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Courtesy EMPIRE

Larry June and The Alchemist on their new album, The Great Escape

The duo discuss their creative process, dream collaborations, and the importance of competition

If you find yourself in Santa Monica, follow the scent of the finest Californian weed mixed with the warm sound of an MPC playing the smoothest beats you’ve ever heard, and you’ll probably find yourself near The Alchemist’s studio. Recorded within the vinyl stacked walls are some of the best hip-hop albums in recent memory, and a stacked guest book with names like Freddie Gibbs, Earl Sweatshirt and Conway The Machine. The veteran producer’s studio doesn’t function like a normal studio: there’s an open door for his seemingly endless list of collaborators, who come to write, record, or just hang out and listen to music. The energy of the room carries across into all the music made within its walls, the relaxed feel that takes an artist out of the formalities of a regular studio and into a zone only unlocked through complete comfort.

The latest project to be produced within the walls is the smooth-as-mulberry-silk Larry June collaboration album, The Great Escape. The Bay Area rapper adds a touch of class to every record he features on, whether he’s rapping about expensive art, gourmet meals, or teaching people how to hustle and get rich, his hypnotic delivery makes his rhymes and tone the perfect accompaniment to The Alchemist’s sun-soaked, lounge jazz loops.

Up until this point, June has pretty much stayed within the soundscape of the Bay Area, with his melodic, contemporary take on hyphy (see: signature track “Smoothies in 1991”) originally boosting him into the spotlight. It’s a testament to the duo’s chemistry that the transition feels so seamless and natural, but with two trailblazing artists like June and The Alchemist, what else were we to expect? Here, we catch up with June and The Alchemist to chat about the new record.

How did you first meet and what was the first track you both worked on?

The Alchemist: We met through a mutual friend, [Canadian rapper] Jay Worthy, who put me onto Larry’s music, and then we ended up linking up later down the line. That was the initial connect. What was the name of that record, Larry, the one that we did with Worthy?

Larry June: Oh, “Rainy Night In SF”? It was Al and Worthy’s project. I knew Al got familiar with me off that record and we just kept working from there. It was super organic, we heard the beats and I got to rapping on there and made it happen.

How was the process of working on the album together – Al did you craft beats with Larry’s distinctly relaxed delivery in mind? Or was it the other way around?

The Alchemist: I definitely put myself in a relaxed state – most of the beats I made with my shoes off, kept it to that feel. I wanted to add to that luxury, Larry really has no lint on his socks. You'll never see a piece of lint on a Larry June sock, that’s a fact, and I had to cater to that. I wanted to make beats that sounded like there was not a piece of lint on them.

What were you listening to when you were recording The Great Escape? What was inspiring you during the process?

The Alchemist: More than listening for me it was smelling and seeing, taking inspiration from senses and colours. I was thinking more moods with this shit, I didn’t want to dig too much into his old catalogue, because it was throwing me off and I’d try to make something like that. I was really thinking about the Bay Area – Larry would say “let’s go to Malibu to work”. We were looking at different scenes, smelling different scents.

Larry June: That’s really the key: going outside, smelling and living it. That’s how me and Alchemist stay so unique: we go where we feel is cool and we bring the lifestyle into it. That’s a big thing for me too, I go biking or I get inspired by seeing certain shit, going to Mexico to learn about Barragán Lighting and all kinds of stuff. That’s really the big inspiration for this project: I learned about a lot of shit, talked about it and told people, too. As I was learning, I was giving it back to the people.

‘I’m not staying in the same spot, because as an artist it’s not fulfilling – it’s just boring’ – The Alchemist

The album is stacked with features – Action Bronson, Evidence, Boldy James, Wiz Khalifa, Big Sean – how did you both pick and choose who you wanted on each track?

Larry June: It was organic, I was a fan of all the artists featured on the album. I was listening to their music, and we made it happen. Everything was easy, everybody who was on the project wanted to be on the project, nothing was forced. We didn’t have to sell it to anybody, we were all mutual fans of each other. So it was smooth, it was cool. It was like a house party vibe getting them to jump on these classic tracks, man. It was fun. 

The Alchemist: We both have good Rolodexes. So, if it wasn’t in his Rolodex, it was in my Rolodex and we just put them both on the table. It was pretty much friends or family.

How long did the process end up taking?

The Alchemist: A year and some change, we did it in little batches. Once we got to the end, we put the finishing touches, and we had time to chew it over and really make it bulletproof. It’s like when you finish a painting. I asked my friend who paints “how do you know when the painting is finished?” He said, “I get emotional”. You feel when it’s over. You don’t start crying, but when it’s done, it’s done. We enjoyed making this shit – we even had extras, but we cut a little fat off the steak and made it perfect.

Why do you think it is important, as artists, to keep moving and taking steps in directions that aren’t necessarily straightforward?

The Alchemist: I don’t think it’s important, I think it’s vital. You could be the type of artist that does something good, and it works, and you just run that play over and over. That’s nasty. I wouldn’t be happy doing that, I was never that type of person. I’m not staying in the same spot because as an artist it’s not fulfilling, you know? It’s just boring.

Larry June: Agreed.

Larry, if you had to pick a rapper to do a whole project with Alchemist, and Alchemist you had to pick another producer to work on a whole project for Larry, who would it be and why?

Larry June: Man, you and Prince would’ve went crazy. 

The Alchemist: I like that, you’re thinking big. I’m leaning towards DJ Quik or DJ Battlecat. I feel like Larry knows how to sit on those beats that have that funk element. Those guys know how to do it with samples or not, it still has a homemade feel to it. They got a natural swing. 

Larry, how did you get Alchemist back spitting on a track? 

The Alchemist: How did he do it? He held me at gunpoint [laughs]!

Larry June: First off, he was rapping before me, period. He was playing the beat and he always likes to be doing something, so I looked over and he was already writing something. I seen his head bobbing. I think he just wanted to do something and so I’m like “hey man, you want to jump on this?” He said “I'll try something,” and then he went in there. It was one take, he knocked it out. He didn’t want to use it, but I’m happy we did... anyway, he got more raps than me...

... stowed away in a locker somewhere?

The Alchemist: Stowed away, man. There are old rap books somewhere, they got mildew and mould on them.

Larry June: He got raps in his head already, he ready to spit at any time.

What’s next for the Alchemist and Larry June?

Larry June: We got more stuff on the way, man. We cooking right now. We created a bag that we can jump in that’s unique to both of our sounds. Now we’ve got to just keep it coming. 

What else can you tell us about the new stuff?

The Alchemist: Who do you want to hear Larry with?

I'd like to hear you with DJ Premier. 

Larry June: You know what's funny, Al said Premier, too.

The Alchemist: Premier would be dope. I feel like Larry could do any style, though, so it would just be interesting. I’m trying to think of other rappers – he’s done a joint with Snoop already, that’s somebody I always thought you would make good music with. But it’s endless. You and Ty Dolla $ign could do more. We just scratched the surface with that record. 

You say what’s next? This record just dropped, so we’re really going to work this all the way into the summer. We got a bunch of other videos lined up, we in Europe right now just doing a promo campaign and I can’t remember ever doing that. So we’re taking it seriously and trying to compete with everything that’s out there, even the numbers showing up is real competitive and we’re going to treat it that way.

The Great Escape is out now via The Freeminded Records / ALC / EMPIRE