Because his name is so entrenched with the thugged-out street shit the two of you prefer to listen to a lot of the time, at least according to the comments and e-mails I receive, it's easy to forget that producer-slash-rapper Alan "The Alchemist" Maman actually hails from the decidedly non-gangsta Beverly Hills, California. The man has certainly more than earned his place in the hip hop pantheon: there is no disputing that point, and that's not what I'm trying to do anyway. I'm merely here to remind you two of the fact that not everything The Alchemist touches turns to actual gold.
The Cutting Room Floor 2, the subject of today's post and my workaround that allows me to write about artists from every region presented while still technically being about a dude from California, is a limited-edition mixtape released as a proper album, in that you can actually buy it off of Amazon in mp3 format, but the physical disc was limited to only five thousand copies. Hence the reason why this isn't technically marked as "for promotional use only". However, it was most certainly designed to be a mixtape, since this compilation of tracks that Alan didn't consider fit for a proper album for whatever fucking reason is blended together as one, with the song interruptions and bad blending that come inherent with the medium.
The Cutting Room Floor 2 again finds our host paired up with some of his bestest friends in the whole wide industry as he secures bars from members of Mobb Deep, Dilated Peoples, and The Lox, pairing these alongside fresher collaborators such as Twista, Devin the Dude, and pretty much every unpopular member of the Shady Records roster at the time. Unlike the previous installment, though, The Alchemist fills the ranks with verses of his own, marking this project as one of the first times in his professional career as a producer where he felt comfortable enough to actually rap. Which isn't news now, of course, but back in 2008 this was a much bigger deal, I'm sure.
Well, that was certainly a rap album intro.
2. TIGHT (MOBB DEEP)
Maybe I'm getting soft in my old age, or maybe my expectations were adjusted so much lower after listening to that first disc of The Infamous Mobb Deep, but Hav and P actually kill “Tight”, which, conveniently, does have a tight instrumental, thanks for asking. We're not talking the salad days of Mobb Deep or anything, but at least in whatever year they recorded this shit for their boy Al, they tried to act like they gave a good goddamn. “Tight” runs for only two minutes and nineteen seconds: who knows what we would have ended up with had Alan saw fit to release this properly. But you have to take what you can get when you're a Mobb Deep fan trapped in the mid-to-late 1990s, like myself.
3. MR. PITIFUL 2010 (THE ALCHEMIST)
Over a slowed-down version of Cool V's “Mr. Pitiful” beat given to Big Daddy Kane, Alan takes to the microphone himself to bring us up to speed on how he got to this point in his career, from his early days with a pre-Dilated Peoples Evidence (but no mention of Hawaii Five-0's Scott Caan, his former Whooliganz partner, unless I completely spaced on that) to his current status as a producer in high demand. His flow isn't that hot, but he deliberately apes Kane's performance on “Mr. Pitiful”, so he's restricted in regard to what he can do anyway, so I'll let it slide. All in all, not bad, but not great. It's very easy to see why Alan held back on having this see the light of day (properly).
4. MY WILL (NAS)
Nasir Jones apparently came through to the studio right after his honeymoon (more than a bit awkward at this point) to drop a self-congratulatory verse that also serves to promote the acts on his label, Ill Will Records, only one of whom, Tre Williams of The Revelations, seems to still be doing shit (see: Ghostface Killah's 36 Seasons). (This shouldn't be confused with his current label, Mass Appeal Records, which has already done a better job of releasing albums from people not named Nas in its short lifespan than Ill Will ever did.) While I'm still not the biggest Nas advocate (Illmatic is a fucking classic, there will be no debate held, you all know I'm right, but ever since then he's taken this rap shit so straight-faced and seriously that he sounds downright mechanical in spots), I will admit that he actually seems to be enjoying himself on here. Ah, post-honeymoon bliss. Alan's beat is trash, though, so that's probably why you'd never heard of this until now.
5. FUCKING UP MY COOL (BOBBY CREEKWATER)
Former Shady Records seat filler Bobby Creekwater was probably the best rapper at his high school, but when thrust into the national spotlight, one notices that his flow is merely serviceable: the man is technically proficient, but he lacks the spark needed to ignite his career and to set him apart from the pack in this highly-competitive field that fucking everyone seems to think they can make it in. It's not as easy as it looks, people. Anyway, Alan's beat is frustrating in that, aside from a couple of minor flourishes, it never fucking changes, so Creekwater flows from verse to hook to verse with nothing differentiating those particular elements of the track. Which would definitely fuck up my cool if I gave it a shot.
