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Review: The Alchemist & Oh No, 'Welcome To Los Santos'

Welcome To Los Santos
Courtesy of the artist
Welcome To Los Santos

Welcome To Los Santos is a collection of new songs created by hip-hop producers The Alchemist and Oh No and inspired by the 2013 video game Grand Theft Auto V — Los Santos being the fictional setting of the gangster-fantasy adventure. Its release comes as part of the promotion for a new PC version of the game out on April 14, and while it sprawls, with 14 songs and more than two dozen vocal acts, it holds together as a modern West Coast rap album, complete with heavy rock, electro and funk influences — as well as the requisite three Freddie Gibbs features.

Alchemist and Oh No worked on the original score to Grand Theft Auto V. On the new album, they produced beats inspired by that earlier work and, as on "Play it Cool," rap alongside Earl Sweatshirt and singer Samuel T. Herring from the band Future Islands. The constituent pieces work sonically: the "Nautilus"-esque beat, Herring's low hook, Sweatshirt's dextrous rap. But what mysterious stuff is Herring singing about? And why is Earl saying the track is like a bike seat? The content seems unconsidered, and the song never jells as a result.

A different weird-on-paper song fares far better: "California" features a veteran rapper who's never fallen off, E-40, with boogie purveyor Dam-Funk and underground pop eccentric Ariel Pink. A grand, spacious piano-rap ballad, it sounds like three people in the same room, on the same laid-back page, smoking the same weed.

Welcome To Los Santos covers a lot of ground, but it all feels at least rap-related. Tunde Adebimpe of TV On The Radio sings about leaving his competitors in the dust. The pop-rock band Wavves crafts a slick groove that's produced like disco with a tinge of psychedelia, sounding not unlike the rock/rap blends of Bay Area artist Hanni El Khatib.

Other highlights include the MC Eiht song "Los Santos," which is grounding and crucial to the album's Cali identity, with its G-Funk whine. Curren$y's "Fetti" is chill and wily, easily imaginable on one of his Pilot Talk albums. And dancehall star Popcaan maintains a good rhythm and a great, stuttering chorus in "Born Bad."

All those songs feature Midwest MC Freddie Gibbs — and all make it clear why he's such a popular guest artist. His in-the-pocket gangster style is like sriracha: good on everything.

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Corrected: April 13, 2015 at 12:00 AM EDT
A previous version of this story referred to Welcome To Los Santos as a mixtape compilation. It is an album produced by The Alchemist and Oh No.
Andrew Matson
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