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Smoke and Fire: How Freddie Gibbs and The Alchemist cooked up a no-compromise classic

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The Grammys was never the goal for Freddie Gibbs and The Alchemist. Anyone intimately familiar with the hard-hitting discographies of both underground kings knows this all too well. But when their joint album Alfredo — a mafioso-inspired combination of both their names — earned a nod for Best Rap Album last year it was one of the rare occasions that the Academy got hip-hop right.

Alfredo also proves the power of a well-executed collaboration. The best sonic alliances can elevate artist and producer and change the career trajectory of both. Most fans probably don't know that the first time Gibbs and Alchemist collaborated, in the early 2000s, Gibbs was a new signee on Interscope and Alchemist was a rising producer in demand. Though the unreleased tracks they made never saw the light of day after Gibbs' deal soured, the duo was destined to reconnect like Voltron. First, though, they each played major roles in elevating joint rap albums to high art with other high-powered collaborators. While Alchemist built long-running discographies with the likes of Prodigy, Action Bronson, Boldy James, Evidence and many more, Gibbs made two front-to-back classics with Madlib. The pair had relinked for a trial run alongside Currensy on 2011's "Scottie Pippens," which led to the trio's 2018 LP Fetti. From there, Alfredo was just over the horizon.

On this week's episode of The Formula, the third in a season that digs into the collaboration between rappers and producers, we visit Alchemist's L.A. studio for a smoke-veiled conversation with the duo as they share the special sauce for Alfredo, an LP equal parts brooding and boastful. They break down the making of "Skinny Suge," the haunting confessional that finds Gibbs reliving the trauma of having one foot in the rap game and one deep in the streets of Gary. The resulting classic, Alfredo, is what happens when two masters of their craft link at the top of their game: Everybody eats. —Rodney Carmichael

ABOUT SEASON 2 OF THE FORMULA

In this season of The Formula we sit down with some of hip-hop's rising and most respected artist-producer duos as they dissect songs emblematic of their collective body of work — be it an album, an era or a moment in rhyme. Because the true stamp of a timeless collab comes when both musicians at play find themselves forever transformed by the mix. Find new episodes at npr.org/theformula:

Rico Nasty + Kenny Beats

Isaiah Rashad + Kal Banx

Westside Gunn + Conductor Williams

Tierra Whack + J Melodic

CREDITS

Host/Series Producer: Rodney Carmichael; Producers: Tsering Bista, Nickolai Hammar; Editor: Annabel Edwards; Art Director/Animator: CJ Riculan; Animators: Jackie Lay, Alicia Zheng; Director of Photography: Nickolai Hammar; Audio Engineer: Josh Rogosin; Videographers: Jack Corbett, Nickolai Hammar, Alicia Zheng; Production Assistants: Amna Ijaz, Trisha Pickelhaupt; Art Director: CJ Riculan; Project Coordinator: Erin Register; Legal Adviser: Kimberly Sullivan; Consulting Editors: Jacob Ganz, Sidney Madden; Supervising Producer, Nick Michael; Senior Producer: Abby O'Neill; Managing Editor: Becky Lettenberger; Executive Producers: Anya Grundmann, Keith Jenkins

MUSIC

"Skinny Suge," Freddie Gibbs, Alfredo (2020); "Rose Water" by DJ Face

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.