“Whoever did that is on some shit.”
Prolific hip-hop producer, musician and evil food critic (we’ll get back to this) Daniel Alan Maman, better known as The Alchemist, says this as he leans toward his webcam, tilting forward in his chair. He’s describing the first project he’d seen by Eric Dolgas, a DMV area artist known as E$.
The two first crossed paths via a connection with Viceland’s “The Untitled Action Bronson Show.” Dolgas was commissioned to create a poster for the program after he successfully, and on a whim, sent artwork to the Viceland offices in New York City. Dolgas says a few days later, a person called him saying, “We usually throw these directly into the garbage.” Instead, the artwork he sent was hanging in the office of movie director and the channel’s creative director, Spike Jonze. Shortly after, The Alchemist noticed Dolgas’ first piece for the channel, which prompted the two to connect.
“We stayed in touch,” The Alchemist continues. “I remember he drew me in a way I thought was funny. It was really simple. I really liked his style and the way he put them together. That kind of mural thing he does reminded me of how we do beats.”
The pair’s “The Food Villain” project, which includes an album, coloring book, prints, posters and all other kinds of merch, was released on October 25.
The moniker is from The Alchemist’s persona developed on another of Viceland’s Action Bronson shows: “F*ck, That’s Delicious.” The 30-minute episodes operate as a more millennial, hipster-friendly Food Channel program where Bronson and friends eat dishes domestically and internationally at restaurants both big and small.
“Chris Grosso, the producer of ‘F*ck, That’s Delicious,’ dubbed me ‘the food villain.’ I’m on a show with three big monsters who eat everything and I’m this smaller guy who gets pushed out of the frame by the monsters sometimes. I like things, but I’m pretty picky as you can see by my size. Chris was like, ‘Yo, you’re the first villain on a food show. You don’t like things, but you’re on a goddamn food show.’”
Grosso’s nickname stuck and The Alchemist figured he’d run with it as a creative concept, which was an opportunity to further entrench himself as The Food Villain.
One thing that kept coming up when researching “The Food Villain” project was the fan theory percolating on social media that this was a collaboration between The Alchemist and British rapper MF Doom.
“It’s actually ridiculous,” The Alchemist says. “When I came up with the idea, I had no thoughts about Doom. [But] once I started working on the project, I did think about it, and there is a track on the project that’s an homage to him. So no, this is not a collaboration with Doom. I love Doom. I hate that people got misled, but I also didn’t want to start mentioning it via social media because then you’re talking about it and it becomes even more of a thing.”
To figure out his alter ego’s look, he shot Dolgas a text: “Yo, I’m thinking about…” From there, Dolgas sent drawing after drawing, illustration after illustration.
Each work in the final project screams Dolgas’ unique style, which is a combination of cartoonish characters, hip-hop style and irreverent pop culture references all bleeding together on black-and-white pages that could be awaiting color from pens, pencils and markers, if you’re uncivilized.
“I remember I was like, ‘Alright man, I got this idea and it’s you in a chef’s hat,” Dolgas begins. “Then I just started drawing the whole image. As we kept working with the core concept, we just kept going down different paths of villainy. One day, I’d be like, ‘I wonder what kind of cartoons we can throw Al’s face on that’d be funny.’ At one point, I just started inserting a bunch of naked ladies into it, too.”
“[The Hamburglar is] an inspiration,” The Alchemist says. “When I first envisioned it, it was like that cat burglar guy, a French-looking villainous character.”
With a limitless supply of inspirational jumping off points, the duo went back and forth, pondering caricatures of characters like KFC’s mustached colonel, Chigurh from “No Country for Old Men” and Los Angeles Lakers center JaVale McGee, resulting in more than 40 illustrations for the book, posters and promo art.
“That’s one thing that [The Alchemist] and I collaborate well on, because I’m fine with seeking perfection,” Dolgas says. “I want this to be the exact right image.”
The release not only marks the culmination of “The Food Villain” concept, but also two years of collaboration between the duo. Though each is wickedly creative within their mediums, Dolgas and The Alchemist found solace in each other’s contributions, using them as fuel for their own offerings.
“It was crazy to me, because I only see ‘The Food Villain’ from the drawing side. What can I make an image out of? And when [he] sent me the sample of the songs I was like, ‘Whoa! This is how he sees it through music.’ I can’t express that. I don’t have any musical ability. But when you hear it, you’re like, ‘That’s it.’”
Because Dolgas provided a large portion of drawings before The Alchemist began crafting beats and songs with the character in mind, he credits the images with assisting heavily toward the record’s composition.
“Everything I do, at the end of the day, I want to have a musical element to it,” The Alchemist says. “And I was going off the drawings, of course. The inspiration I was drawing from was what [Dolgas] did, and then I watched all the episodes of ‘F*ck, That’s Delicious.’ I sat up one day and watched every single episode, and I had the drum machine on record and I was grabbing certain sound bites.”
The Alchemist describes the sound of the record as lighthearted jazz meets evil beats. Like all of the producer’s other solo works, a majority of the tracks are instrumental (though “F*ck, That’s Delicious” co-stars Action Bronson and Big Body Bes contributed verses), which makes his choice of sound bites and the music’s narrative structure imperative to giving the concept further context.
“Because there’s no vocalist on it, I spice it up and make it really fun to listen to. It’ll go from a smooth one to a ‘Oh, what’s going on here?’” The Alchemist says. “When I work with rappers, you’ve got to play things and let them see what they like. A lot of times, I have beats that I really love, but the artist doesn’t see the light.”
Both Dolgas and The Alchemist agree on the importance of the project’s presentation, which is why “The Food Villain” kept evolving. From a one-off to a potential art show, the duo now believes they’ve found the perfect combination of mediums to deliver this grandiose collection.
“I’m kind of sad it’s finished,” Dolgas says, “because it’s so fun to draw a fire drawing and send it to The Alchemist and just wait for the reaction. It never gets old sending The Alchemist a picture and having him respond with, ‘That’s fire.’ I’m sad this project is coming to an end, but I’m super excited for people to see this.”
The Alchemist adds, “You’re like, ‘Damn, this thing is done.’ But that’s why we’re artists. We can start another project. We can always do more.”
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