Review : The Alchemist - Russian Roulette
PitchforkThe Alchemist has had a storied, unique path in hip-hop history. He came up under Cypress Hill producer DJ Muggs before producing for late-1990s West Coast backpacker heroes Dilated Peoples. He was soon introduced to Mobb Deep and found his beats in the hands of a diverse array of East Coast street rappers, from Nas to CNN to Jadakiss. More recently, he's worked with a range of mid-tier rap heroes, from Curren$y to Action Bronson to Freddie Gibbs, and is a reliably creative producer, even if his style of production has shifted away from the hip-hop mainstream. He has also previously released two solo albums (in addition to an EP and several mixtapes), which highlighted an earnest but awkward rapping persona and more than a few standout tracks. But Russian Roulette takes him in a new direction. It's a producer's album, and that means it predicts the creeping conservatism of an artist who has decided that creating songs is less interesting than creating sonic collages.
The basic structure is a familiar one for those who've found themselves drawn into the insular world of producer-driven hip-hop records by Madlib, MF Doom, and Prince Paul. It's a sequence of instrumentals, each averaging around a minute and a half in length, spliced together with lines of dialogue from records or films taken out of context as if to hint at an artistic or personal philosophy that, we presume, the artist shares. Or perhaps he just thinks they're funny. It depends on how seriously you intend to take him. If you don't take his art particularly seriously, though, it might be a difficult record to enjoy. Sequence is important; promos of the record were sent out as single-track mixes, rather than divided into songs. The message was clear: Much like a DJ mix, there is a method to his madness, a way the artist intends his listeners-- or at least, critics-- to experience his art. Unlike a dance mix, though, there isn't a dancefloor to please, nor is there an overarching pressure to push toward or against populist tastes; the only underlying logic is what Alchemist wants us to hear. As a result, the album takes a meandering path through a museum of different eras and influences and sonic timbres-- all of which, rapping aside, seem to originate in the 1970s or 80s...full text
HiphopdxIt's funny what tidbits of information you can pick up in interviews. Did you know cats sleep an average of 17 hours a day or that American car horns beep in the note of F? Neither did we until we spoke with Alchemist - as informative with his knowledge as he is impressive with his production.
Throughout his 15-year career Alchemist has supplied standout tracks for mainstream A-listers, but it is artful projects like his soon to be released Russian Roulette, a crate digger's opera, that may be his greatest contribution to Hip Hop. Teaming up with a rather special generation of lyricists for this project, Alchemist gives props to this extraordinary league of gentlemen for whom he feels his production just isnít enough. They in turn return the favor with their distinct diction and lyrical dexterity heard throughout the album's multiple movements.
Acknowledging his profound love of visual art as a starting point for RR, Alchemist breaks down just how the album continued to morph and how free-falling was the chosen motion for its creation. Late night studio sessions, cut-and-paste collages and Rocky IV memories enabled this West Coast staple to present his label Decon with his most cohesive album to date. Yet while Russian Roulette may be more "scenic" and subjective than prior projects, Alchemist is quick to point out he still has those big beats to rumble with....full text
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