The Alchemist has a signature style almost absolute from the essential hip hop formula. His penchant for building boom-bap tracks around slashing 80s guitar riffs and morose piano samples clearly denotes why he has been able to flourish in a field ranging from Mobb Deep and Roc Marciano to last year’s sleeper hit “Cats and Dogs” with Dilated Peoples representative Evidence.
When he works for himself, however, the results are bit mixed. Obviously “Vodka & Ayahuasca,” the latest effort from the Alchemist and Oh No group Gangrene, is not entirely resting on his shoulders. Yet his influence feels so pronounced, even on Oh No productions, that he truly deserves most of the credit for the outcome.
“Ayahuasca” comes off as a skittering, drug-addled night on the town. A person would have to be inherently reckless to even consider smoking, injecting, or even buying a drug that they probably never heard of before, and that reflects in every crevice of this album. The rhymes are gritty and dense, taking the reins of the obsidian-sharp, caustic beats that slosh around without aim.
But not much is really going on that wows or truly impresses. I have listened to this album at least ten times over in the past five days and each run through is full of half-hearted enthusiasm or absent-minded perseverance. I enjoy “Dump Truck,” with its aquatic production and Prodigy on his “imperial goon” agenda, and “Due Work,” with an overtly complex piano sample and the thumping drums assisting the Gangrene pair as they trade bars, yet I had to listen to those songs again in order to say that.
This is a rare case of a rap album claiming to be hardcore and edgy leaving a slightly upsetting spill instead of a cataclysmic mess of rock-star proportions, because that’s clearly what they what they were shooting for. The album comes nowhere near to being an undercooked collection of beats and leftover rhymes, but perhaps the lack of focus in each song and the useless sound snippets tacked on to every other track bears the blame for that assumption. At the least, if anybody needed good-sounding background music that doesn’t overwhelm, “Ayahuasca” is there to fill the void.