Alchemist first made some serious noise and gained critical acclaim as a producer with his work on Mobb Deep albums. “The Realest” featuring Kool G Rap on Mobb Deep’s “Murda Muzik” was a classic beat that became a classic song. The Alchemist soon began doing production for Infamous Mobb, Prodigy’s solo album, Big Noyd, and other Mobb affiliates. Eventually, his production became much more well known. There was a serious riff between the Ras Kass and Alchemist because of he sold the same beat to Jadakiss. These days, everybody from Nas to Dilated Peoples to Ghostface Killah to Freddie Foxxx to Guru has one or two Alchemist beats on their albums. He played a major role in the production for “The Platform” LP by Dilated Peoples. From “The Forest” on Ghostface’s “Bulletproof Wallets” to “Book Of Rhymes” from Nas’s “God Son” LP, Alchemist has been producing some extraordinary beats for some of the most respected and most hardcore emcees. All this time, there was hype of his solo production-driven album “1st Infantry”. Originally, it was supposed to come out on Landspeed Records. There were some tracks released on the bonus CD of the “Free Agents” album by Mobb Deep. Fast forward to 2004, The Alchemist finally released “1st Infantry” on Koch / ALC Records with guests ranging from Mobb Deep, Nas, The Lox, Devin The Dude, and Dilated Peoples. While Alchemist did have some classic beats on these emcee’s albums, he saved some of his grittiest and hardest beats for his solo debut. The beats for “We Gone Make It” by Jadakiss and “The Forest” by Ghostface had an instant appeal. The beats on “1st Infantry” are just as good but they grow on the listener more.
The best songs on “1st Infantry” are the gritty tracks where Alchemist sounds more comfortable. “Tick Tock” featuring Nas and Prodigy is a classic track that proves to be the hardest and best song on the album. The soulful, 70’s style loop creates a pimped-out gangsta atmosphere. Singing the melody, Nas handles the hook, "...Tick Tock this is for my n*ggaz in the Bridge, blocks /Comin' through better hide your wristwatch / Because n*ggaz well live they sh*ts pop / Hey hey / Tick Tock this is for my hoes make your hips rock / Light a L baby let the Crys' pop / Get your Tick Tock from this hip hop, any day..." Having Nas and Prodigy on the same track, spitting gritty rhymes is simply wonderful. “Boost The Crime Rate” features Sheek and J-Hood rhyming gritty, criminal-minded lyrics over a truly ill beat. The electronic melody gives the track a sinister feel as Sheek steals the song with hardcore rhymes. The opening track, “Dead Bodies” features Prodigy (of Mobb Deep) and The Game (of G-Unit). The beat thumps hard as an electronic melody is added along with vocal scratching. Prodigy and The Game work well together. Right from the start, you can tell this is a gritty album. Prodigy rhymes, "...N*gga I tie your wife to a chair and blow that b*tch up / You better fire-proof your crib cuz I'll blow that sh*t up / I'm about crime for real, this rap sh*t is luck..." There is no holding back and the hardcore expression is an essential element in hip-hop. Lloyd Banks (of G-Unit) gives a solid performance on “Bangers”. With his low vocal tone, he sings the hook reminiscent of his hit “Fire”. Devin The Dude adds diversity with his wonderful performance on “Where Can We Go” about a secret and adulterous affair. The tight 70’s style groove gives the song a dirty and classic feeling. M.O.P. give their usual adrenaline frenzied performance on “Stop The Show”.
A handful of tracks take some time to grow on the listener. The lead single, “Hold You Down” does have a smooth R&B hook by Nina Sky but the verses by Prodigy and Illa Ghee make the song enjoyable. “It’s A Craze” with Mobb Deep has all of the ingredients of a dope track but it just does not hit as hard as it should. “D Block To QB” featuring Havoc, Noyd, Styles, and J-Hood should also be an incredible collaboration but ends up being simply decent. Other decent tracks include “For The Record” with Dilated Peoples and “The Essence” featuring The Lox.
Some songs can be automatically categorized as filler. “Different Worlds” is a novelty track where Alchemist raps along side Twin from Infamous Mobb about how different their lifestyles were. While Twin was robbing and selling drugs, Alchemist was nice and paid attention in school. The song is entertaining for one listen but the novelty soon wears off since Twin is a much more experienced emcee. The sad “Strength Of Pain” features the singing of Chinky for an entire track. Unfortunately, the song disrupts the flow of the album. Alchemist attempts to satisfy the Southern hip-hop nation with “Pimp Squad” with T.I. and P$C but it results in being filler. The skits on “1st Infantry” are somewhat clever but they quickly become skip-worthy after the first listen.
After many years and different labels, Alchemist’s debut solo LP “1st Infantry” is a solid product with some minor flaws. Even though “1st Infantry” has a solid guest list with minor variety, it would have been cool to hear some more diverse collaborations. Devin The Dude and Dilated Peoples add a different flavor to the mix but Alchemist has done amazing work with Ghostface Killah, Kool G Rap, Snoop Dogg, and Ras Kass. With more diversity, the album would be much more entertaining. Queens has been the backbone of his work and the borough is represented fully with multiple appearances. Mobb Deep and Nas always shine bright on Alchemist’s production and nothing has changed on this LP. “1st Infantry” is an LP that grows on the listener with time. When Alchemist did production on LPs for other artists, his songs stood out and instantly satisfied. On “1st Infantry”, the loops and beats tend to creep into the listener instead of an instant hit. This aspect gives the LP a longer replay value. Alchemist’s “1st Infantry” is a generally satisfying collection of collaborations with some surprises and some filler tracks. Alchemist has proven that he could produce a solid LP. If “1st Infantry” is Alchemist’s first solo LP concoction, his future musical elixirs will be worth taking.