Smack in the middle of a European tour with Brooklyn MC Action Bronson, the hyper-overactive DJ, composer and producer, The Alchemist, took the time, between two flights, to exchange a couple words with us. And hyper-overactive is not an exaggeration. We should have added talented and formidable because the work that The Alchemist does (whose government name is Alan Daniel Maman) is deeply imbued with a rigor and consistency, rare in rap culture, making him one of its major producers, a beat-maker of remarkable longevity. He is one of the finest producers on planet Rap, alongside legends such as Jay Dilla and DJ Premier. But don’t compare him to these monsters of prod’, he sees them as the absolute masters, and delights in being only one of their many students.
Since the mid 90s, he can boast of his 400+ productions found on the albums of some of the greatest MCs : Mobb Deep, Dilated Peoples, Nas, Cypress Hill... even Eminem, Rick Ross, Schoolboy Q, Curren$y, and also Fashawn, Earl Sweatshirt, Joey Bada$$, Mac Miller just to name a few, because the list goes on and on... He also has to his credit 2 EPs, 5 mixtapes, 11 solo albums and 15 collaboration albums (with Prodigy, Oh No, Evidence, Action Bronson...). Yet, being a bona fide all terrain Bboy, this true devotee entered the Hip Hop culture through the rap game.
The Alchemist is often affiliated with the East Coast of the United States since so many of his productions are counted among the monuments of U.S Rap like Mobb Deep (Thug Muzik, The Realest, Win Or Lose, The Illest, Backwards...), Nas (Book of Rhymes, Mastermind, Revolutionary Warfare, Thugz Mirror...), Big Pun (Mama), Guru (In Here), Group Home (A Tear for the Ghetto)... But not at all actually.. because this pro- ducer is in fact a product of the West Coast, the city of Los Angeles more precisely.
In the early 90s, the Hip Hop movement was ubiquitous on the West Coast, in the studios, night clubs on Sunset Boulevard and in video production studios with groups like The Pharcyde, Tha Alkaholiks, Cypress Hill... At that time, the future The Alchemist then a teenager, spent his childhood in the upscale neighborhoods of Beverly Hills. Hip hop proved to be a huge source of inspiration there. He began rapping with Evidence, who he met at school, while hanging around the studios of Quincy Jones’ son QDIII, who all lived in the same neighborhood. After that the two young rappers hit it off with a MC named Rakaa and together they formed the Dilated Peoples.
In 1991, at the age of 14, he started rapping under the pseudonym Mudfoot in the duo The Whooliganz that he formed with Mad Skillz. His connections with other artists multiplied and his network grew to his meeting with DJ Muggs (Soul Assassins) and DJ Lethal (House Of Pain) who introduced him to the drum machine of their decade, the SP-12. B-Real of Cypress Hill, invited them to join the Soul Assassins, a collective consisting of Cypress Hill, House Of Pain & Funkdoobiest. Accompanied with this new group, The Whooliganz undertook a national tour. In 1993, they recorded their first album “Make Way For The W” on Tommy Boy label (aided by some connections from the Souls Assassins) who would ultimately decide to not release the album. The Alchemist however still keeps fond memories of that period:
“Yeah, it was Cypress Hill that launched me. I was just a young rapper trying to do his best Grand Puba impression. It was fun.”
Fascinated by the sounds and samplings of the New York producers (Pete Rock, DJ Premier, Large Professor, Diamond D...) and to the detriment of West Coast producers, the young Mudfoot acquired the mythical American sampler released in 1992 : the ASR 10. He tell us :
“One day I had an ASR 10 and I started experimenting with sounds. I started making more and more beats. I continued to rap but I became more prolific with the beats. It was just something new that I felt I could improve in.”
So naturally, he chose New York University for his studies, mesmerized by the city and its overflowing Hip Hop culture. There, he meets the Infamous Mobb group during the studio recording of Soul Assassins 2 :
”First of all, there was a meeting arranged by the five families of Cypress Avenue. Representatives of the families (just the bosses) flew out to Queensbridge . They met in a secret room at the Reece Center and discussed how I could be an asset to their organization in Queens. They had the muscle, I had the science.”
The connection with Mobb Deep is made, they like each other and start working together. This helps him raise his level in Eastcoast instrumentals and production. Newly based in NYC, the young “Mudfoot” from Los Angeles now goes by the name “The Alchemist” and signs many new collaborations, especially on the East Coast with Big Daddy Kane, The High & Mighty and also on the West Coast with Dilated Peoples... thus began his young career as a producer.
“After Mobb Deep stamped me it was on. Nas, Big Pun, Tammy Wynette, Don Ho, Mr Funkeeman from L.O.T.U.G.(Lords Of The Underground), Stokely Carmichael, Charo, and the list goes on.”
He became friends with DJ Premier, worked with Big Pun on the track “Mama” and Snoop Dogg on “Hey You !” And “I Love to Give You Light”. He recalls :
“Snoop is the one with whom I had the most fun.”
When asked about his meeting at a party with Jay- Z, who basically said to him “When you gonna stop wasting your beats?”, he confides, “I will never tell you what happened that night.”
MCs like Curren$y (Covert Coup in 2011, Re-Conver- sionalize in 2012), Action Bronson (Rare Chandeliers in 2012), Prodigy (Return Of The Mac in 2007, Albert Einstein in 2013) entrust him with their album productions.
“If I’m doing a whole project with someone it obviously means that I am a fan of their raps, and that I feel they will do justice to the beats. With every artist I ever did a whole project with, I can say this is the case.”
He also works in close collaboration with the beat maker Oh No, with whom he formed, a few years ago, the duo Gangrene (Sawblade Ep and Gutter Water in 2010, Greneberg in 2011, Vodka & Ayahuasca in 2012 Odditorium Ep in 2012), with compositions that could be described as dark, on which they lay down some heavy lyrics,
“Sometimes i’ll start something and he adds on, or vice versa. Collaborating is a good exercise because when we work by ourselves we’re all so used to doing everything our own way and we never need to get anyone else’s approval..”
Though far from being preachy, The Alchemist gives us the guide to good beat making :
“For me, I say use whatever you want to use as long as what’s coming out of it sounds funky. I don’t give a shit what you use. Period. Now go make some fly shit and make me proud !”
Thanks to his numerous connections acquired in the music business (Jason Goldwatch, 13thWitness, Bun B, DJ Muggs), he joined in May 2014 the large family of annual, international car rallys set on more than 5000km, the famous Gumball 3000:
“Who wouldn’t want to do that ? I’m very grateful that Maxamillion and the rest of the Gumball family accepted me and I have met many great people through it. If you ever get a chance, do it.”
He does not seem to forget the purpose, which seems to have guided him throughout all of these years : parties and making friends.
“It is one time a year that many amazing humans come together and travel the world while celebrating life. My favorite Gumball moments were probably the insane flights that we had which were basically full blown parties in the skies. Allegedly, of course.”