On ‘Alchemy,’ Jay Cinema and Chow convert complex feelings into sonic mastery

The East Coast duo is back with a project that drags the grimy depths of human emotion to a hopeful surface.
Emily Whitchurch
Emily Whitchurch
Freelance writer and final year student at University College London. Email: emilywhitchurch1@gmail.com

Combine an introspective hip-hop artist from New York with a boundary-pushing Massachusetts producer, and you get Alchemy: a gritty, captivating project packed with evocative lyricism, dragging the grimy depths of human emotion to the surface. Most of its 18 tracks are fairly short—Jay Cinema wastes no time, confronting hope and doubt, triumph and tribulation, with thoughtful candor over Chow’s production.

Incorporating brief spoken word, “Alchemy (Intro)” defines the album’s title: “a seemingly magical process of transformation, creation or combination.” This sets the scene for “All On Me,” weaving gratitude and resilience alongside pain and angst as Cinema describes being neither the best nor the worst, oscillating between blessed and stressed. “How Do I?” is equally reflective: “How can I enjoy pleasure if I don’t go through pressure?” he muses, with muffled, distorted instrumentals enhancing this sense of uncertainty.

Throughout Alchemy, explorations of race, drugs, heartbreak, and healing are seamlessly intertwined with dynamic beats, often reminiscent of dreamy, psychedelic cloud rap. Tracks like “Burnin’ Up w/ Chow” and “Fly Wit Me” experiment with warped instrumentals, giving the album a somewhat otherworldly quality as listeners float in a hazy soundscape. Cinema’s subject material is varied, and he does not shy away from vulnerability. There is a particularly strong sense of surrender in “Protection”: “whoever’s above me, just give me protection,” Cinema pleads, wrestling with feelings of disillusionment and stagnation. In “Gone For Too Long,” Cinema turns away from whatever God is above him, lamenting the racial injustice of modern—and indeed, historic—America: “It’s a black planet, explain to me why we not free.”

Cinema continues reflecting on everyday anxieties in “What A Day,” though this track also feels like a testament to survival. “But it get me through the day / but it got me through the day,” Cinema repeats, seemingly convincing both himself and listeners that things will look up day by day. Lyrics on “Love 222 You” are equally nuanced. Opening with “my heart heavy, but it won’t break” and closing with “my heart heavy and it won’t break,” Cinema proves himself to be a skillful lyricist. This subtle shift hints at a more profound acceptance that pain and strength can coexist, conveyed against mellow, drawn-out background vocals.

Alchemy closes with its longest and most collaborative song: “Blessings on Bless” features smaller artists Big Flowers, DJ nOOnsomewhere, and shemar, as well as Chow. This gives the track a homegrown feel, cementing Alchemy as a polished yet experimental project. Integrating a range of collaborators and voices seems to suggest that community and connection with others can be a powerful tool to overcome some of the struggles described in earlier tracks. While alchemists traditionally searched for a universal elixir, Cinema and Chow’s Alchemy seeks unity with listeners. After repeating in the background for the full six minutes of the track, “Heaven is waiting” are the final words listeners hear before taking off their headphones and returning to reality: a promising reminder of the joys to come.

Above all, Alchemy is aptly titled: the word also describes attempts to convert base metals into gold or, in Cinema and Chow’s case, to convert complex feelings into sonic mastery. As Cinema sings in “Drum Me (Look At Me!),” “Thankfully Chow and Jay crafted alchemy.”

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