Vodka & Ayahuasca is Oh No and the Alchemist’s second full-length as Gangrene. Its title is a shout out to two very different drugs: alcohol and hallucinogens. For the hell of it, let’s assume that the vodka is responsible for this album’s raw raps, and ayahuasca–a South American plant noted for its psychoactive properties–is responsible for its production. Break it down further and split the influences of these drugs in half; so here, Oh and Al’s styles are not individually representative of either vodka or ayahuasca. Instead, think of Oh as psychedelic dominant with an aggressive touch, and Al as the opposite.
But, no matter how you decide to divvy up who ‘sounds’ more like what substance, the fact is this: these west coast rapper-producers make music that feels full-bodied, and it’s because they complement one another so well. Accordingly, V&A excels because of its general-but-evident use of teamwork. ‘Use,’ though, isn’t entirely literal here; Al and Oh are operating as a cohesive unit. This mood translates into physical music, pounding beats that actually embody movement. It’s past head-nodding. And pushing forward, the physical aspect is revealed as bravado in the delivery of the lyrics which, while maybe not consistently quotable, don’t sound forced at all.
Beyond that, V&A‘s creators have a sense of humor, exemplified by their pre-album teaser videos and the Alchemist’s reference to Marmaduke the talking dog. Although both can rap better than plenty of guys who’ve never produced, this album will probably catch the majority of its flak based on its content simply because Al and Oh were established producers before they were recognized seriously on the mic. Both have made names for themselves–Oh in his Stones Throw circle and Al through his close ties with Mobb Deep and Dilated Peoples–and they’ve been around enough talent to know what works and what doesn’t.
Fortunately, when Gangrene comes close to a lyrical wall, it’s usually in the company of friends. Oh No says he’ll leave you breathless by disconnecting your lungs from your chest on the fuzzed-out “Gladiator Shit.” It might not be the most clever line, but it’s definitely a penetrating visual. Obviously, both Oh and Al are left in the dust by Kool G Rap’s verse. But the thing is, V&A, like any album, faces its most stern judgment when its creators are left to their own devices. The standout tracks are the featureless “Flame Throwers,” “Odds Cracked” and “Auralac Bags,” the latter of which boasts a noir-ish, alleyway-chase-scene type of beat. On each cut, Oh No and the Alchemist spit with the psychological griminess of disorganized criminals. It’s not only absorbing, it’s also cinematic.