The Alchemist Interview
|Next Project:||Chemical Warfare|
|Twitter:||The Alchemist on Twitter|
|Website:||The Alchemist's Website|
Today’s DJs and producers can be said to have succeeded where the alchemists of ages past have failed—though nobody managed to track down the Philosophers’ Stone that would allow garden-variety lead to be transmuted into more precious elements, master beatsmiths have pioneered a slightly different, much more successful approach to that same problem: separating tunes both familiar and obscure into their component parts, and, with the help of a few dope rhymes, recombining them to create hip-hop gold. Since rising to fame on the strength of his ‘90s work with Dilated Peoples and Mobb Deep, The Alchemist has established himself as one of the foremost disciples of this mystical art, and now he’s preparing to harness all his powers to wage full-scale Chemical Warfare on the game.
After numerous delays, the release of the superproducer’s hotly-anticipated sophomore LP is finally on the horizon. Heralded by the success of Booth-approved lead single “Smile” (with Twista & Maxwell) and acclaimed street record “That’ll Work” (with Three 6 Mafia and Juvenile), Chemical Warfare is set to hit record shops and online retailers July 7th off ALC/E1. With a guest lineup that redefines the term “star-studded” (Lil Wayne, Eminem, Snoop Dogg, and many more), there’s no doubt that the project will triple the damage done by Alc’s ‘04 debut, 1st Infantry.
In an exclusive interview with our own DJ “Z,” The Alchemist steps into the Booth to discuss the fitness routine that leaves him with red eyes on the daily, what he really thinks of his own skills on the mic, and his top-secret work with the currently-incarcerated Prodigy.
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The Alchemist Interview Transcription
DJ Booth: What’s goin’ on, everybody? It’s your boy, “Z,” doin’ it real big, and joining me inside the DJ Booth is a superproducer who will finally unleash Chemical Warfare on the music industry next week, with the release of his long-awaited new studio album. Please welcome the Alchemist—how you doin’?
Alchemist: I’m in the Booth right now!
DJ Booth: You are in the Booth. How does it feel?
Alchemist: This is great, this is an honor.
DJ Booth: [laughs] That’s what I like to hear!
Alchemist: I’m usually on the other side, behind the board, but now I’m in the Booth.
DJ Booth: Your Twitter profile picture is you as a cartoon with bloodshot eyes. So, how many hours per day that is an accurate portrayal?
Alchemist: Um… the hours of the day that I’m conscious.
DJ Booth: [laughs] So how many is that?
Alchemist: Pretty much from the wake to the sleep. I actually drink a lot of wheatgrass and work out. I do a lot of calisthenics, drink wheatgrass, and that’s why my eyes are red.
DJ Booth: Did you do calisthenics and wheatgrass before you called me?
Alchemist: Yeah, and the red eyes is more because I swim a lot, I do a lot of swimming.
DJ Booth: They have drops for those things…
Alchemist: Yeah, the swimming; it’s more from swimming.
DJ Booth: Okay, well, I’ll forgive you for that. Don’t worry about it.
Alchemist: [laughs] There’s probably some kids, they might be listening.
DJ Booth: Absolutely, and we want them to know how important it is to drink wheatgrass and swim.
Alchemist: Yeah, swimming’s important.
DJ Booth: Besides making music, you’re making a big difference in this world, I can tell already.
Alchemist: I play my part. I’m trying to. Madonna does a little better than me, but I’m trying.
DJ Booth: Well, she’s had a few more years of experience than you; you’ll catch up.
Alchemist: Yeah, yeah. I gotta adopt some children, then I’ll be making a major difference.
DJ Booth: I was doing some research, and we are separated by roughly 3,200 Twitter followers. The difference, of course, is you’re a mega-producer and I am not. So, have you considered stepping up your Twitter game?
Alchemist: You have more followers than me?!
DJ Booth: You have 3,200 more followers than me, but that’s not that much in the grand scheme of things.
Alchemist: Not at all! Man, you’re doing good!
DJ Booth: Thank you, I appreciate that.
