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July 20, 2012

Album Review: The Alchemist ‘Russian Roulette’

by @thoughtontracks

Producers like The Alchemist are the main reason that I always check a rap album’s credits.  Not only has Al been one of the best producers in hip hop for over 10 years, he has shown that he is capable of making almost any type of beat and always seems to bring the best out of the MC’s that he works with.  If a rapper is fortunate enough to get a beat or two from The Alchemist on their album, you can usually assume those tracks will be among the album’s best.  The Alchemist has made producer albums filled with random guest appearances before, and while those albums were successful projects, Russian Roulette is something different altogether, a true album that doesn’t feel like a compilation or beat tape.

As far as the beats, you can tell The Alchemist has been influenced by his Gangrene partner Oh No and Oh No’s brother Madlib, from the psychedelic 60’s and 70’s samples and loops to the short, random song structures.  He uses the album’s Russian theme to not just incorporate vocal clips from Rocky IV, but even samples clips of Dolph Lundgren talking to Joan Rivers about his role as Ivan Drago.  You might consider Russian Roulette The Alchemist’s “art album.”  He has reached a status that allows him to pick and choose the rappers that he works with, and he picked some great rappers that have incredibly varied styles.  The beats are what really stand out, but all the MC’s seem to fit in perfect with the blunted, aggressive but hazy aesthetic that Al is going for.

Roc Marciano’s appearance on “The Turning Point” is an obvious highlight, a beautifully detailed picture of success over Al’s eerie guitar sample.  Danny Brown and ScHoolboy Q make for a great combo on the off-the-wall banger “Flight Confirmation”, which has a crazy NSFW video that you can view above.  Action Bronson, Boldy James, and Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire all show why they’re some of the best new rappers around as well.  EXquire and his Biggie influenced alien adventure on “The Explanation” stands out in particular and is a great ending to Al’s spacey album.  The Alchemist’s ability to build custom tracks for his favorite MC’s combined with his flawless execution of a musical theme makes Russian Roulette a great front to back listen, as well as something you can throw on to vibe out to without devoting all of your attention to it.  The entire album plays like one long song, a free flowing recording with the perfect balance of sharp verses and trippy instrumentals.  Stream the album over at SPIN and purchase via iTunes.

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Written by John Bugbee

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