6. EV & ALC FREESTYLE (THE ALCHEMIST & EVIDENCE)
Also known online by the far-more-clever title “A&E Freestyle” or the less-so “A@E Freestyle”, depending on where you look.. On here, Alan connects with his buddy, Dilated Peoples member Evidence, for a quick freestyle from their side group, Step Brothers. I realize this is literally just a freestyle, but my guess is that this might have been held back by the Toto “Hold The Line” sample that producer Dru Kevorkian constructed the entire beat around. It's not bad, and neither are the bars: nothing of substance is spoken on here, but these guys have their own way to work with delivering threats and boasts on a rap song, and at least they're consistent. I probably would have slowed down the sample just a fraction, but this isn't my mixtape. (And no, I don't have a mixtape.)
7. AIN'T ON SHIT (TWISTA)
Alan allows Chicago speed-rap champion Twista to rhyme by himself on “Ain't On Shit”, which was a smart move: anyone that shares a track with the artist formerly known as Tung Twista has a tendency to start speed-rapping along with him, which almost always sounds silly as shit, and while The Alchemist may crack a few jokes during interludes and such, he probably doesn't want to come across as “silly”. Over an instrumental that sounds like it was lifted from a modern-day update of Kirby's Dream Land, Twista makes a case for his continued existence in this rap game, and he's not bad, but there ain't shit on here that will stick to your ribs.
8. BIG BODY BENZ (THE ALCHEMIST & UN PACINO)
Also known online as the far-more-specific “Repping A.L.C. Pt. 2”. As mentioned above, the biggest difference between the last installment in this series and The Cutting Room Floor 2 is Alan's increased presence in the front of the store: he's always rapped, but I suppose at this point in his career he started feeling more comfortable with letting some of these tracks go. It isn't bad, but his beat outshines the rhymes by a wide margin, which may have been his intent all along, how the fuck would I know? Un Pacino's Jadakiss flow dominates the second half, which led my mind to wonder: would Kiss be a more successful rapper today had he hooked up with a crew other than The Lox and the Ruff Ryders? Or was he just doomed from the start to live the life of a guy who is good behind the mic, but not great? Discuss.
9. INNOCENCE (PRODIGY & G.O.D.)
Prodigy and the Infamous Mobb's G.O.D. Pt. III (quite the elaborate rap nickname, I'll give him that) spit a single verse apiece over one of those soulful numbers Alan defaults to when he's not trying to be sinister. It isn't great, but Cellblock P sounds decent enough, at least mirroring the energy of his guest, who actually does come across well enough to warrant some renewed interest in at least the Infamous Mobb's debut album, Special Edition. That being said, though, it's probably for the best that this was never properly released.
10. STRAIGHT BK (LIL' DAP)
Group Home gets a lot of shit, some of it most definitely from me, for sucking and yet still securing some of the best beats DJ Premier has ever produced in his entire career for their debut, Livin' Proof. Hip hop heads use that album as a prime example of how great instrumentals can elevate anyone's rhymes to this day. Truth be told, though, only Malachi The Nutcracker is terrible behind the mic. Lil' Dap was always serviceable, and continues to be so on “Straight BK”, a short ditty marked by a 1980's-inspired beat, a quickie verse, and a longer interlude than absolutely necessary for a goddamn mixtape. He doesn't sound good, but he doesn't sound bad: he just sounds, I guess. And for him, that's enough, probably.
11. DIE ANOTHER DAY (PRODIGY)
It's hard to write something about a song that is also known as “Yea I'm On That” when it vanishes from your memory while it's playing. I'd say this fucking sucked, but I seriously cannot remember it, and I'll be damned if I'm going to replay the fucker. (Apparently I can't be bothered to rewind a lot since returning to the blog. Is this a sign of bigger problems up ahead? Let's find out together!)
12. AT EASE (EVIDENCE, PRODIGY, & TWIN)
The Alchemist locks three of his friends, selected at random, in the vocal booth, refusing to let them out until “At Ease” is recorded in full. Okay, so Prodigy and Twin Gambino (credited only as “Twin” for some reason) obviously have a history outside of Alan, Twin being a member of the Infamous Mobb and all, but I think we can all agree that Twin's affiliation with The Alchemist separately has done him a few more favors in this here rap game. But no matter how many times Cellblock P repeats the song's title, nobody on here sounds at ease with one another, and while songs recorded under duress can sometimes reveal something new about the artist (such as how Warren G. was scared shitless of Suge Knight when he recorded his verse for Snoop's “Ain't No Fun (If The Homies Can't Have None)”), don't go looking for any insight on this shit. Evidence has what seems to be the longest verse, if that means anything to you.
