Well, \’Al be Damned!

| December 22, 2009 | 0 Comments


Photos: Nicholas Schrunk

The Alchemist is a mad scientist in the studio.

He has both the killer work ethic and instincts — dark melodies and cinematic acoustics over gritty hip hop beats. One recipe from The Alchemist’s “cookbook” could call for an Apple Mac G4; an Avalon Vt-732 sp compressor; ProTools; an ASR-10 sampler; a Moog Music Voyager synthesizer; a Neumann U-87 microphone and one fire-assed brain full of ideas. So sit down, and grab a taste. 

Al, as his close peers call him, has great spirits to pair with his skills. This dude keeps himself excited: calling every moment of his musical career “an experience.” He’s a dope-assed producer with 16 years worth of paid dues under him.


Born Alan Daniel Maman in Beverly Hills on Oct. 25, 1975, Al has gone through quite a musical metamorphosis – as one half of the hip hop duo, The Whooliganz, along with actor James Caan’s son, Scott. The group was signed to Tommy Boy; released a minor hit (“Put Your Handz Up”); shelved (the group recorded one album, Make Way For the W, in 1994) and eventually dropped. Never one to get discouraged, Al moves to New York to go to college. His passion for music continues. His childhood friend, Evidence of Dilated Peoples, helps along the way. An apprentice under DJ Muggs, Al becomes a ghostwriter for Cypress Hill’s 1995 effort, Temples of Boom. Now sprinkle in a little patience; grind; good times and a good ear, and you get pure musical alchemy.

Al is unpredictable with his craft. He will neither give up the formula nor the secrets to his mixes. Hell, he’s not really a fan of using the latest in technology for his sound. Just know, the one-time affiliate of B-Real’s (Cypress Hill frontman) crew, The Soul Assassins, has since gone on to make some bangin’ alchemy with Mobb Deep; Defani; Nas; Fat Joe; Jadakiss; Ghostface Killah; Snoop Dogg and his protégés The Eastsidaz; Linkin Park; Morcheeta; Pharoahe Monch; Royce da 5’9; Kool G. Rap; Capone-N-Noreaga (CNN); Cormega; Big Daddy Kane; Stat Quo; The Game; Ludacris; Nelly; Missy Elliott; Lloyd Banks and the late Big Pun. He was a part of 2005’s Anger Management 3 tour as Eminem’s DJ.; how crazy is it to think that a near fatal accident, which leaves Al with collapsed lungs and broken ribs, almost costs him his life?

It’s no wonder Al likes to take mad control of his shit. He is a visionary. He has his own record label, ALC Records, and keeps streams of  product in motion. His acclaimed debut, 1st Infantry, was released in 2004 along with his appropriately titled EP, The Alchemist’s Cookbook, in 2008. He continued to emcee on the mixtape circuit: releasing two installments of The Cutting Room Floor (in 2003 and ’08 respectively); Insomnia (2003); No Days Off (2006) and The Chemistry Files (2006). Al created instrumental collections: Gangster Theme Music (2000); The Ultimate Music Machine (2002); Lab Tested (2004) and Rapper’s Best Friend (2007). Al has also signed on as the sole producer for Grand Theft Auto’s 10th soundtrack, Chinatown Wars. As Al will tell you, he doesn’t take his name lightly. Not only that, every element (or second of the track) counts.

I get it in with Al backstage at Opera in Atlanta. He’s just blessed the stage, along with fellow producer Just Blaze, with an all-out beat battle. Blaze says the performance is a “friendly showcase.” He has the most laid back presence; he posts up on the sofa adjacent to me. He immediately thanks me as he sits. He rocks a navy blue hoodie; jeans; and green throwback high-top Reeboks. It’s all love with this one: we chat briefly about the future of hip hop; what goes into making a hip hop classic; his sound; the industry and what the future holds for him.

There is a science to all of the madness.


…on the future of hip hop.

“I just enjoy doin’ it. It’s like a celebration. I was thinkin’ when I was hearing all of those other beats – I was like, ‘Damn, I’m glad we made it already’ Man, havin’ to battle with these young producers – it’s a lot of talent out there. I’m like…I feel blessed just to be able to have made it over that hump where I can just play the joints that I’ve produced and get love. It’s a blessing.”

