Alchemist & Evidence Discuss "Lord Steppington" & Beastie Boys' Influence
Exclusive: As Step Brothers, Alchemist & Evidence revisit the creative process they began in high school and share advice from Rick Rubin & Joey Chavez.
When Alchemist was in high school, he would take the bus to school in the mornings. The Southern California sunshine likely waking him up from a long night of early instrumental experimentation, Alchemist would throw on headphones to hear his latest creation. He’d hit the play button and last night’s beat would begin to bang.
It was all part of a routine for Alchemist, who is one half of the Step Brothers duo with Evidence, the twosome that is releasing its Lord Steppington collaborative album Tuesday (January 21) via Rhymesayers Entertainment. For the high school Alchemist, this routine helped him decide whether a beat was good enough to keep. If he had forgotten about the instrumental and it sounded refreshingly ill, he’d keep it. If it sounded too familiar, he scrapped it. He made these executive decisions just before school.
Outside of school, Alchemist had a different type of education to explore. He and friends would gather, like-minded artists who would become known outside of their hometowns for one reason or another. Among those friends, will.i.am, DJ AM and Alchemist’s close friend and fellow The Whooliganz member, actor Scott Caan (who happens to drop an ill verse on this project). There was also Michael, who would make his name in the music industry as Evidence, one third of Dilated Peoples, a platinum-plaque holding producer and a respected solo emcee. Al and Ev would get together, joke around, write rhymes, listen to beats and vibe out in their younger years. Listening to Lord Steppington today or viewing the duo’s “Step Masters” music video, it's clear that foundation for their friendship and musical bond has not changed too much.
Alchemist and Evidence are prominent on their own. They didn’t have to combine their forces for Lord Steppington, and as they say, it wasn’t something they set out to do. Instead, these tracks were crafted daily, naturally, as friends making beats and rhymes. That genuine fun and their unquestionable chemistry is evidence that Step Brothers’ Lord Steppington is an ill journey to embark on. The Step Brothers spoke with HipHopDX about their history together, their work and how the Beastie Boys influenced the fun on this album.
Alchemist & Evidence Contrast Their Rhyme & Production Styles
HipHopDX: Al, you’ve talked a lot about experimenting in the studio, whereas you’ve said Evidence likes to plan things out before hitting the studio. How was this album created between those two styles?
Alchemist: Did I really say that? Maybe I was referring to Dilated [Peoples] as a group more, as opposed to us. Whenever we did Dilated projects, it was more thought out, the beat was decided upon, and it was more organized. It’s kind of like more of a fucking whirlwind these days, musically, by choice, because it’s just more fun to get caught in a tornado. It’s just like, “What’s up? What's happening today?” And we attack it. It was just a different approach—you go into the studio, you make some shit and it’s gotta be good.
Evidence: You gotta think, the Dilated albums are from more of a major label era. Even though we started independent, the first albums we were creating were created with budgets, hiring producers, and contracts and points and splits and royalties and all that stuff so getting back to independence, the Evidence records still have some signs of that a little bit, here and there. What [Alchemist's] been doing the last few years, I don’t even gotta repeat all the records, because you guys have been showing mad love [to Alchemist]. All of that experience has been real inspiring. So for me to go into Step Brothers, we’re going to be different because we just are. We have a lot of history and experience, so it’s not going to be like that. But to let him just chef up like that, and trust his vision is ill as a rapper. I’m a producer, but I love to be produced in the booth. There is no producer who doesn’t want someone they trust to tell them, “You killed that,” or “You didn’t kill that.” Otherwise, you just record by yourself in the studio all the time, which is a good thing also. But, that’s another story. I just feel like this is ill for what it is at a time when he’s doing some next level shit. I’m proud to have a piece in this puzzle of what’s going on.
Alchemist: It’s a very focused vision. Whatever the fuck happens tomorrow, that’s how focused I am. So it's very focused and concise. There’s no room for variables here.
DX: So how long has this album been in the works?
Evidence: I don’t think we set out to make an album. I keep saying that. But what’s different on this album from the other is there was no budget, dates, deadlines or booked mastering sessions. It wasn't like that. It was more like, wake up, smoke, coffee, then go to his place, and walk in and the beat's already going. I say, “I like it,” and he says, “I like this.” And that’s happening.
