Artistic longevity isn’t easy to achieve – but, with over two decades of rapping and producing behind them, Alchemist and Evidence both have it.
The former is perhaps best known as one of hip hop’s nicest producers, with a long list of credits that includes Mobb Deep, Nas and Snoop Dogg, while the latter made his name as one of the two MCs in legendary indie hip hop group Dilated Peoples. The pair grew up in California and were childhood friends before joining forces during Dilated’s early years when Alchemist became the group’s go to producer.
They’re now trading as a two-piece under the Will Ferrell-inspired Step Brothers moniker, responsible for the forthcoming Lord Steppington LP. It’s an extremely quirky set, built around a loose theme of British aristocracy (“With a British accent you can say wild shit and it still sounds very proper,” Alchemist explains. “You could just curse someone out and it’d still sound fly.”) Guests include Oh No, Roc Marciano and Rakaa from Dilated Peoples, as well as some new blood like Domo Genesis, Action Bronson and Fashawn.
Catching up with the pair in Amsterdam, I asked them each to speak on the stories behind the beats, and also comment on each other’s work. What follows are ten (well, eleven) Alchemist and Evidence productions from the past 15 years, revisited on the fly with no preparation and some choice YouTube comments as prompters. Read on for details of why you can’t do psychedelics past a certain age, what Alchemist thinks of mushrooms and techno, and recording in legendary studios on the sly.
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(taken from The Chemistry Files: An Instrumental Series. Action/Drama, 2000)
Alchemist: I think it was a beat that I ended up using with Everlast and B Real, which is probably why I called it ‘Soul Assassin’. The idea for the series was to put out a bunch of beats that were on album cuts that didn’t come with instrumentals, because back then instrumentals only came out if the song was a single. Sometimes, there were unreleased beats too, but mainly beats I had already put on people’s projects. I liked the first one cos I flipped the KPM cover on it.
Evidence: I heard all of those. To me, they were necessary records to have at the time. Things like that are common right now, but when they dropped it was like, “Oh shit.” I always wanted to rap on those beats. It was the era when we could incorporate those beats into our shows, we could go to the radio and have Babu throw on one to rap to. We all loved them and wanted to rap them.
Chosen YouTube comment: “This sounds like a similar sample DJ Babu used in a beat battle vs Swiff D”
Alchemist: Who knows!
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‘I Gotta (Get Down)’
(taken from Stimulated Records 12”, 2001)
Alchemist: That was a Dilated song first. It just didn’t work out.
Evidence: We ended up changing it and making it ‘Work The Angles’.
Alchemist: I think it was Dante Ross hooked me and Casual up. That’s how it ended up on Stimulated. It was dope, he killed it.
Evidence: Oh my god.
Chosen YouTube comment: “It’s crazy that Alc gave this to an east bay OG. Dude’s voice was perfect for it, but I could see this being more of a classic if someone like Kool G Rap rocked on it.”
Alchemist: I don’t know if I would have heard Kool G Rap on it. I did want MOP to rap on it. Maybe for Mase or Premier or somebody at the time. I think MOP would have killed it, it’s what I was going for I think.
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DEFARI FT. EVIDENCE
(taken from Focused Daily, Tommy Boy, 1998)
Alchemist: That was a beat I actually did as a remix for Mighty Mi, it was some sort of a Mobb Deep remix before I even knew them. We did on a white label or something with Mighty Mi and then because it never properly came out when I was with Defari I played for him and he liked it.
Evidence: I produced a majority of that album, it was the first thing I produced a chunk of. I bought my first car off that album. It was a big thing for me. When we got the Alchemist track I wanted to rhyme on his more than I did on my own.
Chosen YouTube comment: “This beat rick ross’ entire career, not to mention hip hop in its entirety in 2012. And that’s my word”
Alchemist: OK. God bless YouTube comments.
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‘Worst Comes To Worst’ (original and remix)
(taken from Expansion Team album and single, Capital Records, 2001)
Alchemist: I like the original, the remix was great too but I think the original has lasted.
Evidence: There were two elements to this song that made it next level on top of the beat and us rapping. One was the sample of Havoc saying “worst comes to worst my peoples come first”, and the other was Guru, who laced us with the bridge, the little shout out in between the verses. So for the remix it was like, “Let’s get Guru and Havoc, the two people who made that song possible.” Alchemist brought Havoc over to my apartment in Venice Beach and we recorded it up there. He did the vocals in my bedroom, it was crazy. Having Havoc coming over to my house at that time was nuts, I was nervous recording it. The first record did well for our fan base but the second record got us on radio and more TV exposure too. The experience was great.
