Alchemist and Evidence discuss rap tactics…

If we believe everything we are told, Alchemist and Evidence are in Amsterdam primarily to take drugs. As a sideline, they’re also “promoting the shit out of” their debut album as Step Brothers, ‘Lord Steppington’, an album they claim is about a pizza boy. In a recent US radio interview they said he was a Starbucks Barista, and when contested they react: “Weekday job and weekend job are very different things, my friend.”

Continuing a joke from a previous run in with the duo, they maintain to me that they only worked on the record on Thursdays, and when questioned on the length of time it’s been in progress, Evidence laughs. “That’s why it took so long. It’s important that, that came up. That’s my point exactly. We did every Thursday for like a year.” Alchemist reinforces the position: “Many Thursdays ago!”

Beverley Hills super-producer, rapper and DJ, Alchemist – responsible for hits by the likes of Mobb Deep, Jadakiss, Styles P, Nas, Cam’Ron, Lil Wayne and Rick Ross, not to mention touring the world as Eminem’s DJ – and Venice Beach rapper, producer, photographer and graffiti artist, Evidence – best known for being a member of pioneering West Coast hip-hop trio Dilated Peoples – have been working together since high school.

The pair initially met via mutual friend Scott Caan, son of Godfather actor James Caan, now known for acting roles in Entourage and Hawaii Five-O. At the time, Scott went under the moniker Mad Skillz, and was one half The Whooliganz with Alchemist (then Mudfoot) – who reemerge on Lord Steppington highlight ‘Byron G’, and reportedly have a track recorded with Action Bronson that we will hopefully hear later this year.

Alchemist has had a prolific 2013: releasing albums with Bronson, Prodigy (of Mobb Deep), Boldy James, Durag Dynasty and Willie The Kid; placing tracks on projects by Earl Sweatshirt, Mac Miller, Joey Bada$$ and Roc Marciano; and still has material in the vault awaiting release this year.

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Step Brothers, ‘Step Masters’, from ‘Lord Steppington’

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His impressive work rate and productivity comes from his home studio process, dubbed “Rap Camp”, which attracts a diverse range of veterans and breakthrough talent due to what Alchemist describes as a “magnetic vibe”: “The place gives off a sort of hum. It’s kind of like the yoga thing, it’s a hum that gets you very at one with your chi. It’s a place where, when you’re there, you don’t even realise it. You just wanna rap.” Slightly sceptical, Evidence interjects: “All these rappers are actually broke, they’re just enjoying the free studio time. Keep it real!”

“I sit behind this glass wall and make music, and they kinda come and view me like I’m a live art exhibit. They view me first. And that’s how I start creating,” Alchemist describes of “Rap Camp”. “But as far as who gets what beat, it just depends on the day or what beat is being made. It’s not much of a science. It’s like buying baseball cards packs. There might be that one pack when you get the card you’re looking for. Most days it’s probably just a bunch of commons, but every day you get a stick of gum.”

The flexibility of the process is well suited to Alchemist’s incredible work ethic, allowing him to juggle his various on-going projects. “The schedule makes itself. In order to get things done I raise a lot of kids at one time. You gotta get them up in the morning and get ‘em dressed, you gotta get ‘em all to school. We have a lot of kids we’ve gotta get to school everyday throughout the year, so it’s a multi-tasking thing. You do a lot of things at once.”

There’s a pause. “But Step Brothers only work on Thursdays.”

Luckily Evidence, a keen photographer, would be up taking photos of the sunset for his carefully curated Instagram account (here), and would arrive at Al’s house early on a Thursday morning, giving him free rein on the day’s batch of fresh beats.

“New beat, new rhyme, you go to eat lunch and you can come back and hear it like somebody else hears it. I think there was a lot of that going, just good vibes, put a rhyme down and rock,” says Evidence. “I’m fortunate to be here rapping right now, because in the real f*cking world there’s a lot of people who would like to be in.”

This humility has inspired Ev to experiment more and push his art even further this time around, testing out new patterns and styles, not being afraid to fail and leaving his comfort zone regularly. “I’ve just been a sponge. I feel like I’ve learned a lot from this one too, I think after this I’m going to get into some other shit. I think this has been a great stepping-stone. Lord Stepping Stone.”