Alchemist: Well, how many do you have now?
DJ Booth: 6,404.
Alchemist: Guess what? Now you have 6,405—congratulations!
DJ Booth: So now I’m only 3,199 followers away—that’s really a small gap!
Alchemist: Hey, you want some followers? You can have ‘em? You need any? I’ve got a couple spare ones.
DJ Booth: Have you ever blocked someone on Twitter? I just did that for the first time the other day.
Alchemist: No, never a block.
DJ Booth: Obviously, I got you on the phone today to talk about your new album, not how you and I feel bout Twitter, so let’s get right into it-
Alchemist: But maybe that would be more interesting!
DJ Booth: For who—you, me, or the audience?
Alchemist: For the listeners, I dunno. You know what? They’re gonna have to hear about Chemical Warfare one way or another, but maybe we can give ‘em interesting stuff, like…
DJ Booth: Yeah, I’m gonna package that in over the course of the interview. It’s not all business; it’s pleasure as well.
Alchemist: And I’ll make sure throughout, [to say], “July 7th—Chemical Warfare!” Okay, let’s proceed.
DJ Booth: Well, speaking of July 7th, that’s the date it’s gonna be out, and that’s after several delays. So, considering the amount of time that the project took you to create from start to finish, what [does it feel like] knowing it’s finally gonna be out?
Alchemist: It’s crazy, because not only is it gonna be out on July 7th, but July 8th, 9th, 10th, pretty much the rest of July it’s also gonna be in stores. Probably every day after that, forever. Those days are also equally as important. It does feel good to get an album finally out again, just because I guess that is what I do. I probably started something when I did the first album. It was more like, they kept movin’ the rim. I don’t even know who “they” is, either, but they kept movin’ the rim. “They,” it’s like…
DJ Booth: Everybody but you.
Alchemist: Right! Everybody except me. I’ll go shoot the last shot, three seconds left, I’ll go “Boom!” for the rim, and then the rim moves. Like, somebody just moved the rim. So, I made sure that the rim was in stone now, so, July 7th, the rim is not moving.
DJ Booth: It’s about time, that’s all I’ve got to say.
Alchemist: Yeah, I hate that…. companies have their own agendas. You can’t really quote me on shouting too many dates over time. Like, I know the nature of this business and the labels, and they might have another agenda. Things might happen, and the album’s supposed to come out when it does. For whatever reasons, they would promote certain dates, and it’s like, “Come on, man.” It’s like The Boy Who Cried Wolf at some point. As a fan, I’ve started feelin’ that way.
DJ Booth: Well, the reason why some people might consider doin’ that is because they heard the first single, “Smile,” they liked it so much, and they wanted to know when the album’s gonna drop. At the beginning of that record, you mentioned how the hip-hop industry kinda dictates that we put on a front for one another, we smile, shake the hand, pat the back kind of thing. How often would would you say you’ve been guilty of this sin?
Alchemist: I try not to be that way, but I wouldn't waste my time keeping it real or arguing with somebody I didn't even care about. So there are some times when I might play that role. But I think, in the industry, I realized over time, as all seasoned artists do, that there's times you've gotta be like that. And it's unfortunate, and it's lame, and none of us, when you just strip it down to human beings, none of us are by nature that type of person. And more than that, it was more about, you may feel one way or another about life, about anything, but at the end of the day perception is everything, and people have to have an image of how they wanna see you. And if they see you in a different way, it f*cks it up for them. That's more what I felt like. Like, this sh*t is crazy—not even depressing, it's crazy how things are. You've gotta just keep up a front sometimes and give the hip-hop hug, and you do the handshake, you know what I mean?
DJ Booth: Yeah. You mentioned perception. What do you think the perception is of you within the industry, just based on your interactions with record executives, fellow DJs, fellow producers, artists that you’ve worked with?