Chosen YouTube comment: “NOW PEOPLE HEAR DJ AND THEY THINK TECHNO”
Alchemist: Yeahhhhh. Techno’s good. I guess. I don’t know. I mean… if you take the drugs that people who listen to techno take, it’s probably amazing. It probably compliments that drug in an amazing way. I’ll never know.
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‘Keep It Thoro’
(taken from Loud Records 12”, 2000)
Alchemist: I made that in L.A when I was visiting, I was living in New York at the time. I had to make those drums off a record I had in L.A, cos I didn’t have the disk with me. Again, I think it was another one I wanted for MOP – I was playing it to them at D&D and P ended up deciding to rap on it. I think it ended up with the right person, he did it right. He was a little sick that day he recorded the vocals, so it had a little nasal to it but it worked.
Evidence: That’s one of the great ones. I remember hearing it in the apartment Al was staying at. That spot was on Thompson and Bleaker. It used to be noisy all the time, and the noise would never shut off. I couldn’t imagine how you could live like that and he was playing me all these beats and all this shit was going on. The second time I came to the spot was when the ‘Keep It Thoro’ beat was done, I’d brought El Da Sensei over too. He played it for us and we were both going crazy. A lot of memories. This was the time when Al was going to New York and making a lot of noise and all of us in L.A were rejoicing.
Chosen YouTube comment: “I kind of disagree. I think it died around 2003. We still had good stuff coming out in the early 2000’s.”
Alchemist: This guy’s bitter. I don’t think it died, it just grows and changes into different things.
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(taken from ABB Records 12”, 1997)
Evidence: That was the shit. I got to record it with him at A&M studios. E Swift had a friend who worked there on Sundays when the studio wasn’t being used, and we got in on an off day. A&M is where they recorded ‘We Are The World’ and all types of crazy shit, it’s on La Brea, legendary spot. We got to record this underground ass song in there, mixed it in there too. And I had NO idea what I was doing! Completely fronting, just going with it. We tracked it to a reel, put it through a board, got a big mix out of it. Tash, who I didn’t really know at the time and who was probably my favourite rapper at that time from Alkaholics, came through and did adlibs on the song. This was one of my first beats out there and I got Tash doing adlibs, Defari killing it, E Swift doing cuts. I kinda fooled everybody real fast into thinking I was on their level or some shit. Everyone seems to love that song still to this day. One of the best memories is of a Wake Up Show battle at the Palladium in L.A, and I can’t remember who was battling but it was the final round and DJ Revolution was DJing. The last guy was about to go on and they threw on the ‘Bionic’ beat – and the crowd went crazy before the dude even started rapping, just for the beat. It was the best feeling in the world to see that.
Alchemist: Yeah, that beat was crazy. If that beat dropped right now it would be hot. The bass line was ill. We still make beats like that.
Chosen YouTube comment: “hehe defari has excellent lyricism . im suprised hes from the west his style and flows sound east”
Evidence: Yeah, he went to college or got his master’s degree in New York. He stayed in Harlem for a while, or uptown, so I think he adapted a lot of stuff from that. I think later he went back to more of his roots in the West Coast stuff, but round that album he reminded me of Buckshot.
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OF MEXICAN DESCENT
‘I Am Still’
(taken from Exitos Y Mas Exitos album, Nerve Deafness, 1998)
Evidence: What?! (laughs) What the fuck is that?
Alchemist: OMD! Yeah, you done that, that was you, Evidence.
Evidence: The beat probably sucks, but there’s probably something so innocent and amazing about how much I believed in it – that it’s probably really fresh.
Alchemist: And to make it even better we have a Mexican with us in the room! (laughs) Let’s go straight to the comment.
Chosen YouTube comment: “THE AZTECS ARE BORN HERE AND WONT LET GO HAHAHAH LIKE I SAID ONE TIME ….THEEEEE GODS ARE COMING SHIT IM WRONG THEY ARE HEREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE LOVE THIS SHIT U GATTA GO TO THE HOSPITAL CUS YOUR SO SICKKKKKKKKKKKKK”
Evidence: Safe to say it went over well. Cool.
Alchemist: Any memories on when you made that beat Evidence?
Evidence: I have no clue what it sounds like! I can’t remember, but I can remember ‘Audible Angels’ with 2Mex that I did. This is fucking me up right now. I’m old. This is it. Damn DJ Mishaps doesn’t remember it and he’s a super OMD fan.
