Review Summary: I wanna see you naked with them high heels on, uh...Chemical Warfare
is the 2009 release from acclaimed hip-hop producer Alan Daniel Maman, AKA The Alchemist. Hailed as one of the leading names in the business, early on Alan's origins in Beverly Hills, California eventually led him to rebel against his comfortable suburban upbringing by starting a rap duo with Scott Caan (the son of actor James Caan, and nowadays an actor in his own right) known as The Whooliganz. They soon managed to attract the attention of Cypress Hill's B-Real, and The Whooliganz were invited to join The Soul Assassins collective (which included Irish-American hip-hop legends House of Pain and Funkdoobiest). From there Alan learnt his craft under the wing of DJ Muggs who taught him how to use a sampler and a mixing board, going on initially to produce songs for Evidence and Dilated Peoples and from the late 90's onwards establishing his name as a key player in the business through working with a large number of varied hip-hop acts.
This release is the followup to 2004's acclaimed 1st Infantry
, and when questioned about the reasoning behind the choice of title for the new album Alan had this to say, "basically, it's Chemical Warfare because the first album was 1st Infantry and this is a futuristic version. Chemical Warfare is the type of war that isn't fought with sticks and bats type of sh--, where people start dropping. There is a power you don't see. You don't know where it is and that's basically the concept.
". This doesn't make a hell of a lot of sense and is a pretty weak concept, but lets ignore that as the guest list is huge, Kool G Rap, Snoop Dogg, Jadakiss, Pusha T, Eminem, KRS-One, Evidence, Blu, Talib Kweli, Kid Cudi, Three 6 Mafia, Juvenile, Twista, Maxwell, Prodigy, Roc C, Crooked I, Lil' Fame, Fabolous, Tha Dogg Pound, Lady of Rage, Gangrene & Oh No are all roped in for an appearance. Alan claimed in an interview regarding his selection of rappers "I just thought who would be incredibly hot and amazingly relevant around July 7th, 2009. I just thought about who would be really hot at that moment and it all worked out.
" With this in mind and an ambitious three albums to be released by The Alchemist set for 2009, it's certainly a promising endeavour.
Production wise Chemical Warfare
is pitched as a showcase for The Alchemist's tool of choice, the Akai MPC sequencer-sampler range. A longtime fan of the sonic capabilities of the MPC3000 (often used by his favourite producers), Alan had been getting to grips with the machine for a long time but didn't feel quite "ready for it". The MPC5000 model is put to use here, Alan claiming that "prior to this I’d sample [to create] all my beats but this machine encourages me to make stuff, not with just samples
". All this talk is enticing and reading into the mind of somebody praised as an innovative producer always makes for some stimulating thought, and indeed the production of Chemical Warfare
is the strongest part of it. Which is unfortunate, as it also happens to feel successfully flat and lifeless for its entire duration.
From the piano led opening track Intro
to closer Take A Look Back
if you have the bonus edition), there is very little on Chemical Warfare
that feels above average to analyse in a production sense. Lose Your Life
is a notable exception, featuring a fine rap from Snoop Dogg, Pusha T and Jadakiss it is built around a decent bass groove and some chiming piano keys which gives it a plausible "sinister" feel which I would associate with some of the most introspective gangsta rap numbers. There are a few jazz samples used in tracks such as Chemical Warfare
(which has a lyrical section from Eminem that wouldn't be out of place on Relapse
), Grand Concourse
(starring KRS-One as KRS-One) and Therapy
(with Evidence, Blu, Talib Kweli And Kid Cudi trading rhymes with one another) that work quite well, and the piano loops in That'll Work
(Three 6 Mafia and Juvenile), Lights, Cameras, Action
(Lil' Fame) and Some Gangsta ***
(Fabolous) aren't that bad at all.
As a result it would seem melodic flavouring is generally fine but where the album starts to get problematic in construction is that the rhythmic elements in bass and percussion are rather dead. It would be a bit of stretch to say Chemical Warfare
feels dynamic and exciting, and whilst it isn't
quite the opposite this could definitely be a killer for some as it won't sound any different from the last average hip-hop release you listened to. The lyrics do not stand out at all, each rapper provides a decent enough flow to proceedings but the topic is always on predictable musings about the rap game, comprised entirely of bangers, bosses, rapping talent, money, and sex. There is a lot of filler in between tracks in this manner which isn't worth bringing up but the only time I felt Chemical Warfare
was engaging lyrically was in Keep The Heels On
(featuring Prodigy), which is just so hilariously awful that it demands love ("And while we pop off/you keep your heels on/keep your heels on/keep your heels on/take them clothes off/but keep your heels on/keep your heels on/keep them heels on/I wanna see you naked with them high heels on
"). Hell, any heel loving man could dig that. Take A Look Back
features a rhyme from The Alchemist himself, speaking of his life and successes ("like J. Dilla i'm a keep lifting/never feel like a beats finished/i'm a perfectionist/never really happy when its all messed with/it's a god given talent I was blessed with it
"). I have to wonder if he is truly happy with the way this recording turned out.
is an underwhelming release, especially for those familiar with the previous work of The Alchemist who has built quite a status up for himself over the past decade. If it is to be the first of three talked up releases in 2009 the initial bang has come off as more of a dud, the release certainly not bad but marred by flat production and rhymes that just aren't captivating despite a strong guest list. Average hip-hop albums are a dime a dozen and Chemical Warfare
doesn't manage to stand out from the rest of the pack one bit.