The Alchemist Rises Above the Rest on 'Flying High'

BY Wesley McLeanPublished Jul 4, 2023

The Alchemist has been a pillar in hip-hop since he came onto the scene as one-half of the Whooliganz and as a producer for acts like Dilated Peoples and Mobb Deep during the '90s. Since then, he has solidified himself as one of the all-time greats and arguably the best producer of the 2020s so far, helming critically-acclaimed release after critically-acclaimed release at a seemingly unmatchable rate. With this latest release, Alc links up with some familiar faces and delivers a little appetizer to hold over fans before his next full-length release.

The four-track affair is a superb showcase of Alc's ability to craft incredible sample loops
that bring a cinematic flare to every track. Whether it be the laid-back prose of Larry June, the coldly monotone delivery of Boldy James or the multisyllabic density of Earl Sweatshirt, each instrumental perfectly accents the verses that they're backing. While the songs on this EP range from smooth as butter to dark and eerie, the instrumental landscape that houses each verse feels perfectly catered to the rappers' respective styles.

The opening track, "RIP Tracy," sees album-of-the-year candidate billy woods paired with none other than Earl Sweatshirt, as the two display their lyrical prowess over a revolving string section and distorted vocal loop. From the second Earl makes his presence known, the pair deliver an unrelenting barrage of bars, showcasing two of the most technically proficient writers of their generation. Earl's verse is particularly remarkable, as even the simplest of his lines spill over into something special, with the ongoing motif of vision being integral to the structure of the verse and the amount of depth he can bring to each bar, even in instances where he uses few words to get there.

"Trouble Man," the EP's second track, features frequent Alchemist collaborator Boldy James, up-and-coming L.A. rapper T.F and a dark, drum-free instrumental that could soundtrack a '70s horror flick. T.F's verse is an excellent showcase for the rising rapper, as his gruff voice and matter-of-fact delivery bring his words to life. Boldy's verse is yet another in a run of impeccable verses from the Detroit native, and he delivers it so effortlessly that you can't help but believe that he could do this in his sleep — as he states in his opening bar. 

The EP's third track, "Bless," sees the familiar but fantastic pairing of MIKE and Sideshow. They deliver smooth, self-reflective bars over an incredibly low-key instrumental built around rotating guitar and piano riffs. MIKE remains one of the most singularly talented writers in hip-hop, delivering a densely packed verse with conversational ease, dropping gems in nearly every line. Sideshow matches MIKE's energy perfectly, coming through with his own poetic observations on his past ("Cupid don't shoot arrows, just .223s / Fell in love with the block, concrete / And when the money touched my hand, felt like the block loved me") and a lustrous flow that feels right at home over the Alchemist's luxurious production.

The closer, "Midnight Oil," is a true highlight in such a short tracklist, one of the rare occasions where Alc comes through with a verse of his own. Following a pair of stellar verses from San Francisco's Larry June and Vancouver, BC's Jay Worthy, Alchemist holds his own with an impressive showing. The occasional Alc verse is something long-time fans are used to, but still never see coming, making each verse feel like a treat — and this one delivers. There's an air of earned arrogance to Al's verse, the speech of someone who's earned their way to their position and knows it. It's a verse that feels expensive ("I clutch a pump, dump it and jump a country / Might be in London speakin' bluntly") matching the opulent instrumental perfectly, and closing this EP perfectly.

This project may be just a bite-sized sample, a delicious hors d'oeuvre served up while you're waiting for whatever three-course meal that Alchemist has coming next, but it's also a reminder that Alchemist's circle doubles as a roster of some of the best rappers around. Whether what's next is a collaborative album similar to LULU or The Price of Tea in China, or compilations like this EP and many others in Alc's catalogue, it seems nearly impossible for the veteran super producer to deliver anything of subpar quality.

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