Butter, Cream, Product: Freddie Gibbs and the Alchemist Serve Up ‘ALFREDO’

Steven Louis surveys the Gary, Indiana legend's already rapturously received collaborative project with the all-time great beatmaker.
By    May 29, 2020

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As legend has it, one of the most famous Italian pasta dishes ever exported was born out of sheer exasperation, by the banks of the Tiber River on the dawn of the First World War. Alfredo di Delio, a modest restaurant owner in Rome, needed a recipe that would appeal to his wife, Ines she had recently given birth to the couple’s first son, and her appetite was subsequently drained out. Alfredo took fettuccine and doused it with parmesan and extra extra extra extra butter. It worked, because why the fuck would it not work?

The chef, nicknamed “Il Maestro,” kept the secret confined to his trattoria until 1927, when Chicago-based restaurant entrepreneur George Rector sang the dish’s praises in the pages of the Saturday Evening Post. An international culinary phenomenon was thus born, but rather than fully indulge in the history of maestosissime fettuccine all’Alfredo, let’s just call this delicious ingeniousness for what it really is: service of the pickiest of fiends. Oh, your body is rejecting the mere idea of eating after childbirth? How about just butter, cream, cheese and pasta? Yeah, thought so. Alfredo knew what was good well before The O’Jays put the rest of us on game. Gotta give the people what they want.

I can’t speak for anyone reading this, but I sure as hell feel like a 20th century Italian housewife right about now. Living through the fallout of a generational pandemic can feel stupid, confounding, unsatisfying and unreasonable. I’ll admit that I haven’t consumed a whole lot of new music, or new anything really, since the quarantine began fresh releases require a certain level of buy-in from the consumer, and who is really in the mood to consume at a time like this? Gangsta Gibbs and Uncle Alc know that. They respect it. To those searching for product in a climate starved of subtlety, here’s ALFREDO, a 10-track 35-minute EP that feels luxurious and totally fulfilling despite the insanely straightforward, almost reductive ingredients.

One emcee, one producer. Bars on bars on bars, over soul samples and dusty psychedelia. Baritone about vital cocaine sales and expendable tour pussy. A sense of time to tie this all back to our bizarre moment — at least a half-dozen references to The Last Dance, one inspired Joe Exotic name-check, all delivered from a six-foot distance and behind a designer face mask and no-frills features that pull from the short list of best rappers alive. Serving those fiending for this is a civic miracle — something to shoot up with as the remaining space around us narrows, constricts and withers to warmed banality.

About a year ago, I talked to those close to Freddie Gibbs about the decade anniversary of Midwestgangstaboxframecadillacmuzik, widely considered the artist’s breakout mixtape. DJ Skee told me about a desperate, talented emcee fighting for his career after major labels scrapped his debut LP. Ben “Lambo” Lambert, long-time manager and confidant, spoke of frantic initial pitches to Joe “3H” Weinberger at Capitol Records, sleeping on couches from Gary, Ind. all the way through the San Fernando Valley, and negotiating with confused A&Rs for the free release of shelved master recordings. It was a radical reclamation project, a young man from an abandoned American enclave, triple-timing with melodic urgency about the industry forces and DEA agents simultaneously hassling his career.

Fast forward more than 10 years and ALFREDO still rings with this very same magic of self-realization. It’s almost indistinguishable, save for the aforementioned cultural references. It’s what makes Freddie Gibbs so damn automatic. ALFREDO is loaded with verses about cooking crack while tending to the hygienic needs of your young child. It’s stuffed with regrets and boasts, contradictions and charms, and Freddie is rapping as if his legacy is very much still up for debate. So, fuck it, if America is finally “returning to normalcy” benefiting the ultra-wealthy at the expense of literally everyone else, profiting rather brazenly from the prison-industrial complex, etc. at least we get one of our few good constants: Freddie Gibbs creating with an all-time prolific beatsmith, out-rapping everybody on the planet.

“The revolution is this genocide / Execution will be televised,” he raps on “Scottie Beam,” presumably recorded weeks before Minneapolis police murdered George Floyd on camera. Why is an arresting officer pulling Gibbs over in sunny Los Angeles? Well, he was swerving to avoid potholes, and you can check the city budget on that one. Why is Freddie Caine, an American gangsta of modern mythological proportions, bragging about his drivers license and car registration being totally straight? Well, he really doesn’t want to have to kill one of these overzealous cops, that’s all. He warned the Gary Police Department in 2005 that he had more guns than they did. What you think, he sold em all? Rick Ross delivers a stellar feature that certifies him as Recession-proof twice over. 

On “Look At Me,” the Alchemist lays an eerie pitched-down loop of The Moments, completely devoid of percussion beyond the echoing tick sampled on each downbeat. Gibbs uses the soundscape to loop his own slithery, rubbery flow. It’s such straightforward artistry that it’s almost disarming; the simplest, barest of ingredients, distilled to whatever decadence makes sense right now. You expect the flow to switch or the drums to kick, when really you should just shut up and eat your pasta.

What of the ever-distant past? The premises and occurences of lifetimes ago, queued up to inform this surreal present of ours? To Freddie, all that went down just so that he would have shit to rap about in quarantine. More uncut self-actualization on “Something to Rap About.” God made him sell crack cocaine despite the draconian penal code around the very act; didn’t young Fred know how much the listener would need this, all these years later? God gave the man a paltry $40,000 first advance, plus trouble with the IRS to go with it. God gave him that night in Vienna. All for the fiends, all for us. Tyler The Creator traverses time in a much sunnier fashion, reporting live from the boat he hasn’t bought yet. Soaking in the Mykonos rays he’s very much not allowed to travel to, with a pocket full of seawater and the distinct taste of sugar and citrus under his teeth, he raps about propelling forward. The whole EP feels stuck in amber, an approximation of where we were before all this, like everything else seems to feel.

On “Skinny Suge,” the EP’s other melancholic, guitar-plucked track, Freddie admits to a time when he was selling dope to afford to rap, when his uncle fatally overdosed and he knew the distributor responsible but none of that mattered because he was off his ass with emotion and felt a pistol on his forehead. ALFREDO is comfort-zone, follow-the-recipe stuff for two of independent music’s biggest and most uncompromising Gs. It’s supposed to be effortless for them, while indulgent and thrilling for us. Of course he gives the Buffalo kids ample timespace to catch and then hide a body. Of course all this music bangs so very hard and pure. Cheese and butter and carbohydrates make an appetite out of nothing.

Destiny, or timing, or bars, or fettuccine. ALFREDO is unobscured art, scratching at itches when everything feels so discomfiting in the first place. If the fiends are indeed multiplying, someone might as well serve ‘em.

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