That gets done, and then we move on to something else and someone comes over and we listen back. That happens over a year, or two years or whatever. Then you look at ProTools and you’ve got a whole folder full of shit. People were asking for it enough that we said, “Let’s bottle this up and find someone to put it out.” There was no conscious effort to make an album. It was a lot of fun for me like that, because I never went to work. It was just like another fucking day in the life. You know what I mean? It was good.
DX: Even though it’s been so long, and it’s random at times, it’s still cohesive with all of the skits and references. How did you guys narrow it down?
Alchemist: I don’t know. We just kept working and had a lot of joints. As time progresses—at any given time making the album—there was probably something in my mind that I thought was the album. Six months back, I probably had a playlist with all the records we had. But it changed constantly, so I just keep an open mind with all the records we had. That’s just how I make records. We’ll make songs in create-mode. Then certain records would just become, like, “These kind of are building the foundation for what sounds like a project.” And then we just build around it, and then later on, some records we thought would stick don’t stick because we just made some crazy shit the day before. You’ve got to know how to not have “Demoitis” or get tired of a record because you’ve heard it a lot. So I try not to listen to the music too much.
We get real high off the music when we’re making it—probably higher than anybody listening to the record will get when they feel that feeling from the song. We’ve already smoked the best part of the weed, but we leave a nice piece for everyone once they get it. That’s why we say that once the music comes out, we barely even listen to it anymore. There’s a feeling we get when we’re making it, and we trust that everybody will feel it. As long as we stay in tune, and we drop records and people like it, then we’re good. If we love something in the studio, it comes out and the whole world is like, “What the fuck is this?” Then we need to do some fine-tuning.
DX: “Demoitis” is reminiscent of what you’ve said in the past about making a beat at night and not knowing whether it’s ill or not until you hear it on the way to school the next day. How do you do that today?
Alchemist: The key is to forget the beat you made the night before. So you need to either be so high, or just whatever it is... The best thing is to wake up and just go, “Yo, I know I made some shit. It’s on my machine, and I didn’t save it yet.” Then go in and press play. That way you get a clear [idea]. You either erase it like, “I was bugging,” or you say, “It’s definitely some shit.” Over the years, the ratio is more…nine out of 10, it’s probably good. But I like to forget the beat, which isn’t easy. If the melody creeps up on me in the morning, I’m mad, like, “Fuck, I don’t want to remember it.” Even if it’s good, it feels like it came from somewhere else, like, “Goddamn, I made this shit? Cool."
How Alchemist & Evidence Draw Inspiration From Each Other
DX: You guys have talked about drawing inspiration from each other. Can you talk about how that relationship or that inspiration helped this album?
Alchemist: I think it was both. We grew up together. Whatever we were working on—beats, rhymes, graffiti, to whatever it was—we came up together. There was a lot of people in our circle. We grew up with [will.i.am] and other people who were super talented.
Evidence: It was an ill time, and everybody was pushing each other and everybody was good at something. For rhymin', when we were young, his rhyme style was inspiring for me. When he started with beats, I wasn't the gung-ho Alchemist. I was on Joey Chavez’s shit and [DJ] Lethal’s shit. Then [Alchemist] found himself later with the beats, and that became really inspiring. So it all happened at different times. It wasn't the complete Alchemist artist you know. It was like I liked an element that he was doing then and then the other element caught up and now it's all catching up.
Alchemist: I think our approaches are different as the types of people we are. I would try to run down and try to fuck all animals, and Ev would probably just be like, “Yo Al, why don’t we just walk down there and fuck ‘em all?”
Evidence: You almost fucked that up.
Alchemist: Yeah, but you got my analogy. I saved it. I would try to go maniac and Ev isn’t necessarily more thought out, but maybe more methodical. He’s probably more finesse with it. So at the end of the day, we’re both gonna have a different product cheffed up, but they’re both quality in different ways. I'm maybe more crazy and nutty, but...
Evidence: Plus, over the last few years while he’s been doing all that, I’ve been on the road with Atmosphere doing shows and building up my solo shit as far as rocking crowds. I want to bring a lot of that to the table when we start hitting the stage, and that’s where my contribution will kick in a lot.
