The Alchemist Interview: 1st Infantry

1902 Views |  Like

by Alex Shtaerman

The true sound of the NYC underground is the most sacred in Hip-Hop; there is no question about that. There is no debate; you either get it or you don’t. If you get it, then you must also know that tingling sensation that creeps up your spine and hits the base of your neck like a shockwave, diffusing throughout your upper body, wrinkling your brow and making your eyes widen in a menacing unpredictably calm glare. Your head begins to bob back and forth slowly as your tongue forcefully pushes its way under your upper lip stretching the outline of your mouth sideways – and that right there is New York. If you know what I’m talking about then you are probably going through the motions at this very moment. Who woulda thunk that a kid from L.A. would be the next one making our faces bend in funny ways?

The new champion of gritty street rhythms and off key melodies, The Alchemist has produced tracks for Mobb Deep, Nas, Infamous Mobb, Jadakiss, Fat Joe, Pharohe Monch, Royce Da 5’9″, Dilated Peoples, Talib Kweli and too many other rappers to mention. Reestablishing the niche formerly occupied by the likes of DJ Premier, Large Professor, DJ Muggs and Pete Rock, it is no surprise Al credits Premier and Muggs among his biggest influences. With the release of 1st Infantry, his first full length LP, The Alchemist aims to do something he has never done before – put together an entire album from start to finish. Leading a battalion that includes Mobb Deep, Nas, The Lox, B-Real and Dilated Peoples, Al brings us on a journey that clearly showcases his talents behind the boards as well as his prowess on the mic. Many forget that before making a single beat The Alchemist was indoctrinated into Hip-Hop as one half of The Wooligans, the youngest faction of the Soul Assassins collective along with Cypress Hill, House Of Pain and Funkdoobiest.

RiotSound: You started your career at an early age out in L.A. working alongside DJ Muggs and going on tour with Cypress Hill, House Of Pain and Funkdoobiest; how much of an influence was that on you?

Alchemist: Yea man, that’s how I came up and basically was raised off of as far as this rap business and production; you know, around that circle. Ralph M, Muggs, T-Ray, DJ Lethal; that was just my surroundings. So hands on, as far as seeing physically, that’s how I got to see production at first. Rather than reading about it or hearing about it or trying to figure out what people were doing with their beats just by listening or thinking – I got to see it hands on through them. So it definitely had an impact on me.

RIOTSOUND.COM: Do you think people in New York underestimated the quality of music Cypress Hill and the rest of the Soul Assassins crew were putting out in the early and mid ‘90’s?

Alchemist: Nah, it seemed like to me New York and the east coast was embracing that. It seemed like they were showing them a lot of love. I remember being fifteen years old and being on the tour; I was with the Wooligans and we were opening up at Roseland and it was crazy. I remember they showed a lot of love to Cypress and there was no like east or west coast thing; maybe ‘cause there’s a Cypress in the Bronx and also when you look at Cypress Hill’s original imagery, it was so rugged, they were wearing hoodies and Timberlands and shit, like the type of shit being worn in New York. I guess Muggs was bringing that to the circle ‘cause Muggs is originally from Queens and he had family that grew up out there.

RIOTSOUND.COM: Coming from L.A. and having such an impact on the sound of New York street rap, what do you attribute that to as far as your approach to making music?

Alchemist: Just where I’m at, you know. I am over here right now and I am affiliated with a lot of artists that’s coming out of the east. I just know how to make that sound, especially living out here for so long. If you move to India or something, you gonna end up making joints that have that feel too. Anywhere you move it’s going to affect you creatively. You could ask any artist; a painter, a writer – you just have influences. Just being that I lived out in New York definitely rubbed off.

RIOTSOUND.COM: How did the 1st Infantry album come together?