Alchemist: They think I’m out of here, they think I’m straight. You know, I grew up in Beverly Hills, so it’s like, “Why does he even do this? He probably already has a lot of money. He’s a rich guy.” I think that’s sometimes a perception. Also, I have other perceptions like, “Naw, man, he’s from Queensbridge and he grew up with P, son, know what I’m sayin’?” So at the end of the day, it’s all perception. And by me bein’ able to be on the road with Eminem all the time, I realize that, too. ‘Cause for so many years I knew him more as what I perceived him to be, ‘cause I wasn’t as tight with him, but then once I got on the road to hang with him, you realize, they’re all people, know what I mean?
DJ Booth: Absolutely. We all put on pants one leg at a time.
Alchemist: Yeah! It’s crazy, when I am even a victim of that sometimes. But once you get to know people, that sh*t goes away, and you get to realize people for what they are.
DJ Booth: Well, clearly, it doesn’t seem like any of the perceptions and/or stereotypes up to this point have bothered you at all, but you’ve been in the game for quite some time now. Was there a point at which some of these perceptions and/or stereotypes did bother you and/or affect the way you did your work?
Alchemist: No, ‘cause I’m just so busy doin’ the music. I don’t even have time to eat dinner sometimes, so how could I have time to worry about—I just don’t have time! [laughs] Sorry!
DJ Booth: Alc, the new album features a who’s-who of hip-hop. You’ve got Em, Wayne, Snoop, Fab, Three 6, a whole list. Do you create your productions with a specific artist in mind for each track, or do you establish an interest and a connection before committing time to a specific record?
Alchemist: Man, I throw a f*ckin’ dart against the board. I pretty much throw darts, really. I’ll tell you what: there’s more method than madness.
DJ Booth: Okay.
Alchemist: I think I f*cked that one up. This would’ve been cool if I did it right. You know how they say there’s a method to the madness?
DJ Booth: Yes, they do. They say that, whoever “they” is.
Alchemist: Well, I’m more madness than method, if that makes any sense.
DJ Booth: So, you are organized chaos?
Alchemist: Yes. I make records, I make beats every day, and I go through samples, and different things get my attention. Unless I’m in the mode—like, when we did Return of the Mac, I was doin’ that sound the whole time, sometimes I do that. It’s always a challenge.
DJ Booth: You mentioned P, and obviously this brings me back. Your first big record, obviously, was with Mobb Deep on Murda Music. Does that moment in your career seem like it was just yesterday, roughly ten years since its release?
Alchemist: Did you like that one?
DJ Booth: “The Realest,” right?
Alchemist: Yeah, how’d you like it?
DJ Booth: I’ve always been a Mobb Deep fan, so…
Alchemist: How old are you?!
DJ Booth: I’m 25.
Alchemist: Okay, we’re close. Does that seem like a long time ago? Yeah, it does. I’ll tell you, I saw a picture from around that time, and, based on my haircut, it definitely looks like a long time ago! A lot of sh*t has happened since then, I’ll tell you that much!
DJ Booth: Absolutely—well, all for the better, which is putting you in the position you’re in now. Speaking of P, I did an interview with him the morning before he started his current prison sentence, and, at the time, at least, he seemed to be in really good spirits. Have you spoken with him in the last year and a half?
Alchemist: Yeah, of course. And he’s doin’ good, man. I mean, he’s doin’ the sentence, but he’s handling it incredibly. And if anything, I think he’s just bored, and he’s just going crazy trying to get back in the booth and get that music—you know, that sh*t is therapy, it’s not just a job. So I know he’s ready. I’ve been sending him beats, we’ve been working, so…
DJ Booth: When you guys have communicated, have you talked legitimately about specific plans for as soon as he gets out?
Alchemist: We have secret, government-secret plans.
DJ Booth: See, now you sound like him…
Alchemist: We’ve got some sh*t, let me tell you! I would have to terminate you immediately after this conversation, in order to lay out the plans. And you’re cool man, you’re a homie, but I’d have to terminate you.
DJ Booth: Yeah, that’d be under P’s direct orders.
Alchemist: Right! This phone would have to self-destruct immediately after.
