The Alchemist gathers a terrific group to give gorgeous verses to his intricate beats.
The one word that feels most apt to summarise The Alchemist’s EP This Thing of Ours is smooth. It’s a word that covers the feel of the entire record with ease, from the 50s jazz inspired record cover to the vibrant, bass heavy beats to its treatment of its featured rappers who, here, are held in the same regard as a crooner was in the 1960s. Featuring artists that the Alchemist has mostly produced for before (Earl Sweatshirt and Boldy James, for example), and one or two new faces, while also clocking in at just under ten minutes (just under twenty if you are counting the instrumental versions of each song, too), it’s a brief and familiar sounding record. Nonetheless, the talent of all involved still gives it enough power to make it work – and work well.
The real stand-out track here is certainly ‘Nobles’ (also the single used to promote the record), on which Earl Sweatshirt and Navy Blue take turns delivering a couple of lines at a time and manage to bounce off of each other beautifully over a triumphant beat that sounds straight out of a 60s film score. It has some gorgeous lines, as to be expected considering that it features two of the best lyricists currently in hip-hop, such as Navy Blue’s closing ‘Hard work, callous the palm, that isn’t wrong/Soul battered and grown, sadness is gone.’, and also samples from sources as adventurous as The Never-ending Story and jazz artist Sun-Ra.
The other clear highlight is Mako’s appearance on the third track, ‘Holy Hell’, on which he discusses his struggles with bouncing between hopefulness and hopelessness, opening his verse by saying ‘Just love the moment, my n****/Wake in the morning and picture this day different’, before reaching more into his personal life and concluding with the much bleaker ‘I don’t know how to keep it honest (…) Devil playing, trying to barter with my soul/I never know these days, just let me know’. Even if the beat for this track sounds a little too similar to ‘Double Hockey Sticks’ from The Alchemist’s collaborative album with Boldy James titled Bo Jackson, the two verses on it give it enough to make the track impressive regardless.
Thankfully, The Alchemist manages to get Earl Sweatshirt’s most positive verse (second only to his feature verse on Zelooperz’s wonderful ‘Easter Sunday’) as he talks about moving beyond the grief that has been evident within his work since as early as 2013. The Alchemist celebrates over another triumphant beat with synths, saxophones, trumpets and guitars, saying ‘I had a bad bout with grief but I tossed a match on it/Kerosene, burned the ring down to ashes/And memories, feather feet behind and ahead of the beat/Throwing ‘em off’, also expressing his happiness with his newfound style of rapping which takes MF DOOM-esque flows and merges them with the intensely literary style that Earl has always written with.
So between the James Galdolfini & Motown-era soul samples peppered throughout, the consistently brilliant verses and the expectedly brilliant production, This Thing of Ours makes for one of the better 10 minute listens out there and is another showcase of the clear talents of all involved.
This Thing of Ours was distributed by The Alchemist’s company, ALC. Listen to the main single, ‘Nobles’, featuring Earl Sweatshirt and Navy Blue, on YouTube below: