Producer's Corner: Evidence & Alchemist
When worst comes to worst, my peoples come first.
While the Dilated Peoples song quoted above wasnt released until their second album, Expansion Team, Evidence and Alchemist have been living by the mantra since they were high schoolers in Malibu, California. Initially meeting outside of a club, they would form a friendship and cut school to record songs at each others houses. Evidence would help form the group Dilated Peoples, and Alchemist would be the force behind many of their seminal tracksincluded the one quoted above, Worst Comes To Worst.
This year, even though Evidence lives in California while Alchemist lives in New York, their friendship and their musical chemistry are just as potent. Alchemist is heavily involved in Evs impending Layover EP as co-executive producer, while Alchemists much-anticipated Better Living Through Chemistry album will have cameos from Evidence as well. Little surprise then that theyre working together even more seriously as the duo Stepbrothers. In an interview with HipHopDX, the Stepbrothers talk about their friendship, their music, and schooling with Nicole Richie.
HipHopDX: How did you guys first meet?
Evidence: I knew [Alchemist] through different graffiti crews and whatnot, but I met him through Scott Caan, James Caans son. They were actually in a group called The Whooliganz together. We were dancing back then, skateboarding and whatnot. I met Alchemist outside of a club, where I was waiting to find if they were having an open mic or not. I was outside itching to get on, and he was out there. Probably in 90 or 89. He was a short, funny lookin dude, with his jeans below his shoes. You know the guy whos at the club with his jeans under his shoes, so his jeans are all fucked up at the bottom? He was that guy. We called him Mudfoot. That was the bum in Fat Albert, but we called him Mudfoot for a different reason: he couldnt keep the bottom of his pants clean.
DX: Is that what everybody called him? Or just what you called him?
Evidence: That was his rap name, before Alchemist. He was publicly Mudfoot. Ima go on record and say Mudfoot was a better rapper than The Alchemist. Tell him I said it, too. He was like half Grand Puba half MC Lyte [click to read].
DX: When you think back to when you guys first met, to the Dilated Peoples album The Platform, to now, talk about the differences you see in each other.
Alchemist: I know him very well, and we always make good music together. Just being able to be in different places, and being able to keep the relationship as far as friends sharp. If I was with him every day like we used to be in high school, wed probably want to kill each other. The distance makes it [different], so when we hook up, its always special. We clicked through music, and I think thats the best part about it. That makes it always fresh.
Evidence: When I first started, I was young, and I wanted to be old. Now Im old, and I want to be young. When I was younger, I had a really high voice and I wanted to make it deeper. Now my voice is deeper, and I want to make it higher. Its all fucked up. Ive grown publicly. I just feel like Ive been under public artist development my whole career. People have said my voice changed, my patterns have changed, my stage show has done this, and appearance-wise Ive changed. A lot of things Ive done publicly, but other artists have waited to come out the box and stayed that way. As far as what I see, I just see shit coming full circle, really. Just cycles, thats all.
As far as Alchemist, I just see him with more gray hair. Im just going to keep trashing Alchemist. My skill levels not high as him, so I have to bash him. Did I mention hes short?
DX: The Platform was a long time ago. When you listen to that now, how do feel about it? Is it still something you can bang, or do you just feel like youve done so much since then that its not your best?
Alchemist: Well an artist is always going to do that. Look at an old picture of how you were dressing and youd probably feel the same way, but you were dopin off of it then! Its similar to that. While were always in love more with what weve got now. When I listen back to shit we did even six months ago, or two years ago, it always feels like Im progressing and like Im looking at an old picture. We make music, and once we put it out to the world, we let go of it. Its like sending your kids off to college and into the world: its not for me anymore once I release. Once the people who bought it are saying, Its that classic shit, thats all that matters. Every now and thenI dont even get to listen to the shit the way I would listen to the shit I grew up off of, because Im trapped inside of it. But sometimes the album will come up on its own when youre cleaning the crib or something, and its like, Aw man, this shit was dope! But rarely do I get to listen to my own shit with that perspective.
DX: Each of you have mentors with strong backgroundsAlchemist, you learned a lot from DJ Muggs and Evidence you worked with QD3. How did that help you get to where youre at now?
