On the heels of releasing his sophomore album, The Alchemist unveiled an absurdly entertaining video to accompany its closing track. The low budget aesthetics of “Under Siege” captured the imaginations of grassroots Hip Hop heads, not just for its riotous use of green screen, but for the ability of The Alchemist and Oh No to rise to the occasion and transcend a minimalist beat. Once this same audience was able to sink their teeth into “Acts of Violence” from Chemical Warfare, their suspicions were confirmed; the chemistry between The Alchemist and Oh No was unquestionable. For years each man played the background to larger acts, producing for everyone from Lil Wayne (Alchemist) to De La Soul (Oh No). In the mid ’90s Alchemist took a break from rapping and underwent a surge in production placements with a little help from mentor DJ Muggs. Alchemist would later undergo a lyrical renaissance with verses on his debut 1st Infantry. Oh No first hit the scene with his 2004 debut, The Disrupt. The album not only highlighted Oh’s production skills, but showcased him as a lyricist, allowing him to step out of the shadows of his much revered brother, Madlib. The combination of The Alchemist and Oh No seems like a pivotal step in the natural progression of both artists’ careers. Stepping to the foregrounds, the native Californians use their production and rhyming abilities to prove that their love for music and indulgence in marijuana is a recipe for success.
Al and Oh “open the gates and let the flood out” as a violin rhythmically plays over a slamming Oh No drum break on the triumphant opener, “Boss Sh*t.” Gutter Water allows both members of Gangrene to showcase their expertise in production as well as lyrics. Although they aren’t at each other’s throats, there is a level of competition that equates into a favorable project. Despite the prolific Raekwon feature, The Alchemist steals the show on the title track (“Gutter Water“) with a low-key demeanor and sharp witted verse (“f*ck the current direction of rap; I’m the exception/fornicate records raw with no protection“). Oh No proves a worthy adversary on bass-heavy “Get Into Some Gangster Sh*t,” claiming, “roadblock the streets, no maneuvers/an American gangster like Felix Mitchell Junior/connect with class to the top medulla/serve and eject that bird right to ya.“ Guest performer Planet Asia also runs it on ALC’s instrumental. “Chain Swinging” is an imposing outing from Gangrene and features one of Alchemist’s finest beats that utilizes a combination of scratches, strings and vocal samples. Alchemist invites affiliates Fashawn and Evidence into the mix for the strong cut “Wassup Wassup” as Oh plays the rear and only provides the banging instrumental.
While the entire album is a halfhearted endorsement for ganja, there are very few motifs used throughout Gutter Water. Among themed tracks include a teen dealing with an abusive father on “Standing in the Shadows.” “Not High Enough” profiles a confusing state of euphoria, which ALC and Oh No are certainly familiar with. Aside from great flows from both men, “Not High Enough” benefits from a sporadic piano sample courtesy of The Alchemist. “Take Drugs” expands on this theme. Aside from exploits of overdose levels of drug use (and a comedic intro featuring the cop who called 911 after eating hash brownies), Oh No’s production skills are put on display with an impressive instrumental. “Ransom” is another well-delivered outing from The Alchemist that features the producer remaining on point with the theme by asserting, “run up in a bank with a bomb strapped to my back and blow like nitroglycerine/’til my pockets bigger than that man from Michelin.”
A majority of the tracks blend together with sinister beats and ominous overtones. The Oh No produced “All Bad” is far from its title and takes on a similar structure to “Chain Swinging.” One of the album’s low points comes from Roc C who tries his hardest to sound intelligent on “From Another Orbit,” but ends up sounding bewildered in comparison to Gangrene. “Brass Knuckle Rap” becomes intolerable at points due to its annoying hook. Lastly, “Not Leaving,” while solid in its own right, could be benefit from an Alchemist verse on it.
One thing is for certain; Gangrene never sounds watered down. The duo goes through the motions in an attempt to keep their style unhampered and as raw as possible. Despite intricate samples and drum sequences, there is an overall out-of-pocket feel to Gangrene’s effort that works to their advantage. It takes a few listens to fully appreciate such grit and open your pores for the Gutter Water to seep in. Although it’s unlikely that listeners will champion Gutter Water to the extent of producer- turned-rapper collabos such as Jaylib and Madvillain, the Alchemist/Oh No collaboration is a pleasantry in the midst of contaminants polluting the airwaves.