DX: Ev, you talk about coding. You say, “Decoding all these messages / But it’s only for the passengers / If they haven’t caught on by now / Then it’ll never happen.”
Alchemist: Yeah. I'd like to know.
Evidence: Yeah. I mean, “You can’t teach old dogs new tricks / But old tricks on a new bitch is easy as shit.” How you like that bar?
DX: Yeah, man...It's something you've been including...
Evidence: I’ve had a long career doing this shit. I’ve lived nine lives doing it, and I’m older, but I don’t feel like that. As long as I don’t feel like that, I’ll keep going. But I’m not expecting to turn over a fucking rock and see a million people there who haven’t been riding with me. I can switch music up or go a different route if I choose to do that. But, the route I’m choosing to do, and the vision I’m choosing to fulfill is like, I know my people. I know who they are, and that’s who I’m riding out with. If more come, beautiful. If not, I’m not looking to please them.
DX: It just seems like every year more people come.
Evidence: Yeah, it’s been crazy, man. And they’ve been getting younger, which is weird.
DX: Al, how do you think you’ve changed since your days as Mudfoot?
Alchemist: Just deteriorated as a human. Just lost hair. Grayed out. Teeth aren't as powerful as they used to be. I'd probably fuck my ankle up if I go to play basketball.
DX: What about as an artist?
Alchemist: As an artist? I don’t know, man. Let me think. As a kid, we didn’t know shit. We didn't know anything. So I think the innocence made it so that you could just create shit. You could create crazily. There wasn’t a lot of situations, and business, and things that might cloud your brain up now. Rightfully so, otherwise you’d be a fucking starving artist. But, at the time, it was just all creativity. I was looser, and I was definitely a better rapper. When I first came out, that was all I did. Now I rap for fun, but as a kid it that was my thing. That was how I got my props. So as kids we were just free, and we were probably just as high, to be honest...But it was like, just the innocence. Now that weighs in sometimes, and it can throw you off. You just have to be aware of it, because I love to just have fun all fucking day. But the reality is sometimes you gotta get on that call, and you’ve gotta deal with the bad news of the business side. It’s annoying, and it'd be nice to go, “Fuck all that. Let’s just sit in the studio and make some Rap.” But, you get problems that way. That would pretty much be the only difference, otherwise I’m the same dude. I still tag my name the same way.
DX: Yeah, but it still seems like you had fun on this album.
Alchemist: Hell yeah. That was one thing I was adamant about when we were doing the project. I was like, “Yo, if we don’t have fun then I don’t even…” It’s not work for me, especially not with Ev. We’ve known each other for a long time, and we both have product and things we do outside of Step Brothers and other work that we could be doing. Sometimes that shit could be work, but this was definitely not going to be work. So, we were conscious of that shit. Also, I definitely looked at old Beastie Boys shit, footage and music and I wanted to have fun with this project and I wanted people to feel that way.
When Ev drops an album, he gets on his solo thing. He's already killed it on a lot of project and he's dropped a lot of personal stuff. His music is different from Dilated, his content and everything, to a degree. So with this project, it wasn't like I was telling Ev, "Don't spill his heart on it." But I was like, “Let’s just channel one thing on this project, so we can have fun, go on tour and shit and make it that type of project. Look at [Beastie Boys] and how much fun they're having. These guys had too much fun. I wanna have fun like that." The only difference is we were a little older when we came into the game, but I think we’ve got that energy.
Step Brothers Discuss Beastie Boys' Influence On “Lord Steppington”
DX: You brought up the Beastie Boys, and you talk about them being a great influence for this album. When you toured with Eminem and Rick Rubin, did you have a chance to chop it up with Rick, and what were those conversations like?
Alchemist: I did. It was pretty ill. I didn’t want to fan out, since it was me, Em, Paul and him when we did Saturday Night Live. But we were backstage, the room was real small, and it was just us for like a half an hour. I wound up in a room, and we ended up chopping it up. And I got the right introduction through Eminem and Paul like, “This is my DJ.” I was like, “You’re the man.” I didn’t want to say too much. But it was cool, because one of the dudes from the cast of Saturday Night Live…What's his name?
