The Alchemist has churned out steely boom-bap and psychedelic loops for icons across three generations of hip-hop and helped pioneer the one-producer/one-rapper mixtape wave of the 2010s. He’s Eminem’s tour DJ, worked on the score to a Grand Theft Auto game, and has his own production master class. But his most impressive accomplishment has to be ALC Records, the independent label he founded in 2004 that’s home to his solo discography, whether that be one-off collabs with underground royalty or compilations packaged like deli sandwiches. It’s boutique indie rap at its finest, the ALC label serving as a seal of quality assurance.
Not every ALC project is high stakes, though. Take Flying High, the latest in a long line of EPs where rappers spar over Alchemist’s unvarnished loops. It fits the mold of earlier projects like 2018’s Bread and 2021’s This Thing of Ours while retaining a breezy atmosphere: a space for rhymers in Alchemist’s orbit to unspool for the fun of it. He’s made full projects with half of the guests featured here, and it’s appealing to hear them try out different variations on the Alchemist sound. Opener “RIP Tracy” flutters on a warm, simmering bed of violins, bass, and vocal hums while Earl Sweatshirt anxiously blends Ghostface and Jordan Peele references; billy woods cuts through the steam with deadpan humor (“I’m just a regular guy/Put designer jeans on one leg at a time”). The meandering stagger-step of this beat is a far cry from the dubby sway of the trio’s previous collaboration, “Falling Out the Sky,” from Armand Hammer’s 2021 album Haram, but their slippery styles adapt well.
Every guest gets space to stretch and show out. MIKE and Sideshow sound right at home on “Bless,” where nightclub piano and occasional streaks of electric guitar anchor stories of family history and high-school bathroom brawls. Compared to the airy production on MIKE and Alchemist’s Tommy Hilfiger-sponsored One More EP with Wiki from last year, it’s somber but peaceful. Closing track “Midnight Oil” sounds like it was made with guests Larry June and Jay Worthy in mind—its luxurious, wavy sound could’ve easily fit on a deluxe edition of June and Alchemist’s recent album The Great Escape. The weakest link is Kansas rapper T.F, who opens “Trouble Man” with a verse that feels formless next to the exceptional Boldy James feature on the back end (“Slappin’ all this bass, I show you why they call me B.B. King”).
None of these songs sound like demos or leftovers, but Flying High doesn’t reach for the stars, either. This is an exhibition bout for the MCs—the pairings are solid but unsurprising—and, like most Alchemist solo projects, it concludes with instrumental versions of each song. Some float (“RIP Tracy”) and some seethe (“Trouble Man”) but all share a casual, humid saunter, like they’re on their way to the swanky pool party in Boogie Nights. Flying High isn’t supposed to be life-changing, but most rappers and producers would be lucky to flaunt this level of skill in their downtime.