Gangrene is the collaboration between producers/emcees The Alchemist and Oh No. The Alchemist is best known for his work with Dilated Peoples, and also for his two solo albums. Oh No has worked on living outside brother Madlib’s shadow, mostly by being prolific. He releases several solo albums and produces tracks for Mos Def, Doom, MED, Aloe Blacc, and Murs, among others. I especially like Oh No’s Dr. No’s Oxperiment, and brilliant collection of instrumental work he made from sampling records from Turkey, Greece, Lebanon, and Italy. The two got together several years ago and decided they wanted to make a collaborative album in the vein of Jaylib. The general set-up is that one produces while the other raps, offering enough room to switch.

Much like Jaylib, both artists are stronger producers than emcees. Not to the extent that J Dilla and Madlib swing, but I do think the musical experimentation is more noticeable than the lyrical work on the album. I can imagine listeners prioritizing the beats over the rhymes, but this is because the swirling string samples and vinyl hiss on a song like “Boss Shit” are much more interesting than some lyrics about getting high and producing records, or the gangsta braggadocio that The Alchemist brings to the table. A quick glance at the song titles would suggest that this record was created with music first and lyrics last. Fortunately, they do bring in some guest emcees to help lighten the load, such as Raekwon, Planet Asia, Fashawn, and Evidence, but the majority of the album still has no lyrical focus. Almost at the end of the album, Oh No drop rhymes about child abuse in “Standing in the Shadows.” It’s a powerful song and leaves me wishing that this album could strike a better balance between party jams like “Take Drugs” and this one.

Gutter Water does feature some great production work, and The Alchemist and Oh No aren’t terrible emcees. Mostly they just suffer from a lack of focus. It’s as if they don’t know what to talk about, so they just fall back to drugs and boast raps. I would also be more interested in this project if there was a greater mixture of production duties. It takes little effort to pick out who produced what track.

For all my complaints, this is still an enjoyable album. There is some great production work, especially from Oh No, who manages to match up samples and beats in ways that most wouldn’t think to do. Maybe in the future, there will be a second Gangrene album with a third artist who can push these two in a specific direction. I feel they are capable of some great music, but there is just too much meddling required to get through this album to get me really excited.