Hip-Hop Duo Gangrene Likes to Keep It Disgusting
Photo by Jason Goldwatch
Picture yourself in the world’s grimiest bathroom. Graffiti smears the walls. Piss everywhere, the toilet seat unwashed for eons. You soap your hands, but the water doesn’t work. You’re wondering what brought you into this foul tomb. Then you look at the mirror and on it are scrawled the words “You Disgust Me.”
“It’s like a motivational thing. Like, ‘Who do you think you are? You’re nothing,’” says The Alchemist, the rapper-producer who has racked up a hall-of-fame résumé by recycling dirt into rap form.
You Disgust Me is the title of this month’s Gangrene album, the third that Alchemist has recorded with his partner in filth, Oh No, the psychedelic sibling of Madlib. Released by Mass Appeal, the record’s name came from the idea of that nasty bathroom hallucination, the visual manifestation of their music.
“It’s like in The Last Boy Scout, where Bruce Willis looks in the mirror and goes, ‘Smile, you fuck.’ Like he’s disgusted with himself,” Alchemist adds at his Santa Monica studio, surrounded by stacks of records, coffee cups and spliffs. He’s wearing a T-shirt and jeans — same as Oh No, who’s here too but doesn’t talk much.
“We could’ve called the album Smile You Fuck, too, now that I think about it.”
That’s all you really need to know about Gangrene. Their scope is narrow, sticking to dirty, dusted, sardonic drug rap, but few hit with such accuracy. They’re expert pharmacists, carefully dispensing droppers of poison. Sample-based rap dragged through a diseased filter. Scum of the most gifted order.
“We’re just trying make these records fun. It’s like therapy for us. None of us are making big cash off it,” Alchemist says. “We want to keep building and making creative shit.”
Over the last half decade, Gangrene have quietly become one of the best working rap groups. It’s nothing fancy — just shit-talking and death threats over hard, hypnotic beats. But they’re expertly produced, funny in a “Fuck you, pay me” way, and cast with careful detail. Cameos on You Disgust Me include such scabrous kinsmen as Havoc, Action Bronson and the late, great Sean Price.
The duo refuses complacency. Each project has become increasingly refined without compromising their raw tenets. But neither man has any illusions that it will necessarily break them out beyond celebrated cult status.
“We’re stubborn. We make the shit that we want to make, without trying to necessarily sell or find new fans,” Alchemist says. “We’re only competing with ourselves and a few contemporaries. It’s like a secret club — the small group of people who speak the language that we speak.”
It might be niche, but for the few hundred thousand who love rap bathed in tar, it’s oddly cleansing.
This is the fourth Alchemist project in 2015 alone. He dropped two scorching instrumental beat tapes on his own ALC Records imprint, plus the Gangrene-assembled Welcome to Los Santos project for Grand Theft Auto V, arguably the best soundtrack of the year, video game or otherwise.
In regards to the future, Alchemist and Oh No aren’t the types to make grandiose promises. Despite the scuzzy on-record images, they both exhibit the chill you’d expect from two Southern California–raised dissenters who have smoked up several forests’ worth of trees.
If there is a goal, it’s for Alchemist to continue building his label, making it a welcoming home for the hard-core. And when asked about the intent behind You Disgust Me, Oh No finally speaks up.
“I hope it gives people scabies.”
An L.A. native, L.A. Weekly columnist Jeff Weiss edits Passion of the Weiss and hosts the Shots Fired podcast. Find him online at passionweiss.com, follow him on Twitter and also check out his archives.
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