Larry June and the Alchemist Talk About Teaming Up for ‘The Great Escape’
Follow what feels natural. That’s the guidance from Bay Area rapper Larry June and prolific beatmaker the Alchemist. It’s how the pair says their upcoming joint album, The Great Escape, came together. Over Zoom, they tell Rolling Stone that it started out as the two collaborating on a couple of loosies, then onto plans for a short EP, until finally they arrived at the full-length project that’s dropping on March 31. Throughout it all, the process felt organic. The two prolific musicians built such a rapport that in the midst of developing the project, they’ve become genuine friends, even traveling to Malibu and Mexico together to create.
“We got a lot of similarities,” Larry says while cruising through San Francisco during our Zoom call. “It wasn’t like we got in the booth and [were like], ‘Let’s get these beats together.’ We hung out more than we made music.” Their bond is apparent during our hourlong conversation. They share anecdotes from their time together, build off each other’s ideas, and at one point, a discussion about Larry’s anxiety management meanders into the two joking about Larry selling fortune cookies. It’s the kind of barrier one can only break with a real friend.
Alchemist says that he first got familiar with Larry through L.A. artist (and frequent collaborator of both) Jay Worthy. Though Alchemist says that he liked Larry, he was initially unsure if they could “find a bag” creatively. Then they came together for Jay Worthy’s “Rainy Night in SF,” and Alchemist got an epiphany on what kind of beats he could craft for Larry, who says he was “excited” to do the project.
“He’s been here watching the whole evolution of this shit and still in the game,” Larry says of the Alchemist. “Al was somebody I looked up to musically, too. He’s done so much in hip-hop for him to be able to be relevant and jump on a new artist like myself and rap, make all the beats, and still got a crazy legacy.“
Alchemist reciprocates the reverence, noting, “Being his age and seeing how he did what he did financially and being really smart, I took notes even at where I’m at. There’s a lot of shit that he’s done that really busted my head open, and I was like, ‘Right!’” And now, they’re set to crack heads together on The Great Escape. So far, they’ve released “89 Earthquake” and “60 Days,” a double up on Larry’s “30 Days,” which Alchemist says is one of his favorite Larry June songs. And Alchemist loved their soulful update so much that he took the opportunity to drop some bars on the track. “It was just the day,” Alchemist says about his decision, adding that he wanted it to feel like a “bonus” on the track.
Along with the album, Alchemist says the two (in partnership with EMPIRE) have a range of ideas to help support the album. “We got some shit that I’m excited about as far as the campaign, the installations, the popups, the artwork, the marketing merch — it’s A1,” he says. Larry adds, “We definitely gonna do some live band shows for the music. Private real player, upscale.” Larry is also set to embark on a 50-city international tour.
Larry June and the Alchemist talked to Rolling Stone about The Great Escape, their friendship, and jogging the anxiety away.
How did the idea of the project come together?
Larry June: It was in the works for a long time. We were doing records here and there. We did some shit with Jay Worthy, and a couple of other records, and then we came together and got the music together. I’m not sure who approached who; I think it was more of a mutual thing. We [had] ideas here and there. Then we got together. It was like magic, man. I don’t record in studios like that. Soon as I got with him, we got in a booth and made “Breakfast in Monaco” instantly.
Alchemist: I think it was Worthy who first put me onto [Larry’s] shit, and I was like, “Yo, this dude was crazy.” And then eventually, I think one of the first ones we did was Worthy put him on the joint. I had already heard his shit, but the sound was kind of different [to] where I was like, “I don’t know how we could find a bag.” And then when he got on the joints with Worthy, I was like, “Bing!” He sounded great. I find [that with] MCs that I could really mesh with, we got to find a way where we can find a sound that works. I’ve discovered that he’s versatile. He can do a lot of shit, so when we got up it was easy. And he’s one of the easiest people that I’ve ever worked with and the most fun because his energy is positive and we going up every time.
And when you say easy, is it a matter of the creative energy syncing easily?
