In the simpler times of 2019, one of my favorite albums was Griselda’s WWCD, thanks in no small part to the complete demolition job done by rapper Conway The Machine. In the more convoluted 2020, one of my favorite albums is Boldy James’ The Price of Tea in China, thanks in no small part to the incredible production of The Alchemist. Both Conway and Alchemist are names you can trust. Meaning, when you see their credits on a song, you know you’re in for a grimy hip-hop treat. So, color me excited when I discovered the pair would be teaming up for a seven-song EP, entitled LULU.
“We’ve been rocking together for a while now, and for a person like me, if I get the opportunity to do a whole project with somebody on a level like Conway, I don’t take that lightly,” Alchemist tells me over the phone. “A lot of producers, they’re probably mad at me right now, like, ‘Fuck that, let me get Conway!’”
LULU, out now, is gritty, dusty, and disgusting in the best ways, hip-hop. Conway gnashes through Alc’s production with help from ScHoolboy Q (“Shoot Sideways”) and Cormega (“They Got Sonny”). On “The Contract,” he sounds loose and as playful as the blunt-edged rapper can, skating over a sea of Griselda’s signature gun ad-libs. Conway calls himself the GOAT with such passion and conviction; we cannot argue. “I just hope they remember me,” he emotes as if we could ever forget the Machine. As if we could ever forget a veteran legend like Alchemist.
On the runaway standout “Calvin,” Conway goes and goes and goes, zooming over the immaculate Alc beat with a neck-craning flow. Never does he veer off-course. Never does Alc’s sampling prowess let us down. So much so, Conway employs a quick emotional trick on “Calvin,” shouting out Alchemist’s undeniable skill behind the boards.
“I just wanted to do something different,” Conway explains of “Calvin.” “I purposefully change my flow pattern. This one was just a little tricky, a little different. I wanted to do something left-field. I feel like nobody expected that type of pocket over that type of Alchemist beat.”
The marriage of Conway The Machine and The Alchemist is a happy one. They’re happy together; hip-hop is happy to have them as one—everybody wins. Our conversation, lightly edited for content and clarity, follows below.
DJBooth: When did you two decide to come together as a unit for LULU?
Alchemist: We’ve been rocking together for a while now, and for a person like me, if I get the opportunity to do a whole project with somebody on a level like Conway, I don’t take that lightly. A lot of producers, they’re probably mad at me right now, like, “Fuck that, let me get Conway!” We always rock one every project—we already been working together on other projects. This was a great opportunity for us to stunt humbly.
Conway, what does working with Alc bring out of you?
Conway: I don’t wanna come with nothing lackluster. I got big shoes to fill and big footsteps to follow with the legacy of guys like Prodigy and other artists Al has worked with. I’m just trying to keep up the tradition and not be the guy that came with the corny shit; you know what I mean?
Al, what does making beats for Conway bring out of you?
Al: Every artist is unique in the way they approach a beat. With Conway, I know what he can do. I gotta play him the best beat, and of course, we’re gonna make something that’s gonna twist your face up. I’m going for that, of course, but there’s a lot of bags he could go into. The level of his writing ability, the different emotions he could touch… He’s dangerous.
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LULU’s seven songs feel effortless, but did any of the songs give you trouble on the writing or production front, knowing you wanted to impress the other person?
Conway: Nah, it didn’t. I was pretty confident and comfortable with what I record, that Al was gon’ love and fuck with [the music]. It wasn’t no pressure in that aspect. None of that shit was a challenge, and that’s why this shit sound the way it sound: We was in our comfort zone. We know each other, we homies in real life. The beats and the lyrics fit like a hand in a glove. I was confident what we was gon’ do together was gon’ be ill.
“Calvin” is the obvious standout for me. Tell me about the making of that cut from your individual perspectives.
Conway: I just wanted to do something different. I always do that. A lot of people, maybe they don’t catch on, but I purposefully change my flow pattern. This one was just a little tricky, a little different. I wanted to do something left-field. I feel like nobody expected that type of pocket over that type of Alchemist beat. I wanted to blend… Stripes and polka-dots wearing together. I wanted to be different but still fly.
Al: A record like that, like Con was saying, is a clever way to mix the drinks up. Music is language. A beat’s a language; rhyme’s a language. There’s certain languages, where if you don’t speak that language, your ear just tunes out. I feel like we spoke another language that might catch some other ears, without going outside of our range. No style’s off-limits, you just gotta do it your way. Conway can pretty much do anything. It’s good when we mix up the bag sometimes, and I’m gonna do my best to compute it in a format that is still me, but we ain’t afraid. We can do any style—no fear.
That record reminds me of how Benny switched up his flow on Plugs.
Al: These guys are amazing. There’s no limit to the way they could rhyme. I’m known for a certain style, [Conway]’s known for a particular style, but anytime we switch it up, it’s a problem.
How did your friendship influence the way you worked together on LULU?
Conway: Alchemist, when we record, he’s different. He’s a mean man. He hollers at me, a lot, and bullies me if I don’t do it right or I mess up, or it’s not perfect on one take. I have to do 50 push-ups, or I won’t be able to get dinner that night…
Al: Very rigorous! I’m like Bobby Knight, like a coach. I throw chairs.
Conway: He’s thrown a couple chairs in the studio.
Al: I throw temper tantrums like a little dog that’s just barking real loud.
Conway: Nah, man, Al’s my man, and we got a lot of records together we’ve been doing for the last couple of years. Al is no stranger to working with legendary MCs. So, if he takes you under the wing, you know in the back of your mind… If Al’s fucking with you, you’re doing something right.
Al: To add to that, Conway is, of course, my brother, and we’ve developed a friendship, but I don’t ever take who he is as an MC lightly. I remind him a lot, too. “Bro, you know, you the Machine.” I don’t take [lightly] the greatness he’s already done and what he’s overcome with his life. We’re still watching it. I remind him of that—when he’s on 100 percent, I don’t think anybody can stop him.
What’s the biggest lesson about creativity you learned from each other?
Conway: Be yourself. We got that in common: We ain’t tryin’ to be like nobody else. I’m just me; I’m just Conway. I’m always the same in any circumstance. Al’s the same way. He don’t act differently when other people come around. This industry, there’s a lot of phony dudes. Al’s a genuine dude, and that’s what I get from him: You get a lot further being yourself.