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MR BRADY FT. EVIDENCE
Taken from Skills, Battle Axe, 2003
Evidence: Oh man, I love this record. “My style’s wild, Brady!” The beat is actually stolen. There’s a song called ‘Get Your Swerve On’ by The Dutchmen. It’s a 12” and I loved the beat so much I just took their beat and filtered it, and put drums on top of it. Wait hold on… We’re listening to ‘I Am Still’ by OMD. It sounds like some Exile shit! OK, I remember that one now. I think I just gave them the beat and they did it without me there, maybe that’s why I didn’t remember it.
Alchemist: Different shit, I like it.
Evidence: It sounds like some Hieroglyphics-sounding inspired shit. But yeah, whatever it was we were talking about was good. Oh yeah, Mr Brady. That one was ill for me. It was the only time in my career where I overlapped every rhyme. I tried it Slick Rick style where I said one line and then overlapped it with the next and so on and so forth. The verse took double the amount of time. I did each line one at a time.
Alchemist: That track was slamming. I was a big fan of Mr Brady.
Evidence: Yo, but on the real Mr Brady kills beats right now. His production game is top notch. Check him I’m not even kidding.
Chosen YouTube comment (the only one in fact): “BATTLEAXE WARRIORS!!!! real hip hop, fuck the rest!!!”
Evidence: (laughs) Oh, that’s how I met Mr Brady of course, through Swollen Members. “Real hip hop.” That’s like the term natural. When you go somewhere and they’re like, “This is a natural product.” Anything can be natural, there’s no patent on the word natural. A plane’s natural. So, you know what I mean?
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‘Weed vs Beer’
(taken from ABB Records 12”, 2000)
Evidence: I didn’t make that beat! Man you fucked up, Joey Chavez made that beat.
[Interviewer attempts to catch self by asking for the idea behind the song]
Evidence: I literally smoked weed for the weed verse and I pounded three beers before doing the beer verse. The kind of stuff that happens when you’re a kid. I always wondered which one was better. When we were young, we started drinking first and weed was the evil thing, “We’ll never smoke weed, we’ll drink 40s for the rest of our life.” And then we found weed, and now I don’t really drink that much.
Alchemist: I prefer weed over beer. But DJ Mishaps would 1000% prefer beer over weed. We’re in Amsterdam, so we’re gonna drink beer and smoke weed. In Amsterdam. No one’s ever done that.
Evidence: We’re gonna smoke beer.
Alchemist: We’re going to do beer bongs.
Evidence: Beer bongs are for losers.
Chosen YouTube comment: “shrooms dude lol”
Evidence: (fart sound) … I did shrooms when I was young, and I started having bad trips, and then I never did acid or shrooms again. I thought bad trips were for other types of people, but then I had one and then I never did it again. I can’t do drugs like that anymore, I have too much… I have a mortgage and shit, you can’t do acid when you have a mortgage.
Alchemist: I hate, like hate, the way mushrooms taste. I fuckin hate… what’s the fancy mushroom? The one they put in oil in expensive restaurants?
Alchemist: Yeah. I don’t like any of that shit, so you know I’m not a big fan of eating magic mushrooms. Just because I can’t stand the way they taste.
Evidence: Yo, but just for the record magic mushrooms and truffles don’t taste anything alike. Ok.
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(taken from The College Dropout, Roc-A-Fella, 2004)
Evidence: It was dope. Kanye deserves the production credit. I turned in a rough beat and he turned it into a symphony. The sample on the original version didn’t clear. I wouldn’t have known what to do at that point. I don’t know how to go about recreating something. I would have just given up or tried to do a remix. But he didn’t. He wanted it a certain way and he got it. I don’t know how he did it. I walked into the session and everything was kinda done. It was just my idea on steroids basically.
Alchemist: That beat was always crazy. As a rough beat, it was crazy.
Evidence: After all these interviews, I’m realising maybe I should just put it out, let people hear the way it sounded before. He put the ‘Get By’ drums on it, my drums were still in there, the pattern was still the same but it was all enhanced. It could hear the snare from ‘Get By.’
Chosen YouTube comment: “See what Kanye is doing now, really what he’s been doing since 808’s, is experimenting. On “Bound 2” he revealed that he can still produce beats like “The College Dropout”, I think it’s a hint that he’s still got it and his next record is gonna be going back to the old school.”
Evidence: I mean… anything he’s done is for preference. He’s proven he can do all that shit.
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‘The Platform (remix instrumental)’
(taken from ABB Records 12”, 2000)
PRODUCER: Alchemist & Evidence
Alchemist: (hums melody)
Evidence: Alchemist did most of it. I think I just had a sample or something. I don’t remember how it went. I think he did more of it than I did, but then I mixed it and had everything else done. It was great. I really liked cos we were so focused as a group at that time, we were modifying lyrics, everything was making sense to me at that point. The remix made perfect sense, everything was clicking.
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