Alchemist: It’s fun to work with Larry. He’s really a scientist. He records his own shit. I trust his opinion on music, too. I don’t look at him as just a rapper. He’s musical and records his own shit. That’s what I mean by “easy.” Once we found the beats, he was like, “Oh, yeah, I’m going in on this.” And then, if we needed a chorus or something, it was so easy. It was like, “Yep, that’s it.”
How much of this did y’all record together versus remote interactions?
Larry: I recorded most of it at the house and then I come to the studio. Then we had collectively changed things. I recorded like 90 percent of the shit at the crib. We did “60 days” in person. And over time I recorded to this shit. Then we came together and got a good batch, and we go OK we’re going to use this and going to take this off. We going to add to it. So it’s like I recorded it, and [then] we went in and then switched a lot of shit. So it was smooth.
Alchemist: He got a clear formula that he knows how to create and record with. Sometimes you get with someone and they’re just raw, they don’t know where they’re going with it. With his shit, it was like all I got to do is give him the beats because the way he recorded was already A1, his engineers are A1. And then we would come together. But we combed this record over five, six times. We’ve gone crazy to make sure that it was bulletproof. Early on, we had a version that was shorter and we were about to drop it, but I feel like [with] us coming together, and Larry’s trajectory of how he’s becoming bigger, it felt like we [should] give them more than whatever it was at the time. So we went back in, and I’m glad we did because it turned into one of those records.
Larry: And it’s super dope. It’s my first time working like this where I can sit with the producer and come with ideas and create crazy skits and take other opinions and pay attention to all the details. It’s my first time working like this, and it changed my perspective on doing music overall [as far as] taking more time with it. It’s definitely super fun working with Al. We did a lot of traveling, going to Mexico, getting inspiration and doing all kind of shit. Crazy cribs in Palm Springs and Malibu, [having] fun and barbecuing, regular hanging out. We became good friends just off of vibing.
Al, how often is traveling a part of your collaborative process?
Alchemist: It depends on the artist. I feel like Larry, the way he records, he could just set up shop anywhere and you get the same quality. He knows how to get his shit right. So I felt like for this, [traveling] felt more exciting. Even once we had the title, it was like some getaway shit. Let’s go over here and get some different energy. My studio has no windows. It’s like a casino.
Alchemist: No clocks, no windows, so you just get lost in it. But I felt like for this shit, we had to bring in some sunlight and bug out. And there’s some records that I’ll do that with. Sometimes we’ll pick a place. I know when I worked with Nas in the past, [for] every record he used to take a bunch of producers and go to a certain country or a different state and get a different energy. It was kind of challenging, and the environment brings something else out.
Larry: Even the bars. We was traveling and he sent me some [inaudible 00:08:12] while we in Mexico or something. He teach me some shit about some famous person in Mexico, I’ll learn about all kind of people. It’s definitely a cultural shock. It was a crazy process on this album, man. I wanted to change every one of my bars.
What made you want to change them?
Larry: Working on Alchemist, it’s a lot of critics in there and shit. People know me from vibing, having a good time and saying whatever I want to. But [with] the beats he was giving me, it was like, “Oh, you got to really talk some shit or [things] can go a different direction.”
Alchemist: Larry’s a perfectionist.
Larry: But he slowed me down, like, “Man, just do you, don’t even overthink it.” When he told me that, it was like, “You know what, you right.” I got back to drinking my juices and taking a little hike real quick and keeping it all organic in the verses. “Orange styles” came at first. I kind of was trying to get on Alchemist energy. And then over time talking to him being like, “Man, I fuck with what you doing, keep doing what you doing,” I’m like, “You know what, you right.”
Alchemist: I can relate to the perfectionist shit too because I think that’s what he was talking about by wanting to change little lines. Because he’s super perfectionist and he goes back and I do the same thing with beats, but that’s why it’s good when you do a collaborative project because you’ve got the checks and balances. So I might be bugging over a snare and he’ll be like, “It’s good.” And he might be like, “Yo, this one part.” I’m like, “Trust me! [Laughs.] But I think that’s why we could trust each other.
