Full albums from hip-hop producers can pull one way or the other, working either as a too-narrow spotlight for the name on the album jacket or providing a platform from which only the guests shine. Then there are the albums that manage to put both the producer and the rappers on equal footing. This year’s already produced such a disc from Oh No, and now that producer’s partner-in-crime in the Gangrene duo has his turn. On his third full-length, Russian Roulette, The Alchemist matches that effort in stride.
The man once known as Alan Maman made his name providing beats for the likes of Nas, Jadakiss, Curren$y (acting as the sole producer on the Covert Coup mixtape), and Prodigy (most of Return of the Mac). With upcoming projects with Action Bronson, Freddie Gibbs, and Domo Genesis, his name should become a household one soon. That said, Russian Roulette is doing a lot of the heavy lifting in that regard. Despite the big names (he invited a veritable indie hip-hop A-list), Maman’s vision shines without overpowering. From the “Soundcheck” on, the blend of samples from Russian sources (including the inimitable Dolph Lundgren in an interview with Joan Rivers), movies, and soulful music sprawls out like a swanky fever dream, 30 tracks covering 45 minutes.
There’s an undeniably crafted dramatic sense to this album, one that Maman exploits with track titles like “Training Montage-Getting Stronger”. There are verses and samples that stand out like favorite scenes from an epic film. Roc Marciano’s menacing flow on “The Turning Point” matches the thrumming bass and smoky electric guitar, and the ubiquitous Danny Brown shout-flow on “Flight Confirmation” adds some harshness to the haughty, angular violin sample. The instrumentals link everything together like a gold chain. And what does the “Getting Stronger” lead to? Nowhere else but the Kosmonauts with Russian Roulette blasting off into space. The samples get eerier, sparser, as on the lithe “Kosmos Pt. 6 – The Explanation”, in which Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire does his best Biggie and talks to aliens. Much like his production partner Oh No, Maman sets himself into a category that deserves more recognition than “the guy who did some beats for…”
Essential Tracks: “Flight Confirmation”, “Kosmos Pt. 6 – The Explanation”