DX: Jay Pharoah?
Alchemist: Yes. Jay came in, and he was open to meet all of us. So, he was like, “Rick Rubin. Alchemist. Tight.” Which was cool, because I’m not even close to where these guys are in my career. But it was just an honor to be around Rick. He definitely told a couple stories about studios, and I was just a fucking sponge. I had to chill and not be groupie, man.
DX: What’d you learn from that?
Alchemist: He was putting us onto a lot of things. He was really talking to Em, and I was kind of just there, man. But just being around him and we did the rehearsals... He’s a regular guy. I’ve never met him, so it was intimidating to not know what he was like, but he was just really cool, and just giving us insight on things and giving us his history. Obviously, we were asking him some questions, and he was just talking about back in the day, and it was great. I couldn’t go as far as I wanted to. I got to chill with him in a great environment. It was an honor. I just want to make history like he did.
Evidence Says “Lord Steppington” Songs Contains Parables Within Bars
DX: Well, you get to cross it off your bucket list. Al, you’ve talked about collaging and using that approach in your music. How did both of you use that on this album, because there’s random references to The Fugitive, Dire Straits, guys from the Mets...
Alchemist: We collage things. Collages are a collaborative work with a lot of different things in ‘em...
Evidence: These aren’t like full rhymes. They’re like little parables within bars. So it’s like, “Gary Carter was a part of the Mets.” Okay next line. It’s a lot of the shit you were talking about Roc Marciano was doing. It's like image-image-image.
Alchemist: We don’t expand on themes too much.
Evidence: Yeah, there isn’t a song where verse one is about this guy and verse two is about his friend, and then verse three they come back and they go to Jamaica.
Alchemist: I have a short attention span, so I want the project to keep moving. I want you to stay on your toes. I don’t want you to feel like you’ve gotta skip at any moment. So, besides having us spit our verses, I want to make sure that the music is interesting, and we want to keep you on your toes. It doesn’t get too light hearted or dark...
Evidence: [Also,] the scene in The Fugitive, where the bus crashes, and he shows you he’s the good fugitive by saving the dude who’s about to get hit by the train, that’s where the sample comes from in [“Dr. Kimble.”] Also, It’s fucked up, but George Kimble is our family doctor, so it’s relevant. When the movie came out, it’s like, “Ha, ha that’s our doctor.” So, there are things where it does tie together. You might not know it, but it’s fucked up.
Alchemist: Well, he was your family doctor. I met him after.
DX: Well it’s cool to incorporate that. The different movie ideas that are in the sounds, and it’s in the lyrics too. Speaking of incorporating different elements from the past, Scott Caan also pops up on “Byron G.” What was the plan there?
Alchemist: Well, we never stopped. We just haven’t put out an album for 15 years, so The Whooliganz is still a thing. We just pondered on a single, and we changed our mind. Next thing you know, 15 years passed. It’s been a long time, and he started doing movies. We decided because Ev, him and me all kind of met through each other and we came up together, we decided it was time to bring The Whooliganz back.
DX: Were you apprehensive at first because you haven’t worked together in so many years?
Alchemist: No. Scott never fell off. He just got better and better while I fell off lyrically, ‘cause I was trying to make beats. So he was just in the zone for years and years and years writing these crazy paragraphs. He came by one day and was like, “Yo, I’m ready. Put up a beat.” Ev came through with the banger and thus, “Regal Swimming Pools.” He just came crazy on that talking Fellini. He's the man. Scott’s the illest.
DX: Ev, going back to the high school days, you talked about Joey Chavez really mentoring you and giving you notes that you’d take home and read over and over as you were creating your work.
Alchemist: It was a booklet, right?
Evidence: Nah, I just wrote everything down on a little piece of paper.
Alchemist: I remember that paper.
Evidence: I remember it was just a piece of paper. It had instructions. It said like, “Turn on ASR-10.” Okay. “Push disk in.” Okay. “Sequence this.”
Alchemist: He looked out.
Evidence: Yeah, yeah.
DX: You mentioned it was instrumental in your success. Who are some artists that you’ve taken under your wings like that?