13. ALL WRONG (DEVIN THE DUDE)
Alan tries to prove himself to be a producer with an ear for different styles, but he falls flat on “All Wrong”, a track whose very title lends itself to a scathing criticism that's too easy for me to resort to here. The beat is annoying as shit, burying guest star Devin the Dude's vocals a good majority of the time, but Devin isn't blameless here: his flow is still smooth as hell, but the actual rhymes are meh at best. The best Alan uses for the fucking interlude that ends the track is leagues better than whatever he was trying to do on “All Wrong”. Sigh.
14. TOP OF THE FOODCHAIN (THE ALCHEMIST & CA$HIS)
Being Eminem's tour deejay must have triggered Stockholm Syndrome with the Shady Records roster: there is really no other explanation for Bobby Creekwater and, now, Ca$his to have appeared on this project otherwise. Weirdly, Al reserves him for just the hook while keeping the verse duty to his damn self, spitting over an aggressive instrumental before the track up and switches gears to a useless skit, which still may or may not be preferable to the next track, depending on how much mileage you get out of the guest star.
15. ON MY WAY (TONY YAYO)
G-Unit's own Tony Yayo pops in for a one-verse wonder that leaves little room to the imagination regarding why Alan decided to keep it locked away on his hard drive for so long. It does end so quickly that you won't even realize that it ever existed in the first place, though, so that's something.
16. CALMLY SMOKE (THE ALCHEMIST & STYLES P.)
The Cutting Room Floor 2 ends with what is, honestly, a pretty chill track to smoke to, which is why it's convenient that both Alan and guest star Styles P. (of The Lox) talk about doing exactly that. Nobody's reinventing the wheel here, but “Calmly Smoke” is so goddamn pleasant to listen to that you really won't mind. After a mixtape full of down points, at least Alan stuck the landing.
Curiously, The Cutting Room Floor 2 contains two bonus tracks unlisted on the back cover, or at least my copy did: I didn't find much in the way of corroboration online. The mp3s listed on Amazon appear to leave this final part of the program off.
17. BONUS TRACK 1
A blank audio track.
18. BONUS TRACK 2
After the empty track, Alan (or at least I'm pretty sure it was Alan) slips in a fourteen-minute-plus cut-and-paste pastiche of dialogue samples, music, video game sound bites, and whatever else he could find on his computer, apparently, which ends up being bizarrely epic in scope. It's a fascinating glimpse into an alternate career path for The Alchemist, attempting to create a narrative out of samples, without the crutch of rhymes to lean upon for the majority of the “song”, at least until it segues into a hidden Prodigy effort. Don't get me wrong: up until that point, this shit was weird. And it's too goddamn long: most of you two wouldn't even make it through the first listen, so you may never actually hear Cellblock P's voice and you'll just have to take my word for it. But I appreciate that Alan was this cool with being strange, since you don't get that enough from most of our chosen genre. Shame that Prodigy's song is pretty standard-issue and not offbeat in any way, though.
FINAL THOUGHTS: So The Cutting Room Floor 2 is mostly a bust: those of you two who were hoping to find an heretofore-undiscovered gem will walk away from this mixtape masquerading as an album not with an air of disappointment, but one of indifference, as this project will have absolutely no impact on your day-to-day. It also won't affect any of the players involved, either: Bobby Creekwater and Ca$his, neither of whom is signed to Shady Records anymore, are hopefully receiving at least a tiny percentage of royalties on the sales of the Shady XV compilation, but otherwise they're surviving, and every other rapper on this disc is still in the game, so obviously they're doing something right to avoid regular day jobs in this fashion. Even The Alchemist is moved on to release much better work. Luckily for him, Alan can always fall back on the "these songs were sitting in a vault for a reason, and I thought it would be cool to let some of them go" excuse: since these songs were purportedly on the cutting-room floor, the idea is that even he knows they weren't necessarily any good, and as such, you should have lowered your expectations significantly prior to listening. So if you think The Cutting Room Floor 2 sucks, just know that you're the only one he cares to blame. Pretty tricky, that.
BUY OR BURN? Nah.
BEST TRACKS: "Calmly Smoke"; "Tight", maybe
Catch up with The Alchemist by clicking here.