What was the inspiration for the album title?
Larry: Shit, Al came with the idea. [At first] we didn’t know where to go with the name. We played the album a few times and we talking a lot of upscale player but still grind-mode shit. So he’s like, “Man, this is like the Robb Report.” I wasn’t familiar with the Robb Report, and he showed me. It was all player shit. Private jets and Porsches and nice watches and expensive towels. And then I think we got to a page, we seen “the great escape.” We was like, “Ooh!” And he came like, “The Great Escape.”
How did the documentary come together? What will it display?
Larry: We recorded the whole process of going different places, working on the music and doing regular shit and traveling. It shows the process of the album. It was no crazy rocket science behind it. Giving more of a deeper insight of what we were doing for people to see.
Alchemist: I didn’t even know that we were filming. And that’s when you get the best footage. It was really fly-on-the-wall shit. Miggs is part of the team, so when he’s filming, you don’t even know that the camera’s running. So he got a lot of good moments. When I first played him the “60 Days” beat, he caught that and we went back and saw the footage because we made the record later. That was probably the last record we recorded, [but] we had the beat early on. I think people appreciate that fly-on-the-wall type of footage, where we’re not explaining shit to the camera. It’s like you’re in the studio catching some of the vibes and all the different spots we recorded at.
Al, what made you want to jump back on the mic for “60 Days?”
Alchemist: It was just the day. I wasn’t taking the record too serious. Even if I rap at any point, I had already produced the whole rap, my intent wasn’t to rap on the record, but we did the joint and Larry was like, “Yo, this shit is dope. Let’s just fuck with it.” Because I wanted it to be a bonus. That’s why I get in and out real quick. And every now and then I do rhyme on records with my friends when it’s a fit. Sometimes I’ll rhyme on the joint and take my verse off it, like “Nah, it didn’t work.” I do that a lot to keep my chops up. Those never see the light of day. It’s just practice, because I do production competitively, but [I rap] for fun. So the fact he was even fucking with it, I was like, “Come on, let’s do it.”
Larry: [I told him] “Man, please jump on this one.” He didn’t want to do it. And he was quiet for five minutes. Then he’s in the booth saying, “I got something.” He went in the booth. I was like, “Oh, shit.” It was crazy.
You crafted it in your head?
Alchemist: It takes me longer than most, but yeah.
Larry: He was walking in circles for five minutes.
Alchemist: [With] the structure of the song, the verses are real short. I like the structure of it now because I like when Larry does the hooks. So [it’s like], “Get back to that part.” Quicker is always a good thing.
Larry: And I like structuring songs different like that. Everything don’t got to be the traditional 16 bars and a hook. This is about having people be able to vibe. And that beat was so player, it’s like I didn’t need to rap on it anyway. You can play that driving, so [it’s like] I didn’t want to do too much, we ain’t going to say too much, and we going to harmonize on the hook. Give it that little feel. [Alchemist] came on there very peacefully talking, “I’m a big bowl of macaroni.” When he got in the booth, I’m like, “Oh, it’s over!” I almost redid my verse but I was like, “You know what? Go ahead and let him do his thing, man.”
Alchemist: I was rapping as a teenager, but it took me 30 years to arrive finally.
Larry: Nah, come on, man. You got hits.
Alchemist: It took a while. It was a slow cook.
You’ve previously been open about some of the struggles you went through before your career got to a certain level. During that period, what was it that kept you centered and focused on music?
Larry: Rap was always my backup plan. That’s what I was always going to end up doing. I knew that. So I feel like me having that in my mind, and then never quitting, I was able to accomplish all the stuff that I wanted to do. But I was never a hundred percent into nothing because I wanted to make sure the music was going to work. And I think that’s what kept me grounded. And my son as well. And I think being paranoid … I’m a paranoid individual, man. I pay attention to everything, and I knew what I was doing at the time wasn’t right. So my main goal was changing my life and living very peacefully where I didn’t have to worry about nothing. So that was a big inspiration. And a lot of my inspiration come from being able to live how I live. Because I wasn’t able to live like this ever. So [I’m focused on] waking up and putting that grind in it. And that’s where it came from. Everybody go through this, I’m just a nigga who kept going.
