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Rap Release of the Week: The Alchemist’s ‘Yacht Rock’

The Alchemist / Photo by Jason Goldwatch

Yacht Rock is the Alchemist’s two-part, Dilla’s Donuts-gone-cocaine-crazy collage of Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous clips, samples from sunbaked ’70s pop and ’80s cheese rock, punctuated with raps from Action Bronson, Blu, Roc Marciano, and others. I feel like somewhere in this record must be a snippet of Emerson, Lake, & Palmer’s Love Beach. There is definitely a clip from Carl Reiner’s John Candy vehicle Summer Rental.

This isn’t so much diggin’-in-the-crates music, as it is diggin’-behind-the-crates music veering toward muzak. All the garbage not worthy of even being placed in a crate. Albums with painted dolphins on the cover. Records with nine different keyboards credited. Hammy hyper-clean guitar riffs trying to sound glorious. Jolly, sexy vocals jumping between gated drums. Sub-Kenny G sexy sax and synth-harp in tandem like Crockett and Tubbs. Welcome the chillwave impulse to traditionalist boom-bap. Or don’t welcome it. Yacht Rock works whether you hate this stuff, or realize these supposedly lame sounds are pretty damned great, especially when they’re rearranged and scuffed up a little by an MPC, and accompanied by some hilarious hard-head MCs.

The rap highlight is Action Bronson getting his Bret Easton Ellis on, detailing a day of on-the-sea debauchery in the voice of some rich prick kid, mocking how he would say the word “boat,” his inability to curse without couth, all the while unveiling a scorched-earth brutality to all this maxin’ and relaxin’. Fishing is described as “trying to capture all the creatures Charles Darwin envisioned,” and elitist reality-TV boast goes awry when Action adds, “Got some major sex slaves in the weight room.” My favorite moment, though, is Big Twins of the Infamous Mob, in a Cagney-like grunt, declaring, “We on a yacht, celebrating non-stop,” like he’s General Patton. Roc Marciano shouts out Christopher Cross.

Keep this in mind while listening: Before the Alchemist became a rebellious weed-head producer with an ear for the avant-garde, he was Alan Maman of Beverly Hills, hanging out with James Caan’s son. So, slicing up all of this ’80s privilege music is an exorcism of sorts for him. He probably knew and hated a few Chads like the one Action Bronson’s mocking here. And Yacht Rock arrives as seven-inch single that you have to pay $150 for because it comes with a a pair of sunglasses skatewear/streetwear company 9Five. See, the luxury-mocking music itself here is tied to gross lifestyle-brand consumption.

The best comparison for Yacht Rock would be Emeralds’ album Just To Feel Anything, also out this week. Just To Feel Anything does away with the group’s more heady takes on ’80s sounds, and injects a little lived-in pathos to the beachy melodrama, and some longing to Tangerine Dream’s foamy Risky Business OST propulsions. There’s a sense of working out all the icky ’80s shit in Alchemist and Emeralds’ heads. And that’s quite different than indie’s escapist desire to go back to the ’80s and remember the Knots Landing opening credits and childhood vacations to Myrtle Beach. Here, there’s nothing but dread underneath the good vibes.

Download The Alchemist’s Yacht Rock at 9Five’s website.