The Alchemist is a producer/MC from California who’s been on the cusp of obtaining superproducer status for years now, what with his sample-heavy beats supplying chunky backdrops for everybody from Eminem to Raekwon. Oh No is a producer/MC, also from California, who’s been kicking around the state’s ever-thriving indie-rap scene with commendable success for the better part of the past decade. Together, the two form Gangrene, something of an indie-rap supergroup to anybody who’s spent time immersed in the back catalogs of Decon or Stones Throw. Vodka and Ayahuasca is the third release from the duo in the last 15 months, and it’s likely their best outing yet, if only for it being the first time Alc and Oh have sounded wholly in sync on the production front.
The raps might never be the focal point of a Gangrene project – Alc and Oh never embarrass themselves on the mic, but neither cough up mind-boggling 16s, either. Perhaps consequently, the songs here are not so much coherent stories as they are tag-teamed jumbles of merely passable one-liners. A sampling of the kind of lyricism we get here: “Boy, brace yourself/Your dentist’s wack,” “I up the echelon whenever I etch a song,” etc. These guys string together some decent flows all right, but it takes the slicker guest MCs (Roc Marciano, Prodigy, among others) to breathe much life into the album lyrically.
As a result, the real treat here is the production. It’s hard to tell which member had a bigger hand in putting the album together, but that‘s of little importance anyway, because it feeds off atmosphere rather than Alc’s or Oh’s idiosyncrasies. With the only caprice being the hard-knocking, piano-powered “Do Work”, the beats here tend to be swathed in buttery bass lines, spacey psych-rock guitar samples, and obscure dialogue from archaic-sounding TV shows, plus dozens of other subtle textures. (Make no mistake: This is a headphones album through and though.) Gangrene plies a weirded- and weeded-out aesthetic that, when done well, can make a listener want to spend hours with nothing else, and it’s done resoundingly well here, especially on “Gladiator Music“ and “Gang Groove“. Take Vodka and Ayahuasca as a testament to these guys’ long-acquired mastery of their craft, even as the rhymes are generally less than striking.
Essential Tracks: “Gladiator Music”, “Do Work”, and “Gang Groove”