…on what makes a hip hop classic.

“First and foremost, being a fan. Second after that is the dedication – being a work force. Third is just being a perfectionist because in the end, it was like, ‘I love the music. I’m doin’ it.’ It’s really about puttin’ the magnifying glass to every second of the record. If the record is three minutes, put the magnifying glass to every second of the record, and make it special. Sometimes, less is more, so it ain’t always about changin’ the beat up and makin’ it do tricks. But just really being tuned in to every second. It’s only three-and-a-half minutes; it’s a record – that’s short time. It’s really gotta be special.”

…on experimentation.

“At the end of the day, it’s the knowledge to be able to have a lot of different sounds. You know what I’m sayin’? When you’re dealin’ with samples, you’re able to pick from a lot of different sounds. That’s a level of achievement for a producer where you’re like, ‘When you hear something, it’s gonna be dope!’ That’s a certain level that you reach; to get over that is ill. You hear somebody’s name, and you go, ‘I know it’s gonna be dope.’”

…on what makes “The Alchemist” sound.

“Sometimes, I think about it. I think, ‘Man, I took on a huge load with that name ‘cause you know “THE ALCHEMIST” – there’s a lot of science behind that. But at the end of the day, I feel like my ear is also my gift. I’m able to hear the right sound and interpret it in a way that nobody else will. That’s similar to real alchemy – takin’ old records that are useless and turnin’ it into something that’s fresh for 2010. I think there’s something to be said about that – takin’ something from an old era that might’ve been trapped in that era but you bring new light to it. You chop it up; put your twist on it. I don’t take it lightly: my name. I’m The Alchemist; I gotta take it seriously. I don’t play around with this.”

…on hip hop’s corporate interest.

“I think the credibility and the people [Red Bull] they’re affiliated with. J. [Moore, one of the organizers behind Red Bull’s Big Tune Competition] is one of the most focused producers I know. For him to be involved with an event like this – we all should shine a light on young producers – not young but new, unknown producers who are coming up. That’s just dope period to have an outlet like this. A lot of the beats that were played tonight, they could be on big albums right now. If I was an A&R, I’d be pullin’ people to the side and sayin’, ‘Give me that one right there.’ I can name various rappers who would fit very well on a lot of these beats. So to have an outlet like this where producers are comin’ up, [Red Bull] definitely stands out being the company that they are: a mastermix as far as being a corporate brand. Shining a light on these young producers is really dope to me. Don’t be surprised if someone from this show ends up being a great producer and makin’ his sound. When you make that connection, it won’t be a surprised.”

…on his future.

“I wish I could prophesize it. It’s hard to say ‘cause you deal with a lot of managers and A&Rs. At the end of the day, I’m throwin’ darts. I wanna hit the bullseye; I’m gonna hit it. Just know that everyday, I’m back in the studio doin’ what I love – makin’ music ‘cause I know everybody else out there is doin’ the same; so I feel that pressure. [Just Blaze and Frank Dukes] – the rest of the great producers in this world that are out there tomorrow morning. That keeps me on my grind to just make new shit. My peers inspire me.”

…on having longevity in the game.

“Less is more, first of all. Safe is wack. If you’re being safe, then you’re not takin’ chances in life or your music. I can’t really raise a flag for you. I respect people who take chances. If it’s wack, fuck it. Jump over the line, and take chances. Let your blood rush a little bit, and those are the people that push the parameters. I’m just feenin’ to hear something new in life. So when I hear something new or meeting somebody that’s talented – a rapper or an artist – I look at them the same way that I look at a famous actor; musician or anybody who’s really talented. I look at you like you’re a peer. People who create, it’s a sixth sense. A lot of people don’t have that sixth sense. They don’t have that vision. Everything at the end of the day was just an idea. It manifested because somebody cared enough about their idea to put it into action. At the end of the day, I just respect people who are creative. That’s a lot of nerve to paint a picture; to make a beat; to play a sound – you don’t know how to react to that shit. If you know it’s dope – if you really are in tune with the world. When you have something, there are some other human beings on this Earth that are gonna have it, too. You gotta believe in what you feel; go wit it and have fun. This shit is an experience; life is an experience. Just live it up; don’t play wit it.”


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