Freddie Gibbs and Alchemist have a long collaborative history, dating all the way back to (sadly unreleased) tracks from Gangsta Gibbs’ earliest days in the rap game. But the Gary, Indiana-raised spitter and the West Coast beat magician really connected when Gibbs guested on Curren$y’s 2011 track, “Scottie Pippen.” That led to the trio making the full-length collaborative project, Fetti, in 2018.
The whole time, Gibbs knew what needed to happen.
“Once we did Fetti with Curren$y, I knew that I wanted to do my own joint,” Gibbs tells Complex. “I was like, ‘Man, if I could bring that same magic for a whole joint myself, it’s going to go off.’”
And go off it did. Gibbs and Alchemist have a new album called Alfredo. It consists of ten songs that find both veteran artists at the top of their respective games. But even to Alchemist, it’s clear that Gibbs’ rapping—by turns introspective, melancholic, boastful, and slyly funny—is the real star.
“With this project, I laid down the music, but the beats get out of the way so he can do what he does,” the producer says about Gibbs. “I’m proud of the beats, but I know that he showed off.”
Freddie Gibbs and Alchemist took a chunk of their Memorial Day to discuss Alfredo with us. But before we could do that, Freddie Gibbs had something else on his mind. He wanted to make sure that he put on the record his feelings about Akademiks, the Everyday Struggle host with whom Gibbs has lately been feuding. While acknowledging that their beef will never turn physical (“I ain’t gonna do nothing,” he made clear), the rapper was upset that Akademiks said on the show that Gibbs made an “ignorant” tweet.
“I’m not saying fuck him because he disagreed with me. I’m saying fuck him because he called me ignorant, and I don’t appreciate that shit," Gibbs explains. (Editor’s note: Akademiks’ response: “I don’t really care.”) Shots sufficiently fired, Freddie Gibbs is ready to move on. “But let’s go. Let’s talk about this real shit.”
Tell me the story of making Alfredo.
Alchemist: We whipped it up pretty quickly. We had an idea to do it. Me and Freddy work quick as lightning. Freddy’s machine gun lightning. Ever since we did “Scottie Pippen,” it was like all right, we knew what we had to do. It just took time. Everything is timing.
Freddie Gibbs: Yeah, it’s timing. It’s just like breathing, man. It’s natural with Al. You go over Al’s spot, that’s the rap school. Like he said, once I did “Scottie Pippen,” I stepped in the rap school and started sharpening my shit up. That helped me to even make Piñata, Bandana, and all of that type shit. Now, this is coming full circle. It’s a perfect trajectory that I wanted for my career, rap-wise.
“These are some of the best raps I ever did, because Al put me in a space where the raps come effortless.” - Freddie Gibbs
Did you guys actually make the album together?
Freddie Gibbs: Hell yeah. We both live in L.A., so it was nothing. It was just going to pick up beats and then write raps. Like I said, it’s second nature at this point.
Where were you when you recorded?
Freddie Gibbs: I was either at Al’s spot or my spot at the crib in L.A.
Alchemist: Yeah, we worked over here. I even pulled up to the crib a couple times, rolled up to the mansion. Chilled on the mountain, got my mind right.
Freddie Gibbs: It’s a little bachelor pad, man. I ain’t got no mansion.
Al, did you make the beats with Freddie and this project in mind?
Alchemist: When I make beats, I always have different people in mind. But with Freddie, once he goes, you got to get out of the way. It’s really about picking the right beats. We just sat with beats. Then, it was easy, I can’t even lie. That shit was very easy.
Freddie Gibbs: Once we did Fetti with Curren$y, I knew that I wanted to do my own joint. Fetti’s a classic, too. I was like, “Man, if I could bring that same magic for a whole joint myself, it’s going to go off.” Fetti was the motivation. Like I said, ever since “Scottie Pippen,” I been motivated to do this with Al.
“I think Freddie’s the star of this project. The way he’s rapping is ridiculous. He’s been upping it every year.” - Alchemist
How was making this different than creating Fetti?
Freddie Gibbs: No disrespect to Curren$y, but it’s not a collaborative effort with another rapper. Al’s going to be Al, whatever he’s on. I just had to be great on the raps. I think that these are some of the best raps I ever did, because Al put me in a space where the raps come effortless. I don’t feel like I’m doing no work when I’m doing this shit. It’s just smooth, it’s easy.
I wanted to steal the “$500 Ounces” record from Westside Gunn. That’s one of the first records I did. Then Westside took that joint and I was like, “All right, cool.” That motivated me to keep rapping good.
