[Editor's note: Weekly scribe Jeff Weiss's column, "Bizarre Ride," appears on West Coast Sound every Wednesday. His archives are available here.]
You can't re-acclimate to high school after spending a year getting high with Cypress Hill. But Alchemist got an A for attempting to graph quadratic equations in the fall of 1994, after he'd already hot-boxed across the country on the Soul Assassins tour.
Barely old enough to buy a Beamer, Alan Maman had already learned industry rule No. 4080: Record-company people are shady. After one commercially inert single, label Tommy Boy shelved The Whooliganz, his teen-rap duo with future Hawaii Five-0 Danno Scott Caan.
Blunts on the bus with B-Real became pipe tokes every morning at 8:15 -- as soon as he got safely out of sight of his parents' Beverly Hills house. The dial was always cranked to Howard Stern on 97.1 FM, until the signal faded as Sunset Boulevard exhaled onto PCH. Then the 16-year-old Alchemist would slip in a cassette of beats and rhymes laced the night before with an ASR-10 sampler and four-track.
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School was Colin McEwen High, an education sinecure in a Malibu shopping center. Classmates included Nicole Richie, Roy Orbison's son and Mike Einziger of Incubus. His closest friend was Venice-raised Michael Perretta, later raptized Evidence.
"School was a fucking joke. We'd be fully high ... blasted," Alchemist recalls at his Venice studio, surrounded by Evidence and an abundance of THC and vinyl wax.
After two decades, the longtime allies formed The Step Brothers, whose debut, Lord Steppington, drops this month on Rhymesayers. Full of inside jokes and absurd film clips, it's as rewindable and ruthlessly stoned as a Beatnuts record.
"We could see the waves breaking from the campus," Alchemist continues. "You'd work for an hour and then we'd have discussion time. They ask, 'What do you want to talk about?' We'd be, like, 'WEED!!!' "
"School ran from 9 [a.m.] to 1 p.m., but we couldn't make it to 1, so it was more like 9 to noon. Then we'd go record and smoke at Al's house," Evidence laughs conspiratorially.
If this narrative sounds vaguely Malibu's Most Wanted, you've never absorbed the barbecued-lung griminess of either man's music. Since graduating nearly 20 years ago, both Alchemist and Evidence have achieved levels of rap respect and success more common to kids from South Central than from west of La Cienega.
After graduation, Alchemist enrolled at New York University, but he quickly opted to study under DJ Premier and eventually place beats on records from the likes of Mobb Deep, Nas, Nelly and Lil Wayne.
Evidence stayed local and formed Dilated Peoples. When Fat Beats was still brick-and-mortar on Vermont, Dilated ruled the underground, selling 5,000, 10,000, then 15,000 copies of their 12-inches -- eventually earning a Capitol deal.
Sending asphalt beats from back East, Alchemist supplied the trio's sound.
Over the last half-decade, a Dilated Peoples hiatus allowed Evidence to pursue a solo career, while Alchemist moved back to L.A. and formed his own West Coast Wu-Tang, four blocks from the beach. Casting himself in the RZA role, he has directed metal and smoke classics from Prodigy, Boldy James, Curren$y and Action Bronson.
Step Brothers are another armored suit -- two old friends exchanging friendly jabs and caustic raps. The Whooliganz even reunite with an assist from an Odd Future member.
"Either he played a big trick on me or I tricked myself, but it never once felt like work," Evidence says. "Some albums might have bigger drums or faster rappers, but when you listen, the funk is there."
"I need to leave open a variable in my equations because nothing is for sure. I know I'm ill and the people are around me are ill and the weed is good and the speakers are on," Alchemist summarizes their last two decades of collaboration. "The older I get, the more I realize that the wisest person knows that they know nothing.
"It has to be fun. If it isn't, what the fuck are you doing it for? Working together ... we get high off this shit."
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