If you're well versed in East Coast hardcore rap of the late '90s and early 2000s (Nas, Mobb Deep, the LOX, etc.), chances are you're familiar with the Alchemist, even if you've never heard of him until now. Know first, if you don't already, he's no rapper. He's a fairly quiet guy, in fact, a hard-working producer who lets his beat-making speak for him -- dark, forceful productions for some of the best dark, forceful rappers in New York and beyond. Roughly ten years after he broke into the game big time with Queensbridge rappers Infamous Mobb and, in turn, Mobb Deep, he unleashed his debut album, 1st Infantry. It's a godsend for fans of his productions. Up until this point, you've had to gather up his work one production at a time -- for instance, a track or two from the latest Nas album, a couple from the recent Mobb Deep album, and so on. No more need to scavenge, however, as 1st Infantry is somewhat of an Alchemist mixtape, rounding up 19 different productions, all of them exclusive to this album and each boasting a brand-name rapper. Some of the featured rappers here include Nas (the top active rapper in New York circa late 2004); Prodigy and Havoc (of Mobb Deep); Styles, Sheek, and J-Hood (of the LOX); the Game and Lloyd Banks (of G-Unit); Dilated Peoples (a top Left Coast hip-hop group that is a bit of a wonderful surprise here); and others including M.O.P., Devin the Dude, Chinky, B Real, and T.I. Believe it or not, everything here is first-rate -- the beats especially. You really have to wonder whether or not the Alchemist had been saving some of his best beats for himself! The raps are a bit off the cuff -- freestyle-like, actually -- which is precisely what you'd expect from a mixtape-style album like this. Hooks are minimal, if existent at all, but that's just fine for an album like this. This is no commercial effort. It's not targeted at radio or MTV or anything like that. Rather, it's a fairly underground effort, emphasizing beats and rhymes -- not pop hooks and the latest trends. One for the true hip-hop heads this is, and further proof that the Alchemist is one of the top producers in the game circa 2004. So forget about Kayslay, Whookid, Green Lantern, and all those dudes. Sure, they put out some tight mixtapes, but can they craft beats like these? Those guys are just the medium -- Alchemist is the source.
AllMusic Review by Jason Birchmeier
feat: The LOX
feat: Illa Ghee
feat: Devin the Dude