Review: Alchemist - Chemical Warfare

Let's see what Alchemist has been cooking up for his second solo album. Does he still have Mida's touch behind the boards, or is his latest effort a bunch of fool's gold?

Intro starts off with a light piano tinkle backed by various record scratches and sound clips of people discussing imminent chemical warfare. “I don’t think they’re dropping them on us right now, but they seem to be preparing.” The calm before the storm.

ALC THEME ft. Kool G Rap
Then the gauntlet drops. The beat of ALC Theme reminds me of the track that slid alchemist into my top 3 producers working today, “Letyourselfgo” from Evidence’s Weatherman LP. In order words, this track’s a banger. Alchemist leads the track with a verse of his own, making up for his famously lacking flow with some clever wordplay: “You can T-ell/I ain’t a p-unk/ I was raised off the P-funk/getting blazed and d-runk..” Then Kool G Rap jumps on the joint, employs the same flow, and effectively murders Al on his own shit. Oh well.

LOSE YOUR LIFE ft. Snoop Dogg, Jadakiss, and Pusha T
The beat on this one is kind of boring; your usual run of the mill horror core beat. However, the guest verse from Jadakiss sounds gritty as fuck and keeps it from being totally skippable. And I guess I would rather hear Snoop Dogg do the hook than Alchemist. Pusha-T from The Clipse kicks the last verse.

"Lose Your Life" ends with another in a series of skits featuring the ever shady and out-of-touch Jerry from Swindle Management, which carries over from Alchemist’s debut album, 1st Infantry. This time Jerry is heard trying to convince Al to focus on “bigger and better things” such as ringtone sales and endorsements for Listerine, which will make him bigger than “That other white kid, what’s his name, Justin Timberwolf.” Ha.

Now here is a ringtone I wouldn’t mind having, even though I can’t stand the things. Alchemist lays down an funky organic bass line for Eminem’s freestyle, which eviscerates everything from Sarah Palin to The Jonas Brothers to the Octomom in a single freestyle verse. It’s too hilarious and condensed to quote from. It’s a return to form for Eminem and safely better than anything on his last album Relapse. It’s also probably the best beat on Chemical Warfare; Alchemist really rose to the occasion on this one. And yes, Eminem, you did say Octomom twice in the same rap.

I am not a fan of KRS-ONE. In some circles, that’s blasphemy, I know. His voice just grates on me. However, this track really grown on me over multiple listens. It doesn’t hurt that the beat is vicious, and KRS really shines on it while recalling the beginning of his rap career. He even throws a few subliminals at Nelly.

“Benches” ends with a skit about hip-hop credibility, featuring a debate between an internet nerd/underground rapper named Lyrical Scientific Superior and a gangster rap duo called G and Eric (get it?). The backpackers feel that Alchemist has sold out for making his beats too gritty, and threaten to ban him from the blogs unless he returns to his Rawkus days. G and Eric don’t like this, so an altercation ensues. It has its moments.

THERAPY ft. Evidence, Blu, Talib Kweli, and Kid Cudi
Alchemist loops a blissful, noodling guitar lick which gives Therapy a sort of hypnotic effect. In two words, this song is blunt fodder. In a few more words, this one was meant to blaze to; most of Alchemist’s music is. Al’s childhood friend and frequent collaborator Evidence (as well as lead member of Dilated Peoples) opens with the first verse. The track also features Blu, an unrecognizable Talib Kweli, and Kid Cudi on the hook. I would have liked to have heard a little more from Cudi since I personally think he is among the most promising of the “freshmen class” of new rappers.

The track ends with a collage of sound clips that sound like Al pressed all of the buttons on his MPC at once. Next!

THAT’LL WORK ft. Three-Six Mafia and Juvenile
Alchemist’s stuttering bass line and shiny computer blips attempt a southern bounce which accommodates guest verses from Three-Six Mafia and Juvenile. One thing that I have noticed about Alchemist is that he seems to do his best to make other rappers comfortable so that they can be themselves on the records he produces. This is in sharp contrast to uncompromising beatmakers like Dr. Dre and J-Dilla, who seem to force rappers to step their game up in order to match the quality of the music. It's good to hear Juvie again, and Juicy J is once again puts his tongue-in-cheek ignorance on display: "I ain't ashamed/to make it rain/but I rather buy/cocaine."

This track ends with what sounds like a voicemail from an aspiring rapper seemingly trying to justify his own existence and oersuade Al to listen to his demo. “Smoothing out my rapping” makes me lol every time I hear it.

SMILE ft. Twista and Maxwell.
This conga drums on this reminds me of “Boost the Crime Rate”, from 1st Infantry, except the tone of that song is very different. Al actually opens the track with an inspirational verse about keeping a positive attitude and working hard. This is probably the most radio-friendly track on the whole jawn. Twista shows up and it’s not long before he is spitting in double time and decimating the track. I know I have been critical of his flow, which Al himself has admitted is lackluster in various interviews, and while he isn’t completely terrible he is so easily outshined by his guests it makes you wonder why he even tries. Maxwell does the hook.

“Smile” ends with a phone conversation between Al and Prodigy of Mobb Deep, who is calling from jail. It segues nicely into…

Prodigy, who isn’t exactly known as a romantic, attempts to bring sexy back on this one. Even though the song is purely about sex, the beat is so sinister it sounds like gunplay could break out at any moment. I am guessing this is one of the few verses P gave to Al before going into the clink for gun possession. Prodigy imparts some advice for those trying to close the deal with that jumpoff from the club: “Keep 'em talking/don’t let ‘em think for a moment/turn the music up/lights down/we gon' fuck/right now/start sucking they tits/and push they head right down.” Nice. There aren’t many rappers other than P who can make a sexual encounter between two consenting adults sound so violent. Speaking of which..

ACT OF VIOLENCE ft. Gangrene
This is the debut of Gangrene, Al’s upcoming side project with Oh no. They both lay down a verse. Not especially notable. Skippity.

This one has Lil’ Fame from M.O.P., who G and Eric from the debate skit earlier in the album kind of remind me of. These guys are always threatening to put a hole the size of “blank” in someone’s head. Zzzz.

Fabolous lays down what I think is sort of lackluster verse with exactly memorable line: “I ain’t getting no younger, bitch/I ain’t Benjamin Button.” His lethargic flow matches the sparse drum track rather well, though.

ON SIGHT feat. Dogg Pound
Daz and Kurupt from the Dogg Pound, along with Lady of Rage (I wonder what rock she’s been under) stomp all over a thick synthesized bassline. Pretty good, but nothing exceptional, other than the fact that Lady of Rage is still alive.

I am pretty sure this is a sample from Pink Floyd’s “Shine on You Crazy Diamond, Parts I- V” (can’t seem to find my liner notes), but I’m not sure. It would make fitting source material though, since this album closer is essentially Alchemist calmly reflecting on his career and assessing his current status as a budding legend in the hip-hop game. Not a bad way to wrap up the album, although not really what you would call a “hot joint.”

BONUS – UNDER SIEGE ft. Gangrene
This should have been on the album in place of the other Gangrene track. I didn’t care for this song when I first heard it with the accompanying lo-fi video, but it has quickly become an addiction because of its odd marriage of clean sounding church organs and messy distorted guitars. Al redeems any lackluster verses that were on Chemical Warfare with his spot on this one.

All in all, a very solid effort from Alchemist, who is evolving into a more and more consistent producer with each release, although his mic skills still need some work. Recommended.

Grade: B+

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