With 'Alfredo' Freddie Gibbs Claims Rap's Lyrical Throne | prod. by The Alchemist
Evan Dale // May 29, 2020
A rapper whose unmistakably lyric centric aesthetic could highlight any hip-hop era’s most poetic soundscape; fond of intensive, immersive relationships with producers.
A producer rooted in hip-hop’s rawest eras, refining his taste for low-fidelity beats and working alongside the best rappers alive for decades.
Freddie Gibbs and The Alchemist are almost an unfair pairing. The duo are hyper-complimentary, as equal antitheses in a zero-sum balance game for the hip-hop spectrum. Both are not old-school, but timeless by the very nature of their sounds. One – a lyric-first, flow-second traditionalist, staunch in his adherence to rap’s underlying meaning: rhythm and poetry; the other – a classic producer of sample-ridden, minimalist instrumentals that grant a stage only to artists that really know how to rap. Both perhaps come from another era, but steady dominate this one – proving their timelessness again and again. Both have exceptional track records of collaborating with other rappers and producers, respectively – including collaborations with one another (2018’s project with Curren$y, Fetti). In fact, next to Madlib, The Alchemist and DJ Fresh have been Freddie Gibbs’ most trusted compositional allies throughout his career. They provoke that special something in him that other modern rappers just can’t equal.
For both artists, the collaborative project comes on the heels of more of the same. For Gibbs, 2019’s Bandana with longstanding collaborator and friend, Madlib, was masterful – acclaimed by many as one of, if not the best album of the year and of Gibbs’ career. For The Alchemist, 2019’s Lamb Over Rice with Action Bronson, 2020’s The Price Of Tea In China with Boldy James, and 2020’s LULU with Conway the Machine exhibit a pattern of recognizing and accentuating the most hard-hitting lyrical forces in the game.
Naturally, Alfredo emerges as another classic from both artists, propelling their individual and collaborative evolutions, while also instilling in modern hip-hop a sense of respect and admiration for the ones who have consistently put out the least trendy, most timeless, hardest working masterpieces in music. And for Gibbs – at the top of the rapper food chain at this point in his career – continuing to do that now means looking outside of hip-hop for inspiration altogether – which he describes as overflowing with “flaky-ass shit.” For Alfredo, he tapped into spoken-word activist and artist, Gil Scott-Heron – whose samples narrate the project from the jump.
1985 opens Alfredo as an introductory juxtaposition between the two musical forces. Its entirety is underlined by an electric guitar, rock-fueled beat that immediately sets a tone for something completely different from both The Alchemist – whose career is defined by low-fidelity composition favoring keys and drums to any and all other instrumentation, and Freddie Gibbs – whose catalogue is primarily driven also by low-fidelity and simplistic production. When Gibbs opens the track and subsequently the project, he does so with a verse brimming with the most modern of pop culture references – 1985 Michael Jordan relevant to The Last Dance but more so sourced from he and The Alchemist’s original collaboration – 2011 track with Curren$y, ScottIe Pippen; punchlines about Joe Exotic – intermixed with the thematic tenets of hip-hop’s storied run as the most prophetic of sociocultural statement styles in music – crack cocaine, gang violence, and of particular relevance, police brutality.
1985 runs for only two-and-a-half minutes, but says everything that must be said about a rapper whose swordsmanship with a pen has never been sharper; whose understanding of rap’s pedestal has never been taller; and whose central position in hip-hop has never been more of a hard-hitting bullseye. By the time Alfredo’s introductory track comes to a close, a tone is set that both Freddie Gibbs and The Alchemist – who spent the opener’s expanse experimenting wildly and successfully – are continuing to build off the momentum of their continued, practiced sophistication.
Case and point: God Is Perfect. Again juxtaposing one another with brash compliment, Gibbs entangles a listener in a tear of cadence changes, impossible flow, and woven poeticism, while The Alchemist plays his role in setting an exact stage for Gibbs to do what he does, and what no one else in modern hip-hop can. For Gibbs’ part, God Is Perfect is perhaps the most intriguing rap track of the year, seamlessly using his voice as a weapon and an instrument throughout its entirety; effortlessly switching up his flow without even a semblance of difficulty, where most other rappers alive today – or in any era – would tie their tongue in knots.
Rick Ross, like his eventual featuring company – Benny The Butcher, Tyler, The Creator, and Conway the Machine – lends his tireless signature to Alfredo, in solidarity to one of hip-hop’s most underrated lyrical presences, to one of hip-hop history’s most under-the-radar productive ears, and in admiration of getting to work with the kind of timeless duo that can transport his own sound to another era; at another scale. He doesn’t disappoint, and neither does the rest of the guest spot roster. Benny The Butcher brings a spoon-fed, hard-hitting closing verse to Frank Lucas (in which, too, The Alchemist shines brightest with a bass-heavy classic). Tyler, The Creator slides overtop a signature mellow beat, allowing Freddie Gibbs to also further navigate the more laid-back movements of a sound that he explored with certain picks from Bandana. Conway the Machine (who toured with Gibbs and Cousin Stizz last year) proves why his constant pursuit of real rap has left him among the realest rappers alive with his verse on Babies & Fools.
But, collaborations aside – even including The Alchemist – it’s pretty clear that Freddie Gibbs is Alfredo’s standout musical force. ‘I think Freddie’s the star of this project. The way he’s rapping is ridiculous. He’s been upping it every year,’ the producer told Complex Magazine in an interview leading to Alfredo’s release.
And he’s right. At this moment in hip-hop history, on the heels of what are now two bona-fide classic albums with two of the scene’s most important producers, who is really rapping better than Freddie Gibbs? The Gary, Indiana native, now LA-based, has been honing his craft for years, still improving more than a decade after his debut album, and certainly in the company of anyone and everyone else at the top of the most lyrical, most timeless modern list.