Words by Jesse H.
Chances are, most rappers didn’t pay much attention in high school chemistry. That said, the majority do know some basics about chemical equations. You need to find an appropriate balance, run a controlled experiment to test your theories, and most importantly, the chemist who’s handling the material better know what they’re doing or the whole concoction could blow up in their face. Luckily, in the case of Alchemist’s second LP Chemical Warfare, the man behind the boards has a keen understanding of the Hip-Hop scientific method.
Albums with such flavorful yet crowded guest lists have the potential to become bloated and disorganized, but it’s to Alchemist’s credit that he maintains a level of solidarity throughout. Although the skits, which, like all Hip-Hop skits, can become a bit tedious on repeated spins, they also contain some humor and perspective on Alchemist’s career that give the album a guiding quality that it otherwise lacks from not having a lyrical centerpiece. But obviously, the skits aren’t the reason you would listen to an Alchemist CD.
The boardwork is expectantly excellent throughout, with several standout instrumentals that feature well-placed features. The hyper-frenetic digital synth on “That’ll Work” mixes exquisitely with the gruff, stomping shouts of guests Three Six Mafia, while an unexpected double-time verse from Juvenile (!?!??!?) steals the track. “Therapy” displays a nicely looped guitar lick with Blu delivering the album’s best verse. Throughout, Alchemist laces the production with musical detailing that strengthen his reputation as one of Hip-Hop’s most underappreciated beat-crafters. “Lose Your Life” scores with a haunting bell and a grunting bassline, while the sinister drone and sprinkled piano of “Keep the Heels On” continues the magical streak of Alc and a somehow always-entertaining-yet-simultaneously-achingly-over-the-hill Prodigy.
But while Alchemist does his part to maintain the balance, the disc falls victim to some of Hip-Hop’s most commonly uncontrolled variables: length. The album feels a bit overly long at a usually manageable 15 tracks, which comes as a consequence of no true lyrical cohesion. Also upsetting the mixture is the inevitable symptom of over-hype: the much-ballyhooed Eminem collaboration disappoints, with Shady only delivering a single verse (though he does refreshingly poke fun at his reliance with pop-culture references after the beat cuts out). Between that underwhelming Em appearance, the bar being set so high with the release of the EP, and a slew of guest verses that weren’t quite as awesome as they should have been, you can’t help but feeling like the disc is a tad lukewarm in places.
Still, overall, the production is potent and there’s enough well-executed verses to merit repeated spins. Chemical Warfare may not be up for a Pulitzer Prize in the near future but its contents have enough combat agents to nuke the shit out of your headphones.