Alchemist: It just gave us something to shoot for. Knowing what kind of ballgame youre in, seeing people ahead of us doing what theyre doing. Its always good to have somebody above you whos better than you who you can surround yourself with so you can try to raise to that level.
Evidence: My situation is different from Alchemists. Muggs [click to read] really was his mentorhe took him on tour, they did multiple Cypress [Hill] records together, he went to the studio with Muggs. QD3 was just my neighbor and friend; he never really staffed me like that. He was my inspiration, and he was my mentor without him realizing it, but he never sat down, like, Let me show you how you do this. That was moreso me gathering what I could from us being friends.
My mentor would be Joey Chavez, or Alchemist, not QD3. QD3s just a person who inspired us. Joey learned more from QD3 than I did. The only person who really buckled down and spent a lot of time showing me how to use the drum machine was Joey Chavez. Hes the only person I called over and over and bugged for months straight, and came over and wrote directions down on a piece of paper that I had to read every day. I knew what I was doing already, because I was watching Joey and Alchemist.
DX: What made you guys decide to form a group?
Evidence: We didnt decide. The people decided.
Alchemist: Its been in the air forever. I guess now, its just coming out on the press level. People who know us know weve been working together on a project for who knows how many years. Just kind of toying with it, because hes got Dilated, and Ive got the beats for whoever artist Im working. We always have prior engagements. I have this Gang Green album that I just finished with Oh No. Thats a project I ended up getting done fast, because I didnt know Oh that well. Me and Ev know each other so well that sometimes were kicking it with each other, and we take forever to get music done. Not because of our work ethic, just cause of how we are and we know were going to make this project sound crazy. Thats probably why we havent fully focused on it, for a couple reasons. But we put the name to it, and I thought it was a good idea. [Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly] are our favorite comediansand we redid Hits From The Bong [click to read] for Mick Boogies mixtape [click to listen], so we put that out as a tribute to Cypress.
DX: Alchemist is established as a producer, and Evidence is more established as a rapper. Do you guys think you help each others lesser known qualities shine more?
Alchemist: I think its possible. At the end of the day, it comes down to what we do. Its always room to be creative. I dont even think that far. I never think that far, because even [our previous] projects came out crazy. We didnt fake nothing: we respected each other, and we run in there and just bang out and make some crazy shit. He makes beats, I make beats. He rhymes, I rhyme. Some records he makes the beats and I rhyme with him, some records I make the beat and he rhymes with me. The bottom line is that were sharp in all the categories, so depending on the day and the vibe, we just go in. In the end, we make sense of it, and it comes out crazy. But thats just how it is. Without saying, we rise to the occasion.
With our project, of course, if hes got beats on the album, hell be like, Ive got to step my beats up. And of course, if Im on a whole project rhyming with him, Ima feel like Ive got to make my rhymes compete with his shit!
Evidence: I dont know if he feels like that, I dont know if I feel like that. If that is the case, its never been brought up between us. I think its just good push. Being in the studio around his beats is going to make me step my shit up. But being around his rhymes is going to make me step my shit up, too. I value both of us, though. If its fresh, its fresh. When I step to the table with a dope beat, I dont think hes like, Oh If its dope, its dope. That is that, which is good. I think we both push each other.
DX: Duos have had so many different formats: Outkast, Pete Rock & CL Smooth, etc. Who do you look to for duo inspiration?
Evidence: Dilated Peoples, Cypress Hill, people who have their shit right. With Alchemist and I, theres no record deal right now, theres no budget. Im doing this just to be doing it. Its fun to me, and I think people will hear that and be attracted to it. I dont have any expectations for this, I dont know where its going to go or not go. I just know its another chapter in the book. Its a creative time for me, Im making music just to be making it. I dont have any intention or ulterior motive of where Im trying to take it; Im letting it evolve naturally. Its just me and Alc making music like we did after school every day, and we document it and put it out to the people.
But Ill tell you this. Were about to go on tour with Redman and Method Man, and they fucked up. They got the only two dudes who can smoke them, undoubtedly, under the table, to open up for them. This isnt even a rap show, this is weed mania.
