Welcome to “New Music with Nick.” In this column, I will be reviewing some of the most notable new album releases across various genres, focusing on hip-hop, R&B and pop music. Join me in exploring the ever-shifting landscape of the streaming era.
Larry June and The Alchemist: “The Great Escape” (March 31, 2023)
Typically when a rapper and producer collaborate on a project, I (and most people) center our discussion around the rapper rather than the producer. Oftentimes in hip-hop, the producer is an afterthought only appreciated by those who are doing extra research.
The Alchemist is a strong exception to this case. His current run as a producer is remarkable. Just in the last few years, he has solely produced some of the genre’s best albums: “Bo Jackson” with Boldy James, “Alfredo” with Freddie Gibbs and “Fetti” with Curren$y and Freddie Gibbs. This is along with a handful of other incredible production credits, including Kendrick Lamar’s “We Cry Together,” Benny the Butcher’s “Broken Bottles,” “Rubber Bands & Weight” and “Johnny P’s Caddy” and Anderson Paak’s “Make It Better.”
“The Great Escape” with Larry June showcases how much The Alchemist can elevate a rapper’s career. The samples are elaborate and well constructed. There is an impressive chemistry between the artists. Every sound is intentional, and there is not a bad beat on the entire tracklist.
San Francisco’s own Larry June has been an underground favorite and a beacon for the Bay Area rap scene for the last few years. His authentically west-coast sound has garnered respect in many regional circles. However, over the last year or so, June has almost started to become a mainstream household name in hip-hop.
Collaborating with The Alchemist was a perfect strategic move at this point in June’s career. His music has attracted somewhat of a cult following, and his signature sound has been thoroughly established. In fact, it has become so established that it’s slightly repetitive and redundant at times. In other words, Larry needed to innovate and work with an iconic producer like The Alchemist. This is a phenomenal partnership, offering Larry the needed innovation and engaging production while also expanding The Alchemist’s audience.
Larry June’s technical abilities aren’t going to wow anybody, but they are not supposed to. He doesn’t rap with an eclectic flow, his monotone delivery hardly fluctuates, and his lyrical content doesn’t vary across too many different topics. However, what he does provide is an effortless smoothness in every syllable he utters. Each bar carries a certain energy that is unique (and very well-fitting for The Alchemist’s production).
The roll-out for the album was outstanding. The singles ended up being some of the highlights, building the hype and establishing the aesthetic with a clear and intentional vision. “Palisades, CA” closed out the single run and brought in a big name feature with Big Sean, who stepped a bit out of his zone and (somewhat surprisingly to me) delivered a great feature verse.
Moreover, June has always been a master of vision and aesthetic, building his brand as an artist through historically cohesive cover art and visual thematics. There is no doubt that a Larry June album cover is going to come with a car and/or some oranges.
“The Great Escape” is a solid album but certainly not a perfect one. There are definitely times where I am left wanting more from Larry June as a rapper. This album could be better with more dynamic and versatile delivery. June is one of the more static rappers in terms of what he can provide technically, which can be a turn-off for many listeners.
However, there are pros and cons to his approach. His consistency makes the album flow easily and comfortable to listen to, building a welcome familiarity for listeners. Larry June’s image is built on this sound, and many people have come to love him for it. I think it can sometimes be beneficial to have such an identifiable sound, but there are other times where I feel like it’s holding him back as an artist.
The album’s highlights come when new dynamic elements are introduced. Getting a Slum Village feature on “Orange Village” was a clever move, with T3 and Young RJ giving that track a boost of energy that made it a standout. “Barragán Lighting” brought in Joey Bada$$ and Curren$y for another peak of the album.
The aforementioned “Palisades, CA” provides a refreshing twist to the album with an impressive Big Sean feature. “Porsches in Spanish” came through with a soul sample that could carry any track. A handful of other songs, such as “Margie’s Candy House” and “89 Earthquake,” built on June’s signature sound and provided well-executed solo performances.
“The Great Escape” might be Larry June’s strongest offering to date. A collab album with The Alchemist might not be for every rapper, but for the ones that it does, it works marvelously. “The Great Escape” elevated Larry June artistically and provided The Alchemist with yet another wonderful collaboration.
Favorite Songs: “Porsches in Spanish,” “Palisades, CA,” “Margie’s Candy House,” “Orange Village” “Barragán Lighting,” “89 Earthquake”
Album Score: 79/100
Check out this Spotify Playlist and like it to follow along with some of my favorite songs of 2023 so far.
Editor’s Note: This article is a review and includes subjective opinions, thoughts and critiques.