Freddie Gibbs/The Alchemist: Alfredo | Review

Freddie Gibbs/The Alchemist: Alfredo | Review

Hip-hop’s obsession with the Italian Mafia has always been curious. While there’s certainly something perversely romantic about Hollywood’s paeans to La Cosa Nostra, the characters at the heart of these stories—both in real life and on screen—were incorrigibly racist. Mafiosos said and did awful things to black people. And yet rappers have been glorifying dons and capos ever since Kool G Rap and DJ Polo’s Road to the Riches, idolizing men in custom suits smoking cigars who often saw them as less than human. Alfredo, the collaborative LP from rapper Freddie Gibbs and producer the Alchemist, tugs at the root of this fascination. From its Mario Puzo-esque cover art to the various gangster-movie samples throughout its 35-minute runtime, it celebrates the mafioso aesthetic while simultaneously acknowledging its ugliness. And at its core, the Mafia’s role in hip-hop has always been one of aspirational criminality, based in respect for the hustle above all else. Rappers who rap about selling drugs in the trap don’t want to be holed up in a dilapidated vacant home, they want to be dining on fine china in designer clothes. Mafiosos showed them how to do that, all the while thumbing their noses at a WASPy aristocracy that saw them as second-class citizens. Throughout the album, Gibbs and the Alchemist’s reference points suggest a deeper understanding of this dynamic. Its anti-heroes aren’t white mobsters with mulignan in their mouths like John Gotti or Tony Soprano, but Harlem kingpins Frank Lucas and ...
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