Alchemist: Yeah. When I think about it, it’s funny because “Scottie Pippen” was when they first heard what me and bro could do. I got to give props to Curren$y because he did put that together. People don’t know that me and Freddie go back to 2003 or 2004. We was making music a long time ago. Nothing ever came out. It’s funny how we just reconnected.
Freddie Gibbs: I couldn’t rap that good then. Now I’m better.
Alchemist: Nah, you were already incredible. But sitting back and watching Freddie do what he did with his career was impressive. I got to also say, I love what I do, but I think Freddie’s the star of this project. The way he’s rapping is ridiculous. He’s been upping it every year. With this project, I laid down the music, but the beats get out of the way so he can do what he does. I’m proud of the beats, but I know that he showed off on this bitch.
Take me through your thinking with doing the interludes between each song.
Alchemist: I just look at it like glue. Once I put the record together, and I build with Fred, we think about what we've been talking about on the album and what the context is, or what the feeling is. Sometimes it’s just a transition, it’s just a vehicle. You know the trams in Disneyland? It’s like a Disneyland tram. It’s like a lazy river that gets you to the next song. It shouldn’t be too much, and it shouldn’t be too little. It’s just a minute to make a little something extra. Make some more noise.
Freddie Gibbs: Al’s the king of that shit, putting the album together. I look at it like glue. He just glued that shit together so well, it’s seamless. I give them something real raw and rough, then he just shapes that shit into something real beautiful. Motherfuckers like Al and Madlib, they make me better. If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be as good of a rapper as I am. It’s like Michael Jordan when Phil Jackson brought the triangle offense in—he became a better player. He was scoring a lot before, but when they brought that shit in, he started winning championships. When I fuck with Otis and Al, I feel like it was championship-level type rap. I got to rap the best. I’m competitive. I’m definitely not going to let nobody get on a song and rap better than me.
Alchemist: Yeah, Madlib, you already know how I feel. That’s definitely Phil Jackson. I’m going to have to become Pat Riley [Laughs]. O got to be Phil. Shout out to Madlib. That’s the big homie.
“Motherf*ckers like Al and Madlib, they make me better.” - Freddie Gibbs
I wanted to go through one of the interludes, to get an idea of how you guys work. Right before “Scottie Beam,” you used a snippet of this Gil Scott-Heron interview where he’s talking about “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.” “Scottie Beam” has a bunch of lines that play on that song title. Did you guys find the interview after you did the song or before?
Freddie Gibbs: I was reading Gil Scott-Heron while I was making the album. Then I was just at the house high, watching YouTube. I was like, “All right, I’m going to jam this way on this record.”
Soon as Al played me that beat, I knew it was for Rick Ross. I was like, “This is Maybach music, nigga, all day.” I was getting on a track with one of the best rappers. I was like, I got to come a certain way to make him even interested in the record. That’s why I came with that line and repeated it, and gave it a theme: to set it up for Ross to kill that shit.
What got you revisiting Gil Scott-Heron while you were making the album?
Freddie Gibbs: I been needing some inspiration, man. This rap shit’s so fucking wack. It ain’t too much rap [I find] inspiring right now, so I got to get it from other outlets so that I can add to my art. If you’re not being inspired, you’re not going to be able to make great art. I think steel sharpens steel. I been looking for the steel, but it’s been a whole lot of flaky-ass shit out here. I ain’t been inspired by a lot of rap lately, so I been going back listening to different kinds of music, getting it from different parts of history so that I can add to my flavor.
“Look At Me” is interesting, structurally. It’s somewhere between an interlude and a full song. Why’d you keep it that way, rather than making it longer?
Freddie Gibbs: I might make it longer. I might do a remix. That song, man, I was really fucking around. I was planning on doing an interlude, but then, I was looking at old Pimp C videos and listening to UGK. That’s why I came with the “Look at me, motherfucker, look at me.”
I love that joint. I bump that motherfucker just as much as anything else on the album. The album is very, very consistent. Bandana, you could play the shit straight through. Now, I think that me and Al gave y’all something that you can play straight through, no skips. It ain’t too long, ain’t too short. We good at what we do, so we don’t need to give y’all 25 songs on an album.
Alchemist: The funny part, and Fred will tell you, I couldn’t find a spot for “Look At Me.” I was almost like, “Ah, maybe we don't need it.” Fred was like, “Are you crazy?” Sometimes I’m out of my mind. Sometimes, he needs to let me know, “Nah, you bugging.” We definitely checked notes with each other.
Freddie Gibbs: That “Look At Me "record was a little comedic. People like that shit. They love to see the personality. It’s a lot of fucking serious-ass shit on this album. I talk about the serious shit that I was going through the past two years, even when I was making Bandana, with my uncle and shit like that. The album got its dark moments, so I think songs like “Look At Me” brighten it up a little bit and give it a little more fun.