DJ Booth: [laughs] Well, speaking of collaborations, P obviously isn’t the only person you get together with in the studio and make magic with. You and Evidence are combining for a Step Brothers album. Whose idea was it to join forces?
Alchemist: He’s a nice guy, that Evidence. Nice guy, man.
DJ Booth: [laugh] I’ve never met him. I’ve interviewed him, just as nice as you are on the phone.
Alchemist: He’s a nice guy. He’s terrible at ping-pong, though. Terrible.
DJ Booth: [laughs] If you guys had actually grown up together in the same household, as stepbrothers, do you think you would’ve gotten along?
Alchemist: I would probably at first have hated him, and then we would probably have become the bestest of friends. ‘Cause we both like guacamole.
DJ Booth: Guacamole brings people together.
Alchemist: Guacamole, along with turkey bacon and ginger ale.
DJ Booth: I couldn’t agree more. Your name has been up in lights, obviously, because of the heralded production work that you have cooked up, but, from reading a few of your previous interviews, it seems like you would be slightly more satisfied if all of the recognition had come from your work also as an emcee. Would you say that that’s accurate?
Alchemist: When did I say that?
DJ Booth: I’m not quoting you exactly, this is just-
Alchemist: Really? I never really felt that way, but it’s interesting that that was your take on it. I think I suck!
DJ Booth: Do you really?
Alchemist: Yeah. I can make some excellent production, beats, but the rapping? Come on! Yeah, I think I suck, man.
DJ Booth: Are you just being humble?
Alchemist: But it’s all me, I write all those excellent bars.
DJ Booth: [laughs] Do some ghostwriting for Diddy on the side…
Alchemist: Sometimes, depending on the amount of Ciroc available.
DJ Booth: What would you say is more satisfying: producing a monstrous record, or DJing for an appreciative crowd of thousands?
Alchemist: I thought you were gonna say a Milky Way or a Three Musketeers.
DJ Booth: You can answer that one also, if you’d like.
Alchemist: All right… a big crowd or small one, you mean?
DJ Booth: Producing a monstrous record that you know is gonna be played worldwide, or DJing for an appreciative crowd of thousands, live?
Alchemist: Oh, it’s like on or the other. Because I would think, in theory, that if I DJed for a large crowd, I could play the massive record and then it would be both.
DJ Booth: See, what you’re doing here is you’re thinking way too deeply into this question; there’s no thought [required].
Alchemist: [laughs] All right, well in that case, then it would be the massive hit record.
DJ Booth: Okay. What about the candy bar one—the Milky Way or the Three Musketeers?
Alchemist: Um, Whatchamacallit.
DJ Booth: Sorry, that wasn’t a choice.
Alchemist: Don’t ever do it again.
DJ Booth: I promise. All right, so we’re halfway through 2009.
Alchemist: Yeah, we are.
DJ Booth: Where would you like to see yourself, as far as what you could accomplish in the future, by the start of next year? What are your immediate plans for the future?
Alchemist: Just to continue to make aggressive, disruptive rap music. At this point, I might be considered a teacher, but I feel more like a student, always. I let it take me where it’s gonna take me; you never know. At the same time, I’m definitely an entrepreneur at heart, so I won’t just get wrapped up in something and then just be a starving artist.
DJ Booth: Absolutely. Well, it’s gotten you up to this point, which has worked really well for you, so why stop there?
Alchemist: Yeah! I should’ve just said that—it would’ve saved us at least two minutes.
DJ Booth: That’s the beauty of editing: no one might ever hear that, so it’s all good!
Alchemist: Cut all of that sh*t out, and then say what you just said in my voice!
DJ Booth: [laughs] I’ll do my best! Give everybody a website, a MySpace page, a Twitter account, so they can find out more about you, and, obviously, the brand new album, Chemical Warfare, out in stores on July 7th.
DJ Booth: Well, my man, I appreciate you takin’ the time to chop it up with me in the Booth. It’s been a pleasure.
Alchemist: All right, let me take off these headphones, to get out this booth, man. [shouting] Play it back from the top, son! Let me hear that!
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