DX: You think yall can beat them, though? They made How High, man.
Evidence: Theres no question! I come from B-Reals "Dr. Green Thumb's Kush." They wont know what to do once they do bong hit number 47.
DX: What kind of work do you and Alchemist have on your new EP?
Alchemist: Out of the three joints I did, on this record, Im rhyming on two of them with him. So were basically planting the seed for Stepbrothers with this project, and with my project and my EP, Ev is going to be on two joints as well. So were just pushing each others shit and building the buzz. On Evs [The Layover EP] album, Im definitely representing on that. After you hear the EP, I think youre going to be like, I want to hear more of their shit. We got two joints on there, and weve already shot videos for both of them. Ev, he really stepped up on this EP with the raps; if anything, I think thats more impressive than the beats. And the beats are crazy, Im not trying to knock the beats! I just think he [improved].
Evidence: Its really exciting. Stepbrothers is going to be our official group name. Dilated Peoples had the song Live On Stage [click to read] in the movie Stepbrothers, that was a big look for us. So what Alchemist and I are about to do is recreate the photo for Stepbrothers; weve got wigs and the argyle shit and everything. Were going to put that picture on the net, with the Live On Stage instrumental into it, to announce our presence as Stepbrothers. Ive got a song called So Fresh on the EP, which is the first official Stepbrothers song. Its not featuring The Alchemist, its just So Fresh by Stepbrothers. Hes all over [the EP]: he co-executive produced it, and he produced the majority of it. I have him rhyming twice: once on The Far Left with a new rapper from Fresno called Fashawn [click to read], youve probably heard him. I wanted to put him on my EP. I have another joint Alchemist did called To Be Determined, thats featuring Elzhi [click to read] from Slum Village and Aloe Blacc. Ive got a lot of different things. He brought a lot of players to the table with whom he has rapport, so its just Alchemist again showing his versatility as a producer. Hes overseeing everything I do. Its a complete blessing I have him in my corner.
DX: Al, how far along is Better Living Through Chemistry? Cats have been waiting for it
Alchemist: Well, yeah. Ive done and remade it five times already, which one you want to hear? [laughs] Ive got to move the chips around as days change and gas prices go up and down, so do albums have to be adjusted! Im just making a point that Ive been nurturing it. If I did ALC Records myself, I probably wouldve just dropped shit. But Im in a business, you know? I got down with a company and broke bread, so when they want to put hot shit out, they can. Thats why I went and did Gang Green and other things, because they cant stop me as an artist. So I dont think theyre trying to stop me; they really love the product, but theyve got pressure. Look at the industry; numbers arent really what they used to be. We moved 200,000 the last go-round, on the independent. So they really want to come correct this time.
DX: Youre widely regarded as one of the best producers in the game, period. But a criticism Ive heard is your loyalty to underground artists; some feel that your talent could be better used with raps top dogs. Do you think thats a valid concern, or that your accessibility makes you that much more valuable?
Alchemist: I think perception is everything, and thats the beautiful thing about this game. I dont want to spoil those peoples perception of me, thinking that Im loyal to the underground, but I mess with all the top dogs. [Laughs] I send them all those bangers, I send them hot shit. So your issue needs to be with the labels, and the top dog artists youre talking with, and why theyre not fuckin with it. Because believe me, Im on my grind. Some people think that if Im not on a certain album, Alchemist is slipping up, or Alchemist is keeping it real. Man, Im out here on my grind. Im doing my thing. Sometimes if they dont make albums, or Im not on the right big artists albums, please believe Im still hitting them up, e-mailing them and sending my joints. From Nas, all the way down. I definitely put my bid in, trying to get it poppin.
A lot of times, what ends up happening, they dont mess with the beats I send them. But then I tell them, Get on this joint for my album, and Ill pick the beats. The same beats I send them that they werent tripping on, Ill pick one, they get on them, and theyll be like, I want to keep this for my album. As fans, dont want to ruin the perception. Just know Im out here on my one-two. If the beats dont make albums, I dont have control over that. Thats why I do Gang Green, thats why we do Evidence projects and Alchemist albums. Im a producer first, thats what I do. Im not about to sit on my hands Ive got to get out there and get my shit heard, whether its on the underground circuit or in the top dog circuit. It really doesnt matter to me.