“We good at what we do, so we don’t need to give y’all 25 songs on an album.” - Freddie Gibbs
“Skinny Suge” is the one where you talk about your uncle’s death [“My uncle died off a overdose/And the fucked up part about that is, I know who supplied the nigga that sold him.”] Did you talk to anyone in your family before writing that?
Freddie Gibbs: Naw. I ain’t really talk to nobody about that. It was just rest in peace to my uncle, man. It was definitely some difficult shit to write about, but I got through it. It was therapeutic. It was good that I got it out there, because I was holding it in for a while.
The record looks back at a lot of things that have happened in your life. Why do you think that came out while writing this album?
Freddie Gibbs: I had a lot of time to reflect while making this project. I stepped back because I got to a different kind of notoriety when I made Bandana. The rush of the people that was saying that they didn’t like my music at first, but now all [on] the bandwagon, that just gave me time to really be like, “Do I really even want to rap anymore?” Rap, to me, is just so superficial.
When I go in with Al, I just feel comfortable. I don’t feel like I got to stretch too much out of my zone. This album just represents freedom to me. It’s me being free on 10 tracks and just letting loose. Letting loose some personal shit, showing off the skill level. I try not to rap like nobody else. If there’s a Rap Hall of Fame, I’m just trying to get in that motherfucker.
You mentioned quoting Pimp C on “Look At Me,” and you also quote him on “God Is Perfect.” You’ve been paying tribute to him since your song “Iodine Poison” from almost 10 years ago. What does Pimp C mean to you now, and how is it different from when you made that song?
Freddie Gibbs: It’s the same thing. He's instrumental in my career, my whole thing. I grew up listening to Pimp C, so his whole swag, everything. He’s one of the rappers that I first bought into. I don’t even like rappers no more if I don’t buy into the whole character. You just can’t have a song that I like. I might like your song, but I might not really buy into you totally.
Pimp C was one of those guys that I was like, “Oh, yeah.” I’ll listen to Pimp C rap, I’ll buy a Pimp C hat, I’ll buy a Pimp C t-shirt. I don’t feel that way about a lot of rappers. He was his own thing. He was unique. I’ll always shout Pimp C forever.
Al, I wanted to ask about “Skinny Suge” from your perspective. How did you put that beat together?
Alchemist: That was one of my favorite beats. Sometimes I make beats that are cool. But sometimes, I make a beat that I just love. I always loved that beat. I had it for a minute and I was hoping that Fred would fuck with it when I played it for him. When he did that and sent it to me, I was stuck. When he hit the last line, “‘Cause I was living by the code,” that shit fucked me up. I need that type of feeling on an album. That beat matched what he said. It was perfect. He said what he had to say and it matched the feeling of the beat. When you make records, that’s what you go for.
Al, you not only make the beats on here, you also arrange them, bringing different elements in and out. How do you make those decisions about what to include?
Alchemist: I try to not make it boring, but I don’t want to overdo it. It’s a little disco dance between the two. You got to get out of the way of the person that’s rapping, and add a little spice, too, so it stays entertaining. Same way a DJ would when he was playing his set.
Freddie, on “God Is Perfect,” you change flows a bunch of times in the first minute or so of the song. That happens a lot throughout the album. How do you decide when to change up your flows during a song?
Freddie Gibbs: I try to do it because I don't want nobody to copy my flow pattern. Some songs I try to just do different flows. Like, I was telling Lambo [Freddie’s manager Ben “Lambo” Lambert] when I was making this album, “Yeah. This is some kind of flow. I don’t know.” I was just naming different flows. Like on “1985,” it’s different. I just try different ways of rapping and challenging myself, trying to do shit that other people can’t do.
What did you call your flow on “1985”?
Freddie Gibbs: God-level flow.
“I’ll listen to Pimp C rap, I’ll buy a Pimp C hat, I’ll buy a Pimp C t-shirt. I don't feel that way about a lot of rappers.” - Freddie Gibbs
When you were writing for this album, which came first: the flow you wanted to use, or the words?
Freddie Gibbs: The beat came first. I always etch the melody out for how I want to rap. It ain’t what you say, it’s how you say it. We all say the same shit. Like, niggas been rapping gangster shit since Scarface. I tell you I got drugs, I could tell you I got guns, I could tell you I fuck bitches. It’s just all about how I’m saying it.