Like we’ve said, your music is so smooth and peaceful. How did pressure affect your creative process at that point?
Larry: I really had to go find inspiration musically. I couldn’t be the best artist that I wanted to be because I was worried about doing other shit to make money to live how I wanted to live at the time. I’d get a little inspiration, [but] I didn’t have much time to put into the craft. I wasn’t getting better like I wanted to. But once I really put time into it, around 2017, I got better and started developing my style. I made beats first when I was younger and growing up. I didn’t have a rap style. I had to find my style and sit with the inspiration.
You’re renowned for this smooth, soulful, funky sound. What is it that drew you to that vibe? Was it from childhood?
Larry: I don’t know. I just gravitated toward that type of music. I didn’t listen to too much music growing up besides a lot of neo-soul. I had family members that was into music. One of my cousins, Baby DC, was a young artist, and my dad was into the rap game. I was around a lot of the Bay Area music at a young age. But I hear them beats and talk my shit. I don’t even think too much of it, man. It sounds crazy. I talk to Al about this all the time. He brings up other people, and I don’t know who they are. But when I hear them, I’m a fan instantly, like I’ve been supposed to heard this shit.
I ain’t even trying to be on no super cool, “I listen to nobody but myself,” but I got off the porch early. I was outside around 15 years old, I was straight to the streets, so I [didn’t have] no real hobbies. I was trying to get some money. I’d hear certain shit that was around me immediately, and see my OGs do certain shit and bring them 5.0s out and them old schools. And then I was a kid in ATL, I was seeing the music shit over there. I’m just a lifestyle nigga, for real. I just rap about my day and make it sound cool over them soulful beats.
I was watching the Rory & Mal interview where you talked about dealing with anxiety at one point, and that’s something familiar to me as well. What are some of the things that helped you overcome your anxiety?
Larry: You know what, waking up early and getting shit done, man. When I get shit done, even if it’s small things from recording one part of a song or making me a great smoothie or taking a walk, or feeling productive … when I’m not productive, my anxiety kicking in. I feel like I’m not doing enough, so I take them peaceful walks. Do something that’s going to make me happy. Even if it’s cutting my phone off for a minute and putting the bullshit to the side and being on top of shit overall, that keep my [anxiety] down. I wear a lot of hats, from being an independent artist to running boba tea shops and being a single father and running the brand, so when I’m not really levelheaded, my anxiety kept kicking and I do things that make me happy. I feel like that’s what helped me. Shut that brain up a little bit. Take a nice drive or something. A lot of people turn to alcohol and maybe drugs or something. And I feel that’s the worst things you do.
Yeah, you’re just escaping things that will still be there.
Larry: And it’s all in your mental, you want to be able to work on your mind [by] doing something that’s gonna elevate how you think. Once you overcome that, man, it’s just you. You’ll be a monster out here. That’s what I be on. I didn’t read no crazy books, I just figured it out.
And I ran cross-country for two months in high school. I hooped and shit my whole life, [so they told me] I didn’t have to go to basketball practice [if] I ran cross-country. I ran laps. I was already doggin’ niggas, I ain’t need to go to practice, so that’s how I got into that. When I was doing a jog, it made me feel refreshed when I was done. That’s when it hit me: “This actually ain’t that bad.” So when I start going into my other shit, I incorporated that with “Let me take a nice walk and clear my brain.” I love learning shit, too. That keep me feeling good.
What is something valuable that you’ve learned so far this year?
Larry: I learned that it’s never going to stop. The bigger you get, whatever you do is going to take more responsibility. So you got to prepare yourself mentally at all times and be on top of everything. Everything got to be done a hundred percent, or it can get ugly. I feel like I’m getting sharper on all corners. I learned a little bit about everything, to be real with you. It’s been an interesting year. But I feel stronger, like a beast out here.