DX: Youve both worked with a lot of people, but your chemistry with each other is undeniable. What are some differences youve seen between working with each other and working with other people?
Alchemist: Every artist works differently, everybody has their individual styles and how they do what they do. We work good together because of our relationship, I think its as simple as that. He does his thing, we both respect each other. I listen to him when it comes to rhymes, he listens to me when it comes to beats. Even vice versa, cause we both do both. Its a good checks and balances going on in the studio with us. I work like a maniac, I dont sleep, and that shit rubs off on Ev, too. Hell be working with me and hell be in berzerk mode. Ev will organize and focus and execute his plans, while I just bang out. Hell choose content and song titles and craft out his album in his head. But I just like, to, Ahh! Lets just go in and throw shit at the wall! We havent even seen our creative limits yet. Sometimes I feel we limit ourselves because of the style weve created over the years, but we know our shit now. So sometimes, I just want to go berzerk. Its like checks and balances. Hell let me know if Im going too far, and vice versa. At the same time, were trying to push shit and stay in our category without going berzerk. Shit gets boring, sometimes. I know how to do what I do, but I want to be able to do different levels. Thats what Evidence is doing too, with his rhymes hes starting to show other flows and other pockets and other deliveries. Which is what I wanted him to do. Were just right on that edge of going into zones that are uncharted.
Evidence: Sometimes, I take it for granted that hes The Alchemist, because hes my friend. If I was in the room with Just Blaze or anyone else I respect ion that level, I wouldnt have the same lazy attitude, knowing that I can revisit it or take the beat home and finish it later. Thats really changed in the last three years, a lot. Hes really earned his respect again. The other thing is that its hard to concentrate when youre working with an ugly-looking short dude; it fucks up the vibe sometimes. Anybody under 55 is hard to work with.
DX: What are your favorite three tracks youve done with Alchemist?
Evidence: The Far Left, To Be Determined and So Fresh, all off of Layover EP. Im an artist, so I love everything we recently did. Well realize it wasnt good later.
DX: Do you think youll realize that these three arent good later?
Evidence: Yeah. [Pauses] Im kidding! But as a metaphor, though, its true. I love everything we do, then sometimes Ill take a step back and realize that wasnt shit. Its really more on the people, its not so much on us.
DX: You guys went to school with Nicole Richie, right? How similar was your school to the one on Beverly Hills 90210?
Evidence: Nothing like it! There were only 30 people there, no one talked to each other, everyone was high. There wasnt anything except doing some work and leaving. Alchemist missed 9th grade because he was on tour with Cypress Hill, I missed ninth grade because I was fucking up. We both went to this place in Malibu to make up our grade. Were the only Hip Hop kids, but theres a lot of other people there, like Incubus, Nicole Richie, and all these fucking actors and famous people.
Alchemist: We went to this little school out in Malibu, out by the beach. I was going to a public school, and so was Ev. He was fucking up for one reason, I dont know if it was graffiti or whatever. But it was cool, because thats where we built a lot of our first shit. Ditching school and going to his crib and working, or going to my crib and working. We would just make songs. We had songs of me and him rapping. Before he made beats, when I was just making beats, he got the ASR and immediately started making beats. That was the beginning of our whole musical development, between that and school. The school was a long drive from where I was. I had to hit Sunset PCH for a half hour drive every morning for school. So I used to get high in the morning before school, and make beats the night before, and drive in the car and listen to them on the cassette on zone out. That was always my test of whether the beat was hot or not. I would wake up in the morning, and be like, Oh word, I made a beat last night! And hope that I forgot it, because I wanted to hear it fresh in the car on the way to school. But yeah, that was the type of shit we would do.
DX: Going out on the 90210 note, what do you think of Brian Austin Greens rap career?
Alchemist: Was it a career or was it a song? [Laughs] I dont know if it was a career. I wouldnt go that far. I remember he was down with J-Swift, and we were cool with Clinton. I remember he was like, Hes working with Brian Austin Green. I wasnt trippin off that, in one way or another.