I figure out how I’m going to say it. Then I’ll attach the beat with the words. Plugging in the words, it’s like a puzzle. Trying different kind sof metaphors, but in a cool way—not like how everybody else does it. I want my flow to go down in history as original. I don’t want nobody to be like, “He sound like this, that, and the third.” I was hearing that earlier in my career, when I was first starting out. I remember motherfuckers was trying to say I sound like Young Buck. I was like, “What the fuck? What the fuck are y’all niggas talking about?” I used to be on Violator management. They put me with this motherfucking nigga as my point person [who] was like, “I think you’re the new Nate Dogg.” I was like, “What the fuck are you talking about, my nigga?” I try to do something that ain’t really been done.
Can you talk about writing “Something To Rap About”? I think it’s one of the more emotional and honest songs on the record.
Freddie Gibbs: I think that day, I was listening to The Blueprint or something like that. The beat carried me on that one, man. All I had to do was just talk and make it rhyme. It turned out to be a great song. Alchemist killed that shit. I just showed up that day.
Alchemist: Wait. Isn’t that the one where you talked about meeting a girl at a paint-and-sip? How is that emotional? [Laughs]
Freddie Gibbs: I was drawing stick figures.
Alchemist: I want to see you at a paint-and-sip. I just want to be a fly on the wall.
How did Tyler end up on that song?
Freddie Gibbs: I saw Tyler at a burger place on La Brea and I was like, “Man, I’m going to send you this song.” Then, he was like, “Cool,” and it was done. I was on Loiter Squad before. I fuck with Tyler heavy, man.
Tell me about putting together “All Glass,” the song that closes the record.
Freddie Gibbs: I visualized how I wanted to rap on it. I got a visualization of a church and some stained glass because of the organs in the beat. Then, I was just thinking about crack and how it could be hard as ever. I was thinking about meth and all kind of shit. It all culminated into that shit.
Like I said, from the beginning of this interview, everything’s been real loose. I could really loosely rap on all the beats that he been bringing to the table. I don’t know. I feel like I’m battling myself verse to verse.
Alchemist: We didn’t get too conceptual. It was more like moods and colors, than trying to get too cerebral with anything. Then, when we put it together, it was like the movie was tight.
Freddie Gibbs: Yeah. The concepts came after the rap. Like with “Scottie Beam,” I didn't know that song was going to be called “Scottie Beam.” I named it that because I felt like that was the most climactic part of my verse.
Freddie, to judge by some of the lyrics, it sounds like you watched The Last Dance. What did you think about it?
Freddie Gibbs: I loved it, man. It was a great documentary. Now I don’t want to hear nobody else talking about LeBron or anybody else is better than Michael Jordan. I love LeBron, don’t get me wrong. He’s a top five NBA player of all time. But I’ll take Jordan compared to anybody.
I know you played college football, because we talked about it the first time we met. But you rap on “Babies & Fools” that you got into football through Madden at first.
Freddie Gibbs: Yeah, I liked playing Madden. I wasn’t really that good at football, or any sport. I’m not good, but I got the will the win. Madden made me imagine myself being athletically gifted [Laughs]. Like I said, man, even when we go hoop, I just impose my will on people. I’m like Dennis Rodman or Anthony Mason or some shit. That’s what I do, man. I’m the enforcer when I get on the team.
Putting vocals in beats can be tricky. But you did that on “Look At Me.”
Alchemist: I just tried to make the beat cloudy. I didn’t want to make it too detailed. I wanted to make it real fluffy. I was trying to fluff it out with my magic fluff machine. That’s basically the sound that it is. It’s real plush, it’s light, so then Freddie can hit those high notes. I didn’t want to get in the way of it.
What’s next for you guys?
Freddie Gibbs: Shit, part two.
Alchemist: Yeah. Just get back to business. It’s nothing.
How does it feel knowing you won’t be able to perform these together, for at least a little while?
Freddie Gibbs: It sucks. But China and all that shit might be open in a minute. Not China—Japan, I don’t know. I don’t give a fuck, man. Wherever the fuck they want a show at, I’ll go. I’ll go do a show in a hazmat suit. I don’t give a fuck. Let's do it. My son gotta eat. This little motherfucker running around here hungry. So yeah, we need to do these damn shows. I don’t give a fuck where it's at. We can do it at a remote location. Shit, right now, I’m so thirsty to get back on the stage, I’ll perform at Fyre Festival.
You’ve got projects with Madlib, with Alchemist. There aren’t that many West Coast legends left for you to team up with. Who’s next?
Freddie Gibbs: Shit, motherfucking Fredwreck. Freddy Fred, feel me? I love him, man. Fredwreck or Battlecat or somebody. Shit, Dr. Dre. We going to do The Chronic 5000. Still smoking.
Any final thoughts?
Freddie Gibbs: Free Suge Knight, man. This album’s going to be a classic. Shout out to Scarface. He inspired me to do this shit. Probably get him on the next one. We grinding. Ain't nobody rapping like this right now. Ain't no project out like this right now. The game need it.