June 1, 2010

For Promotional Use Only: The Alchemist Presents - The Cutting Room Floor: 1st Infantry Mixtape 1 (2003)

Ever since ancient times, alchemists have been trying their hand at the task of turning base metals into gold.  This long-forgotten art has not been lost on hip hop producer Al Maman: in taking on this pseudonym, he assumed the duties of experimenting with whatever works to turn mere noise into something valuable.

Al's specialty just so happens to lie within the confines of hardcore thug rap.

After cutting his teeth with two of the genre's more popular crews, the Soul Assassins and Mobb Deep's extended familia, The Alchemist decided that what he really wanted to do was rap.  Go figure: the guy whose gritty instrumentals were often more memorable than the artists performing over them wanted to step to the forefront and be promptly forgotten his damn self.  This transition wasn't really an unnatural one for Al: he used to be one-half of the rap duo The Whooliganz, alongside Scott Caan, son of James and best known as Casey Affleck's brother in the Ocean's Eleven trilogy.  They were once signed to Tommy Boy Records (where hip hop lives!), but were promptly dropped after their first single, "Put Your Handz Up", tanked on radio airwaves.

Undeterred, Al promptly took up with as many rappers that would have him, in an effort to hone his craft, with varying degrees of success.  So when it came time for The Alchemist to record his first album, 1st Infantry, he looked to those same connections to fill in some of the empty space in between his verses.  When it came time to market the motherfucker, Al turned to the mixtape scene to get his name out there, but unlike most artists, he quickly differentiated himself with a fantastic gimmick: the mixtape in question, The Cutting Room Floor: 1st Infantry Mixtape 1, was made up of nothing but older, unreleased material that hip hop fanatics that read blogs fucking fiend for, and as a result, this project took off like a police chase in Los Angeles. 

Oddly, none of the tracks on The Cutting Room Floor feature any vocals from our host: I suppose Al was trying to save the best for last.  Or something.

Well, at least this introductory skit adheres true to the theme of the mixtape.

So is this an actual remix to a track originally featuring the Mash Out Posse and Kool G Rap, whose lyrics are now laid over the exact same beat Al Maman gave Ghostface Killah for his “The Forest”, or is this a blend especially crafted for this mixtape? I'm not sure either way, because while Ghostface is a much bigger name and, as such, could have made Al much more money, the pairing of Billy Danze and Lil' Fame with the Kool Genius of Rap seems like a much better fit for him. Regardless, this track could be real, so I'll go with that. Everybody on here sounds decent enough, but Wu stans such as myself will find themselves distracted by the background music; I halfway expected Pretty Toney to burst through the studio walls, Kool-Aid Man-style, and start singing. Interesting in an archival way, I suppose.


Hold on. The drops laid over the beginning of this track imply that “Walk With Me” was produced by Havoc. What the fuck? Four tracks in and The Cutting Room Floor already loses its main focus? Anyway, if this was ever truly locked in for an early version of Havoc's solo debut (this track doesn't appear on The Kush, but it did finally pop up on Hidden Files, strangely enough), it could have done fairly well: it isn't that bad, even with the traditionally weak chorus that most rappers feel to be adequate enough. The shout-out to Ron Artest also made me laugh, given his recent game-winning shot against the Suns.

I rag on Group Home a lot, especially whenever the topic of DJ Premier is brought up, because they truly suck behind the mic. However, that statement is unfair to Lil' Dap, as at least that guy tries to write some decent bars, while his partner Melachi the Nutcracker just spouts random sentence fragments like a developmentally challenged three-year-old. On what I can only assume is an Alchemist beat (that was a joke, by the way), Dap drops the dead weight and doesn't sound half bad. I'd be willing to bet that Primo and Al could link up and produce a solo Lil' Dap album that would be at least as interesting as that Blaq Poet album was to other bloggers.

As a longtime listener to hip hop albums and mixtapes, I've been conditioned to expect that a track that is titled “Mobb Show Intro” should lead into a follow-up song entitled “Mobb Show”, or at least into a song on which Mobb Deep actually appears. (I'm also conditioned to believe that most rap album intros suck, but you two already knew that to be true.) So when Al threw me for a loop by leading into a Freeway song, I was upset, but it's his mixtape, after all: he can do whatever the fuck he wants.

Beardy spits some near-unintelligible bars, thanks to the fact that this is a censored version of the song. Really, Al? You keep radio edits of your production work in your vault? Anyway, Freeway sounds awkward over a soulful instrumental that laps him at least twice, even jogging the last leg backwards while giving two middle fingers to the song's star attraction. But it's okay; Freeway can always just run home to Jay-Z for comfort, as those two will be friends forever.  Right?

Why is Al keeping Havoc's old songs in his vault? And why does he think that including sound bites of Cellblock P calling the listeners “bitch ass n----z” is a good thing? Who knows? But I'm glad that The Alchemist unleashed this song, at least, because it's actually really good. Havoc's work recalls a simpler time circa Murda Muzik, an honor that none of the tracks on The Kush can ever achieve. G.O.D. Part III's second verse was a bit weak, but then again, that's probably why this never saw the light of day until now.