Evidence: Mad people, but a lot of it is not like...I don’t want to be signing people while I’m still trying to figure out everything I’m doing. But I’ve helped a lot of people without any thought about it, just because I wanted to do it. So I don’t even really know. It’s probably a lot of people, because I’m into helping people out. [Alchemist has helped] a lot of people. We’ll let people come to my place, pop on his beat, and they’ll have a voice. And sometimes emcees will kill his beat also, and that helps his beats pop out. So it’s a mutual thing.
DX: And Blu’s also on the album.
Evidence: Yeah Blu’s on the album, too. But Fash, I like took him to Europe and everything...things that will help him progress and help him move on. I don’t know. When I like somebody, I just fuck with them. I don’t really write it down in a list. Music is just a part of it. You’ve gotta like someone and want to go grab lunch with them after. If you don’t want to eat lunch with somebody, you definitely don’t want to make music with them.
DX: That’s a great segue to an evidence line from this project where you say, “I done meshed with the legends from the best years.” So what was that moment for you, Ev? Where you realized meshing with the legends.
Evidence: Early moments hanging out with B Real...At the time, he was in Cypress Hill and they were on top. That was ill. I don't know, man. It’s like when we were on tour with Rage Against the Machine. Everyone eats, and they have an ill cafeteria for all the artists who are performing, and a band member or somebody sits down like, “Yo, can I sit here?” We’re like, “Yeah,” and they sit down and we talk to them about nothing about music. We’re just talking about the consistency of the soup or some shit. Those shits are ill when you’re just kicking it on a level like that.
Evidence & Alchemist Discuss Friendship With QD3, will.i.am. & DJ AM
DX: Earlier, you mentioned you didn't think about helping others consciously necessarily. Maybe Joey never really thought about it that way either.
Alchemist: Joey was getting busy with beats at the same time as Kendal [Gordy], who’s [in] LMFAO now. You know, Redfoo, we used to go to his crib, and we’d cut Dilated sessions at his crib. We all go back. It’s kind of crazy how growing up on the West Side of L.A., we all kind of connected in one way or another.
DX: When you’re talking about these artists who’ve gone down different paths—some moved on to movies, some have gone on to other genres. How have your relationships changed with them?
Evidence: It’s all fuckin' good, man. Yo, Will never changed his number. From the first call, he still [answers the phone] like, "What's up, Mike?"
DX: That’s will.i.am for people who don’t know.
Alchemist: Yeah. They were in a group together when I first met Ev. They go back.
Evidence: QD3 [Quincy Jones III] is really the big shot out of everybody, because I lived next door to him. If you came over, that meant you could drink a 40. That meant you could smoke weed. That meant a beat might be on. You might be able to get a demo. It meant all kinds of opportunities just opening up. So, QD3 was like the ringleader of this whole shit. And he didn’t ask for it either. He just did it because he liked it or just felt bad for us, or didn’t feel bad for us, or believed in [us] or whatever it was. It's funny. Nobody gets on by themselves, and there’s always a story of people who helped everybody out.
Alchemist: They’re all just an extension of who they were, just like we are, of who we were as kids. We just multiplied over the years and went hard. Everybody is still the same. You kind of would've expected where everybody went, maybe, to a degree. Like, [DJ] AM-rest in peace-he was probably the only one that we didn’t see that coming, as big as he did.
Evidence: Nah, none of us saw that coming.
Alchemist: We all grew up together. For the most part, everyone sees us and goes, “Right. You guys were the same type of dudes when you were younger. You stick to your shit.” It's pretty much the same vibe when we see each other. We just trip out over the old days.
DX: You mentioned DJ AM. Why didn’t you see that coming?
Alchemist: AM went through so many changes as we grew up. Once he got to deejaying, he was compulsive about everything. Once he got into it, he took it to a level that none of us saw was gonna go that far. But, he was right there with Will, with Scott, with me, with Ev and all of us as kids, with Seth from Crazy Town. We were all a crew of kids that used to hang out together.
DX: This was all outside of school or in school?
Alchemist: We all went to different schools, pretty much. It was just the West Side of L.A. Either Westwood or certain places where we all would [meet]. There were certain things like graffiti and Rap that would bring us together.