The Alchemist and Just Blaze are making New York hip-hop relevant again. I know how pretentious and sweeping this statement is to anyone who doesn’t know much about the Alchemist and Just Blaze; I also know how evident it is to anyone who pays even the vaguest bit of attention to rap music not being made in Atlanta, New Orleans or Houston. But it’s no less true: They’ve made some of the greatest New York anthem beats of the last five years, and I think it’s got a lot to do with the fact that they produce records for artists who aren’t from New York. It’s become a way for these guys to show people outside of the city what they’re doing while also avoiding the panhandling that comes with the tired and archaic “Let’s bring the Apple back” shit.
All of this is ironic, because the Alchemist isn’t even from New York — he’s originally from California — and out of all the many great emcees still left in New York City (and there are a lot), he ends up working with the now-awful Mobb Deep more than anyone else. It’s how he got his start, back in ’99 on that group’s last decent album, Murda Muzik, and his loyalty is admirable to say the least. But he’s clearly doing them the bigger favor now.
The Alchemist’s beats — all street lights and grit and geographically unclassifiable — are so good they make Prodigy — who sounds, and I’m not being mean about this, like he’s forgotten how to rap — sound somewhat alive again. They’re so good they can give Tony “Flow Like a Wooden Donut” Yayo the best solo song he’ll probably ever make (“Gunz Is Razors”). They also work perfectly for a skilled dude like Cam’ron, who checks in on The Chemistry Files with the mixtape favorite “Wet Wipes.” The track, synth-blistered with echo-kicks that sound great over the “Da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-damn!” thing Cam does, perfectly complements his fly-guy hustler persona, something Killa seems to have adopted from either New Jack City or the ’80s-based drugs-to-riches flick Paid in Full, or both. Veteran AZ, who to everyone’s surprise has been killing verses lately, also feels right at home on “Professional Style.”
Mobb Deep, in one incarnation or another, still manages to find its way onto six of the mixtape’s seventeen songs (not including Eminem’s troop-rallying intro that references last year’s tour-bus accident that broke a couple of Alchemist’s ribs), and get a lot of undeserved exposure like they did on 1st Infantry, Alchemist’s 2004 debut album. The Chemistry Files is really no worse for it, though it’s pretty obvious the best stuff here is virginal, Al working with people he hasn’t worked with before (at least not extensively) and thankfully side-stepping the awkwardness that often arises when established rappers try out new producers. The best example is Scarface and the Product’s “G Type,” already heard on this year’s great One Hunid but good enough to be one of The Chemistry Files‘ strongest showings. It only strengthens the “New York producers working with non-New York rappers” argument, since neither Scarface nor the Product grew up anywhere near New York City. To his credit, Alchemist doesn’t try to make them sound like they did.
Alchemist Web site (streaming audio)