Alchemist: Shit, I just learned that cross-country jogging is the cure for anxiety.
Larry: Hey, it really is.
Alchemist: You learning something every day.… You’re like my teacher. [Laughts.] I get anxiety at airports. I don’t know if I could jog at that moment.
Larry: Yeah, it’s a different kind of anxiety. At the airport, you got to drink water, man. That water do miracles.
Alchemist: I’m telling you, Larry got the answer for anything. You got to start “Ask Larry,” like Ask Jeeves.
Larry: It’s going to be a basic powerful answer, ’cause I don’t know how I do half this shit.
Alchemist: I told him he should do fortune cookies.
Larry: But I’m going to be a hundred percent, man. I don’t know how I do this shit. But I just wake up and I do it. I know I got to get something done every day. If I ain’t getting something done every day, I’m not accomplished. I don’t care if I get it done at eight o’clock at night, nine o’clock, six in the morning, I got to get something done. And that’s what keep me going.
Alchemist: That might be the secret key to success though: focusing on the day, getting whatever it is that day done. Because sometimes the big lofty plan can intimidate you. That’s how I do it. Sometimes I’m working on what’s going on in front of me, and then you pull back and you see you accomplished a lot. But I’ve also learned a lot from Larry. I always tell him that, even though I’m a lot older than a lot of these guys, I learned from;… He motivates me in a lot of ways. Like, “Hold on a minute, man. I need to get one of those machines you got. Hey, what am I doing wrong over here?” He’s got a lot of nice machines.
This reminds me of a tweet I saw you make the other day Larry, like, “Don’t keep score along the way. Just keep working and then you’ll look up and you’ll be where you want to be.”
Larry: Yeah. I never understood when people said, “Don’t focus on the money.” What you mean don’t focus on the money? When I [say] “put that work in,” you going to look up and have everything you wanted. My whole life changed in 2018. I made crack money just off streaming, off merchandising, by putting that time into the right thing. You got a girlfriend, cool. Spend time with your chick, but always focus on getting that chicken and building at all times. I’m like the first generation of success in my family. So I’m out here fighting. I’m trying to set it up for my kid. I only buy assets. [If] I pass away, what my son going to do? What his kids going to do? It’s bigger than this shit. That’s what I think about every day. When I’m waking up in the morning, I’m still going to hit [the spa] and get a back rub, grab me the nice machine. But in the back of my mind, I’m thinking long-term plays and figuring out what can I do to stay in position.
How are things going for Midnight Organic right now?
It’s going great. It started out the trunk selling hoodies and orange juice, and it turned into a brand. I linked up with a partner of mine, and he knew how to operate, drop ship. And from there, we had access to the world where I don’t got to go to the post office and send a hundred packages myself. Now I can send thousands of packages at one time. So now I’m like, “All right, let’s go outside. Let’s keep popping this trunk. We bringing it on the road.” We gonna build a real brand that this is going to eventually make more money than me rapping.
I encourage any artist that’s in the game to have merchandise and try to create a brand outside of music because that changed my life. That was a whole different situation, to the point that I said, “I have to give 20 percent of this to my partner.” Because you just helped me get M’s off the dribble. I’m blessed to have good people around me who turn my ideas real because I’m a creative. I know how to go get it. And it’s a lot of moving parts for what I’m doing. Anyone want to come to my barber shop, I got partners. Musically, I got partners. The team and everything rocking.
Alchemist: When they mess with you, they’re going to mess with all the things you do. And I think Larry has a brand where the people who fuck with Larry, they fuck with him genuinely. Not just his music, they with him. Like even merch, I feel like it’s almost a four-letter word. What he’s doing is way beyond merch. It’s a full brand. And nowadays, the music is the advertisement [that] draws them to you. All your favorite artists, you love them. The music is a byproduct of them. So I feel like Larry mastered that by building his brand up and being himself to when people get into his shit, they like him. He could pretty much sell whatever. As long as it put his flavor into it, we’re on deck. I think that’s how you could really use music and go further beyond it, and he’s showing you how to do it.