Having worked together for the length of their expansive careers, it’s surprising that we haven’t heard a collaborative full-length before now. But the wait has been well worth it. With both artists now comfortable in their art, working on ‘Lord Steppington’ makes them nostalgic of their earliest work together.

Says Evidence: “This is much more like before we worked with Dilated Peoples. Dilated was more on a budget, on a label, trying to make sure we’re making the right [tracks], studio time, big engineer, big board and all of that kind of stuff. Previous to that it was us at Alchemist’s on a four track, on his ASR-10, so this reminds me more of that. I’m not trying to play my music too much once it’s done, but I think in a few years when I come back to this it’s going to remind me of a really good time. We just worked every Thursday for so long that we never realised we were making an album.”

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Step Brothers feat. Action Bronson, ‘Mums In The Garage’, from ‘Lord Steppington’

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Despite Alchemist having gained notoriety primarily as a producer and Evidence a rapper, it’s great to hear duties shared on ‘Lord Steppington’. “Al’s one of my favourite rappers, I get inspired by his rhymes, inspired by the beats. So that’s pretty simple,” explains Evidence of the decision to form a group. “I think Al will probably say that he gets inspired by my beats when I bring over a good one. So it doesn’t matter. I ain’t trippin’ like that! He sets some patterns and some cadences and drops some gems that I’m definitely jealous of.”

The pair appreciate each other’s abilities to work on both beats and rhymes, as Alchemist explains: “It’s like two different ways of thinking, and sometimes there are things that you can’t really explain – on both sides. But if you rap [as well], then it’s definitely easier, because they're well-versed in both sides of it, so they understand a lot of the stuff that somebody who just produces doesn’t.”

And while Evidence only contributes one beat to the record, ‘Byron G’, he’s been putting in work behind the boards last year elsewhere, including a track for up-and-coming Long Beach representatives the Cutthroat Boyz – A$ton Matthews, Joey Fatt$ and Vince Staples.

“I’m just looking for dope, man, I just want people who f*ck with me, or I f*ck with them,” he shares, when quizzed about his work with the newcomers. “I like their vibe, I met them all at Alchemist’s crib, they all seemed to be into what I was doing.  But with A$ton [Matthews] out of all of them, he was f*cking with me the most, and Vince [Staples] and Joey [Fatt$] they’re all crazy too. To me they’re another dope team of rappers that are trying to get busy. We don’t talk about their age so much.”

Evidence also produced the unfairly slept-on LMNO album, ‘After The Fact’, last year, which he thanks us for knowing about, revealing: “That was really fun for me. It flew way under the radar, but if you listen to it I’m proud of LMNO and I’m proud of my beats. It’s funny, [LMNO] asked me, ‘How come we don’t work together anymore?’ – we’d put out some singles on Fat Beats – and I said, ‘Cause you paid me!’ And we both started laughing. And then he was like ‘No shit! It’s about money?’ And I was like, ‘No. It’s not about money, it’s just about the mentality of it. Just the offer. I don’t need a lot.’ So he came back then next day with a little bag of cash and was like, ‘What does this get me?’ And it really wasn’t much, but I was thrilled by the fact that he did that. So I was like, ‘It gets you a whole album. Let’s do it.’ And that was that.”

With ‘Lord Steppington’ now available, the pair is eager to perform live, believing that this is where the album will all come together. Not ones to slack, both already have their eyes set on further releases, with Alchemist having recently announced new projects on the way with Mobb Deep’s Prodigy and London producer Budgie. “That’s my man, we did a little project. It’ll be a limited project, something we did with Frank The Butcher,” he says. “It’s dope, it’s gonna be ill, we’ll see what happens. See who gets it. It’s a musical collage type of thing.”

Evidence, meanwhile, is preparing the release of a highly anticipated new album by Dilated Peoples. “That’s finished,” he reveals. “ We’re just working a last couple of times with Alchemist to make the record right. We got Diamond D on there, and all kinds of shit. Really excited about that. Mastering the second week of February on that, so definitely coming out this summer. ‘Directors Of Photography’, on Rhymesayers.”

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Dilated Peoples, ‘The Platform’, from the album ‘The Platform’ (2000)

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Words: Grant Brydon

‘Lord Steppington’ is out now on Rhymesayers. Find Step Brothers online here

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