The lead single from producer Alchemist's debut album, 1st Infantry, is the uncharacteristically formulaic "Hold You Down" featuring Prodigy, Illa Ghee, and Nina Sky. Musically, the song employs the same subtly grimy chords and percussion that have made Alchemist a favorite among New York's most street-earnest MCs, but he also disastrously employs the extremely played-out technique of running the lyrics into the hook, à la Cam'ron's "Oh Boy." Radio formulas aside, the rest of 1st Infantry is business as usual for the gifted beatsmith, and each track seems to be a gun-toting, quasi-backpacker, yo-I'm-a-real-MC's dream. Its consistency and fluidity, thanks to Alchemist's intriguing samples and lengthy list of guest MCs, prevents it from sounding like a mixtape, making for a very solid album.

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Christopher Sanders