Unless you're such a huge fan of Nas that you even follow the man's business transactions, you've probably never heard of Nashawn, who used to be signed to Nasir's Ill Will Records before God's Son realized that he didn't know jack shit about running a vanity label, especially one that nobody was interested in. Nashawn sounds okay enough over this old school-tinged instrumental that uses one too many samples from other songs, but the beat is truly, spellbindingly terrible. Oh well, this could have been a good idea for a song.

Prodigy gives up on the ad-libs for a brief moment to actually perform on a song, and I have to say, so far his partner Havoc has him beat in the entertainment department. This song is boring. One of my biggest fears is that Cellblock P will actually break “the switch”, causing this track to play on an endless loop forever and ever. That, and clowns. Those are my biggest fears. Those, and Sarah Palin.

Capone's line “My [phones] stay tapped like Gregory Hines” was pretty funny, but the rest of this song lacks any attempt at humor whatsoever, making this a trying listen. It's not the fault of the artists, though: G Rap sounds pretty good. Instead, it's the Alchemist beat: I can't imagine any rapper that could make this music sound like anything except incidental music for a 48 Hours investigation. Kind of sucks that Al feels the need to cut this song short, as if it would be released in full in the future: doesn't that defeat the purpose of including it on a mixtape called The Cutting Room Floor?


Pairing West Coast stalwarts Dilated Peoples with East Coast has-been Prodigy isn't the beat of ideas: shit, the Dilated/Kanye West collaboration sounded more natural. Cellblock P hardly ever collaborates with underground artists that don't also happen to carry his weed and help him remember his wedding anniversary, though, so this sounded interesting for about thirty seconds, before I realized that Al's beat was dull and that I'm also not a Dilated Peoples fan. Sue me.

I was waiting for Rapper Noyd to pop up on The Cutting Room Floor, as The Alchemist is close with him: apparently, Al sees something in this young scrapper that everyone else that listens to his post-Episodes Of A Hustla output simply doesn't. Big Noyd returns the favor by not boring the audience to death. I wouldn't ever sit through this entire track if it appeared on an actual album, but as a mixtape relic, it'll do.

As, apparently, the only member of the Wu-Tang Clan thugged-out enough to appear on The Cutting Room Floor (what can I say, The Alchemist serves a niche market, and he's happy to do it), Inspectah Deck represents well enough. The track is cut short by our host for the evening, but at least “Stay Bent” proves that Deck can sound pretty good when he doesn't have to also worry about handling the beat. Yes, this paragraph was yet another roundabout attack on Deck's production skills. Believe me, if he were consistently decent, we wouldn't continue to discuss this.

Finally, Hav and P find the time to appear on the same track together. “Backwards” wasn't really a leftover song from Al's vault: it was intended to appear on 1st Infantry, which, of course, The Cutting Room Floor was just a carefully constructed infomercial for. (It never made it that far, by the way.) But I'm not really upset, as this doesn't sound that bad, even though these two find themselves spitting over the poppiest beat I've heard from Al in a long while. While it evaporates from your short term memory very soon after the track fades out, it sounds decent enough when in progress.

Al's other Mobb Deep affiliate homeys show up to close out the proceedings, with a couple of verses that would sound alright if every other bar wasn't about sucking DJ Kay Slay's dick. (I don't follow Kay Slay's mixtapes, so I have no idea if this track ever appeared on any of them.) Cellblock P makes a surprise cameo (maybe not a surprise to you, since I listed him in the song's credits, but still) to introduce the Mobb's resident studio singer Chinky, who uses the beat from Mtume's “Juicy Fruit” to prove that she should probably stick with hooks. And there's the exit, so I guess this tour is over.

SHOULD YOU TRACK IT DOWN? The Cutting Room Floor is an interesting concept: hip hop would be much more interesting if artists and producers compiled their own leftover scraps of material, as opposed to having individual tracks leak online. This way, we could also benefit from any commentary from the artist in question (at the end of “Deep Meditation”, it is mentioned that, had the track been mixed a bit differently, it would have been good to go). So in that respect, The Alchemist wins over the audience. The surprising part of The Cutting Room Floor is that most of it is very entertaining. There are bad tracks, of course, but for the most part, Al's castoffs sound better than some of the tracks he's actually landed on other albums. Since I'm not the biggest fan of Al Maman's chemistry set, I was shocked at how much I enjoyed this mixtape (although, to be fair, my favorite track was the Havoc-handled “First To Drop A Beat The Boldest”), so if you're a thug rap fanatic (as this is all Al knows how to do), you should probably look this one up.


The Alchemist – Chemical Warfare


  1. A.R. MarksJune 02, 2010

    Inneresting, inneresting...I do like that "Drop a Beat" track a lot, now that I've heard it. But I have vague recollections of hearing this and not being impressed.

    I also have been soundly disappointed (pun--intended?) by Alchemist's albums, so in the guise of cut tracks from one or both of these albums, I remain uninterested.

  2. You trashed every track then recommended we give it a listen?