Alchemist: It just kind of came together naturally. Just being an artist and doing what I felt and what felt right for that given moment in time and also artists I was around, people I have relationships with. I got a lot of friends – a lot of enemies too, but I got a lot of friends, you know. So I basically just reached out to my friends and everybody came through so it definitely was a blessing. There was some things that didn’t make the album that should of; artists that I was supposed to get on the album that didn’t make it. But I still got love from everybody; people came through and definitely looked out.

RIOTSOUND.COM: A producer’s album is different than a rapper’s album because in a way a producer’s album is also like a mixtape; how did you balance that aspect of it with putting your own stamp on the final product?

Alchemist: Just staying conscious of that from day one. Like alright, I gotta get this with my personality, you know what I mean. I wanted it to have a quality that people would enjoy like they would a mixtape or something that got all different styles on it that you might want to listen to. But at the same time I wanted them to know who was the man responsible. You kinda have to know where to come to these days as far as getting music that you like; so I definitely wanted to get the credit where it’s due.

RIOTSOUND.COM: You also rap on this album; how would you compare your style as an MC with your work behind the boards?

Alchemist: My style? Hmmm, I don’t know, I would say I make music, I cater to whatever is going on at the moment; so whatever it calls for – there are no holds barred when it comes to creating so if its something I feel needs to be said on a record or as far as the sound – if I need to do anything verbally, physically, mentally or spiritually, there are no boundaries. I would say as a producer I flex my muscles more often, so I am more physically fit in the realm of production as far as being top of the line. As an artist I say what I want to say and how I feel and try to make it relevant so people care and of course its gotta sound official. We all know what it takes for someone to be doing their thing lyrically, we’ve all been fans of this rap from day one.

I am one of the first products as a child who was raised off of rap music, basically there really wasn’t no other music. The stuff we was raised off of versus what artists in the ‘80’s were probably raised off of is something else, ‘cause rap wasn’t really around when they were young. I am one of the first generations of kids, especially also not being from the hood – it goes to show that the music penetrated a lot of realms. So these days as a rapper I just like to put it to reality, to me it’s about the flow and the rhythm. The rhythm of putting the words together in a clever way and that’s what its always been about.

RIOTSOUND.COM: What artists do you really enjoy making beats for?

Alchemist: I like making beats for my closest of friends – like Dilated Peoples and people like that. That’s what’s most fulfilling; it’s not even a job, we were doing this before we were getting paid. We’re getting paid now and it just really makes no difference. I do it for the same reasons, to get that respect, just to put the phone to the speaker and play it for my man and be like – yo, that’s crazy – or, save that for me or whatever. Or just to be in the studio working with a person I am down with versus just trying to send beats on a CD and throw darts.

RIOTSOUND.COM: With rap music getting so big, can you see yourself ten years from now making huge pop hits?

Alchemist: I don’t know. You never know with the success of the music, I wouldn’t even put a label on it. You never know what pop is going to be next week, it changes. So you never know where I could be next week, next year or next month.

RIOTSOUND.COM: What advice would you give someone who wants to make beats and do what you do?

Alchemist: Do it because you love to do it. If everyone is going out one night or whatever – just be like fuck that and stay home and just make beats. Make something that’s crazy while everyone else is having fun. Whether you’re getting paid or not – don’t do it for the money, do it because you just love to do it and you want to get that props man. That’s part of doing something creative – getting your respect for what you do. Do it because you want to earn respect and you love the music, whatever style it is.

RIOTSOUND.COM: Besides 1st Infantry, are there any other projects on the horizon that the fans should be looking out for?

Alchemist: Right now we are just focusing on this album. As new projects come everybody will be well informed. A lot of stuff is in the works right now but I don’t want to let too many things out. The album kinda got a late start so now that the video is out I want everyone to check for the video. Check for the video, the album 1st Infantry – we are also going to be releasing some DVD stuff soon about the making of the album and also the instrumental version of the album. A lot of different stuff; just keep your ear tuned to the street and, that’s the official website so ya’ll could also find out what’s up over there.