridescent sampling and stomping bass lines that exude a gangster swagger and scurvy attitude. I can't say it's encompasses Alchemist's best work though. At times the theme of old-timey gangsterism seemed to overrun Alchemist musical sensibility, such as "The Essence" and "Boast The Crime Rate." The album works best when Alchemist explores his soulful, creative side on cuts like "Hold You Down" and "Where Do We Go Now." These extensions redeem his reputation and stand out like blue flame in the midst of a coal fire. Overall, Alchemist keeps it ‘thoro' enough to come out a winner on "1st Infantry."

Music Vibes: 8 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 7 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 7.5 of 10

Originally posted: September 28, 2004