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A Year in Music: Alchemist’s 2020

Daniel Alan Maman aka The Alchemist had one hell of a 2020. Alchemist has been around for over 2 decades rapping, producing and DJ’ing for various artists and labels. He’s collaborated with Mobb Deep, Dilated Peoples, Curren$y, Fashawn as well as a variety of other artists both underground and mainstream. He’s Eminem’s official Dj, an in-house producer at Shady records and you may even have seen him on “F*ck that’s delicious” with Action Bronson. Simply put, the man is everywhere.  There’s a good reason for that: he’s talented as f*ck.  He’s one of the best producers working currently and he’s consistent with his output.

This year has seen him produce a Grammy nominated album with Freddie Gibbs, two Griselda affiliated projects and two of his own solo albums. Not to mention a myriad of singles and album tracks. He already has a Hall of Fame career but this may have been his best year yet.  Below we’ll focus on the 5 albums he had a direct hand in crafting this year. This is the Alchemist in 2020. 


The Price of Tea in China

with Boldy James

  • 12 songs, 38 minutes 50 seconds
  • Released February 7, 2020
  • ALC Records

Alchemist’s production on The Price of Tea in China doesn’t break any new ground but it doesn’t need to. Boldly James and “Alc” have an undeniable chemistry that dates back to their initial offering in 2013: My First Chemistry Set.  James smoothly glides through each beat finding the pocket with precision and delivering potent, smooth lines on each track. There’s something to be said about albums crafted like this.  Both artists’ bring infectious energy without being ostentatious.  Boldy never screams or raises his voice, he simply tells it like it is. In the same way, Alchemist’s beats mirror his emcee’s energy. Through each listen, you find yourself calmly bobbing your head and enjoying the music. It’s never overwhelming. Alchemist crafts the perfect soundscape for a rapper of Boldy’s caliber and it’s none more apparent than on this album. 


LULU

with Conway the Machine

  • 7 songs, 22 minutes 54 seconds
  • Released March 30, 2020
  • ALC / Empire Records

One of the things that The Alchemist does best is to craft his production to match the artist. With Curren$y, it’s music to smoke to; Prodigy, sample-driven beats. With Conway the Machine though, Alchemist goes with a dark and gritty soundtrack.  The EP itself is heavily influenced by and sampled from the ‘02 crime/drama Paid In Full. Songs like “Calvin” or “14 KI’s” lean directly into that esthetic and it works perfectly. Throughout the EP, Alc gives Conway enough room to let his unique voice and cadence shine. The production never seeks to outshine Conway but you can feel its presence. My favorite song on the EP, “The Contract” features a beat that seems like it could have been ripped from a Godfather movie. Griselda had a lot of releases this year but LULU was one of my favorites and part of the reason lies with Alchemist’s production. 


Alfredo

with Freddie Gibbs

  • 10 songs, 35 minutes 2 seconds
  • Released May 29, 2020
  • ESGN / ALC / Empire Records

Now, we come to the peak of Alchemist in 2020. Alfredo is among both Freddie Gibbs and The Alchemist’s finest works. It’s my pick for album of the year and it’s one of the best pieces of music, in general, to be released in 2020.  Above, I mentioned the chemistry Boldy and Alchemist have. I also mentioned Alchemist’s ability to craft his production around an artist’s strengths. For this album, both those aspects play a huge role.

Gibbs can literally rap any type of flow or rhyme scheme that exists in the game today.  As such, he eviscerates every beat thrown at him. For Alfredo, Alchemist had to feel like Andy Reid when he got Patrick Mahomes. Alchemist’s entire playbook (beat library) is open for Gibbs.  They hit on deep throws like “1985”; intermediate routes like “Scotty Beam” or side-arm darts like “Something to Rap About.” Now they just gotta get that ring.


A Doctor, Painter & An Alchemist Walk Into A Bar

  • 10 songs, 17 minutes 14 seconds
  • Released October 2, 2020
  • ALC Records

The Food Villain

  • 16 songs, 24 minutes 19 seconds
  • Released October 25, 2020
  • ALC Records

To end the year, Alchemist went on a solo mission. His first offering was a brisk 10 song, 17-minute instrumental romp.  The only verse on the album comes from Westside Gunn in which he proclaims “I put art first before everything I do.”  It’s a fitting theme to the album as the project feels like a work of living art. Alchemist is free to insert samples, beat changes and loops wherever he pleases and it coalesces with the finale on ‘The Last Stage.” For people who like straight loops and instrumental Hip Hop; this album is for you.

Where A Doctor, Painter & An Alchemist Walk Into A Bar is a work of art, The Food Villain is the other side of the same coin. This really feels like Alc at his most comfortable.  He splices samples from Action Bronson’s “F*ck, That’s Delicious” including a hilarious bit where Bronson vehemently asks “Who eats wings like that?!” The album is more of an instrumental concept album which in and of itself is unique. It manages to tell a story but in the most abstract way possible. Similar to Doctor, Painter & An Alchemist there is only one rapped verse and it comes from Bronson (fittingly enough). As a picky eater myself, I identify heavily with the exchange between Bronson and Alchemist at the end of the standout track “I hate everything”: 

  • Bronson: “Just eat it, just eat it”
  • Alchemist: “I tried it”
  • Bronson: “No, you didn’t”

Bottom Line

Alan the chemist is one of the best doing it today and he has been since the late ’90s.  The guy has remained remarkably consistent despite the changing styles within Hip Hop over the last decade. The Alchemist released 5 albums in 2020.  2 were solo instrumentals, 1 was an EP and another is nominated for best rap album at the Grammy’s. What remains Alchemist’s defining trait though is his love for Hip Hop.  He doesn’t do it for awards or critical acclaim.  He just loves making beats and it comes through in the quality of his work.  2020 feels like this could have been his best year but I’m reluctant to state that claim.  Who knows what projects he has in store for 2021…


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