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Freddie Gibbs/The Alchemist - Alfredo Music Album Reviews

The gruff-voiced rapper and dusty-groove producer are a perfect match as they connect for a seamless ride to the heart of the gangster. 

Hip-hop’s obsession with the Italian Mafia has always been curious. While there’s certainly something perversely romantic about Hollywood’s paeans to La Cosa Nostra, the characters at the heart of these stories—both in real life and on screen—were incorrigibly racist. Mafiosos said and did awful things to black people. And yet rappers have been glorifying dons and capos ever since Kool G Rap and DJ Polo’s Road to the Riches, idolizing men in custom suits smoking cigars who often saw them as less than human.
Alfredo, the collaborative LP from rapper Freddie Gibbs and producer the Alchemist, tugs at the root of this fascination. From its Mario Puzo-esque cover art to the various gangster-movie samples throughout its 35-minute runtime, it celebrates the mafioso aesthetic while simultaneously acknowledging its ugliness. And at its core, the Mafia’s role in hip-hop has always been one of aspirational criminality, based in respect for the hustle above all else. Rappers who rap about selling drugs in the trap don’t want to be holed up in a dilapidated vacant home, they want to be dining on fine china in designer clothes. Mafiosos showed them how to do that, all the while thumbing their noses at a WASPy aristocracy that saw them as second-class citizens.
Throughout the album, Gibbs and the Alchemist’s reference points suggest a deeper understanding of this dynamic. Its anti-heroes aren’t white mobsters with mulignan in their mouths like John Gotti or Tony Soprano, but Harlem kingpins Frank Lucas and Bumpy Johnson, black gangsters who lorded over a black neighborhood selling drugs to black people. When those figures do appear, like in the sample of Chazz Palminteri as Joseph Bonnano in the TV series Godfather of Harlem on “Baby $hit,“ their naked disgust for black people is laid bare. An extended sample of the ’70s blaxploitation flick The Black Godfather (“Look at Me”) suggests the kind of narrative that a dope game rapper like Gibbs might aspire to: a street kid clawing his way to the top, wresting control over his neighborhood’s criminal enterprise from its white interloper.

Gibbs has long exhibited a mastery of this duality, with a rap flow so seductive it makes a life of crime sound extremely attractive...until he drops a bar so foul and gnarly it lifts the veil. He doesn’t rap in the abstract either, nor try to justify any of it; on “Skinny Suge,” he raps, “Man, my uncle died off a overdose/And the fucked up part about that is, I know who supplied the nigga that sold it.” And while the Alchemist’s upbringing—white, Jewish, born in Beverly Hills—stands in stark contrast to Gibbs’, his gift lies in crafting bespoke beats that suit not just a rapper’s flow, but their entire style and ethos. He makes it easy for Gibbs to be Gibbs.

And on Alfredo, that style is vintage luxury, bathed in elegant piano with faded textures colored by time that sound even more beautiful now than when they were new. On “Look at Me,” he plucks the high note from the Moments’ song of the same name, warping it into a warble that swirls around strings and horns. And the first notes of “Scottie Beam” are so opulent that you’d expect to hear Rick Ross’ deep, velvety purr regardless of whether or not you’d peeped the album credits.

For his part, Gibbs skates over these beats, effortlessly gliding in and out of the pocket. Even the moments of stark contrast feel natural. On “Something to Rap About,” Gibbs channels the Merovingian from the Matrix trilogy—who memorably likened cursing in French to “wiping your ass with silk”—barking obscenities over a somnambulant Miami Beach cocktail lounge type beat. And on “Baby $hit,” the most buoyant of Alfredo’s compositions, he balances his drug kingpin image with his life as a father: “Rabbit potty training every morning, ho, I’m cookin’ dope and cleaning baby shit.”

By this point, neither Gibbs nor the Alchemist have much of anything to prove—the former has been rapping circles around nearly everyone for the last five or six years, and the latter has been a go-to beatmaker for A-list rappers since the turn of the century. But their pairing here seems particularly inspired, even within the context of each other’s individual producer/rapper collaborative albums. The two have been working together since at least 2004, but ever since their 2011 collaboration on Curren$y’s “Scottie Pippen,” Gibbs has been sharpening his raps to the point where it seems like he can slice through any beat. And it’s somewhat stunning that even amid a career full of rap classics, the Alchemist’s current production run may represent a new high-water mark. As neither party seems content with letting this be their last collaboration, Alfredo is likely just a taste of what they can accomplish together.

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