Listening to an Alchemist beat is unlike anything else in hip-hop. The boom-bap icon's beats convey pure happiness and freedom, ranging from his works with Boldy James to Freddie Gibbs. Raised in Beverly Hills, California, he quickly identified with the rebellious nature of hip-hop. By the mere age of 14, The Alchemist, born Alan Daniel Maman, decided to spearhead hip hop duo The Whooliganz in 1991 alongside Scott Caan, who went by the moniker Mad Skillz. They initially grabbed the attention of B-Real of Cypress Hill. While the two recorded an entire album for Tommy Boy Records, the label would decide not to release their project in 1993 after their debut single failed to reach commercial success. Eventually, Caan would venture into acting to great success. However, The Alchemist fell further in love with the creative process of hip-hop.
While The Alchemist's first musical initiative had failed, hip-hop contemporaries noticed his hunger. He would quickly become fascinated with the production aspect of rap. Under DJ Muggs' guidance, he learned the functionalities of using a sampler and a mixing board. By the late 1990s, The Alchemist had become the go-to producer for Dilated Peoples. This opened the gates for his work with Mobb Deep and eventually, collaborations alongside Nas, Ghostface Killah, and Snoop Dogg. He became a household name in hip-hop, and by 2005, Eminem recruited him to be his official DJ under Shady Records. While he had reached the pinnacle of hip-hop production by the 2000s, his heart remained in the rugged sounds of underground hip-hop. On top of his production credits, he also released several solo projects, including 2004's 1st Infantry and 2022's The Alchemist Sandwich.
The Alchemist's Beats Have Revived New York Rap
The Alchemist's production style attempts to unite the sound of the underground with radio. Polished yet rugged, his golden-age sampled loops attracted a wide range of elite MCs from New York to Los Angeles. However, his reputation is most associated with the long-lasting trait of hard work. There's seemingly an announcement of a new Alchemist-produced album every few weeks. So far, 2023 has seen the release of Larry June's The Great Escape. The project features mellow beats entirely created by The Alchemist that pair perfectly with June's laid-back California flow. In addition, he contributed to an astounding 17 hip-hop albums in 2022 alone.
While The Alchemist grew up in Southern California, his beat-making days have most heavily influenced the revived boom-bap sound of New York. He's played a crucial role in reviving the East Coast underground through his many production credits with artists such as Earl Sweatshirt, Navy Blue, Wiki, and the Griselda crew. He told Complex, "My process is to become friends first, or just to get to know a person and like them. When I think back on a lot of the good music I made with people, when we first met, there was a moment when I was like, 'I like this guy.'" That perspective is a fresh one in hip-hop, especially as many producers work with artists for underlying financial motivations.
The Alchemist Supports Smaller Artists
That focus on creating great music has been more apparent as The Alchemist has continued to develop as a producer. Rather than work with the biggest MCs in the game, many of his recent records have been with underground and independent artists who are carving out their legacy. However, that hard work would culminate with a Grammy nomination for Freddie Gibbs' Alfredo in 2020. Combining Italian mafia themes and electrifying guitar strings, many hold Alfredo as the best album in Gibbs' deep discography. The Alchemist continued that classic streak since then, releasing critically acclaimed projects such as Roc Marciano's The Elephant Man's Bones and Curren$y's Continuance.
Many modern-day beat lovers wouldn't know it, but The Alchemist is also a talented verse-dropper. While he briefly ditched his pen game after his teenage project wasn't deemed entertaining enough to hit the charts, he's still dabbled with creating his own verses during his spare time. Take 2012's Russian Roulette, a project that he expanded on with Tidal. "At first it was instrumental, then I filled it in with some rhymes and just wanted to spread my wings a little bit as far as the stuff I was accustomed to making. I wanted to subvert what people were expecting and just go left a little bit." Most recently, he traded bars with Hit-Boy on "Slipping Into Darkness" off of Surf Or Drown.
Only Getting Started
Now approaching the halfway mark into 2023, The Alchemist has yet to announce another project for us to look forward to. However, Vince Staples recently expressed frustration regarding the leak of his unreleased Alchemist-aided tracks. If the past is any indicator, we'll be hearing much more from one of boom-bap's most iconic producers by the end of the year. The Alchemist has garnered a reputation as hip-hop's hardest worker throughout a career that now surpasses three decades. Impressively enough, it looks as if the 45-year-old is only just getting started.