The Alchemist and Earl Sweatshirt: Rap’s New Power Couple 

Album Cover courtesy of Genius.

The early years of the 2020s have been the era of The Alchemist in the hip-hop sonic landscape. The legendary producer, DJ and songwriter is no new face in the hip-hop industry, but his powerful reemergence since the beginning of this decade needs to be studied in a lab or something.

The Alchemist has become the Oprah Winfrey of the rap game; rounding up artists such as Freddy Gibbs, MIKE, Larry June and most recently Earl Sweatshirt ready to gift an album to each of them like the giving hand Winfrey was on her show. While Winfrey dished out vacations and cars to her audience, The Alchemist hid thumb drives full of head-bopping beats under the seats of his rapper friends — providing each of them with the tunes tailor-made for a classic project.

“VOIR DIRE,” a 27-minute long album that was released in early October, is Earl Sweatshirt’s gift made in collaboration with The Alchemist. The short but oh-so-sweet album quickly became a memorable listen, with both artists doing what they do best.

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The Alchemist never produces the same thing twice, and this 11-song album is further proof. The beats on “Vin Skully” and “Mancala” are typical Alchemist-esque creations; full of life but crafted in a relatively simple manner. The Alchemist consistently avoids overdoing it when making a memorable beat. Those two songs show how this style remains so effective.

Earl’s “rough around the edges” tone surprisingly mixes well with The Alchemist’s lively beats. Earl — who is the complete opposite in terms of style — seems willing to ditch his nonchalant attitude for this collab. “Vin Skully” and “Mancala” require Earl to tiptoe out of his comfort zone, and while he doesn’t necessarily shout into the mic, Earl finally sounds somewhat excited to be in the studio.

After “Mancala” with Earl’s longtime friend Vince Staples, The Alchemist makes the effort to conform to Earl. The album hits the brakes, and we get some traditional Earl Sweatshirt rap music. 

The beats on “27 Braids” and “Dead Zone” immediately took me back to The Alchemist’s projects with Freddy Gibbs and Larry June. The beats are slow, loopy and subdued, complementing Earl’s grungy tone just like they did at one point for Gibbs and June.

This was a different Earl Sweatshirt on “VOIR DIRE,” however. Even when The Alchemist dimmed it down for Earl, the rapper appeared more confident than before. From the lyrics to the flow, it’s evident that Earl has metamorphosized out of his 16-year-old body that released his first album.

Earl doesn’t sound as bored and uninterested as he had in the past. He’s moved on from that “too cool for school” phase and refuses to pass up this opportunity with an all-time producer in The Alchemist.

From bars like “I reaped everything I sowed in” and “It wasn’t easy, but we grown men,” on “100 High Street” to verses from “Free the Ruler” such as, “Shouts to all my boys gettin’ by, dreams of livin’ large / Streetcar called pride droppin’ them off in the morgue, it’s not free rides out here anymore,” Earl proclaims his newfound maturity.

Earl brilliantly references the play “A Streetcar Named Desire” in light of the rappers who were too prideful to seek growth, and ultimately fell off the map due to their stubbornness. Earl embraced those learning moments and The Alchemist perfectly crafted beats on which he celebrated this transformation. 

“VOIR DIRE” is the quintessential example of artists not necessarily all being on the same page when working on an album but learning to compromise and complement each other for a work of collective art. The Alchemist does his job, Earl certainly does his, and feature artist Vince Staples polishes this project off.

Listeners get a taste of each artists’ individual work, while also being able to appreciate what they all did together. It’s not often that you see a producer of The Alchemist’s status willing to just throw beats out to anyone, but it’s even more encouraging when a somewhat underground artist like Earl Sweatshirt doesn’t miss his opportunity and shows the industry what he’s always been capable of.