Larry June raps like he’s guiding a meditation, his voice rarely rising above a soothing monotone. In another timeline, the prolific San Francisco rapper might have been a self-help expert, using the power of mindfulness to help others manifest their goals. The flexes in his lyrics are often material, but just as important are the lines about drinking green juice and waking up early for a little walk. Scroll through the comments section of any of his YouTube videos, and you’ll find fans explaining how his music inspired them to start a business, eat healthier, or buy a nicer car. He’s smooth and charismatic, making music to soundtrack the uncomplicated pleasure of going for a drive on a sunny day.
June gravitates towards breezy, post-hyphy beats, so it was a bit of a head-scratcher when he hinted at forthcoming collaborations with The Alchemist back in 2021. For the past decade, Al’s been moving away from the hard-nosed, New York classicism of his early career into a trippier zone, slathering piano stabs and chopped samples with tape echo effects and creeping drones. He’s made incredible records with Roc Marciano, Boldy James, and Armand Hammer, none of which have the microdose-in-the-smoothie vibe that June has been perfecting. But The Great Escape, the pair’s new joint album, works astonishingly well. June’s laid-back approach helps Al settle into a less brooding mood. His production functions as both a complement and challenge, giving June’s unwavering chill a prestige rap sheen and eliciting some of his best performances.
The two mesh together so seamlessly, it’s hard to believe they were initially unsure of how to develop a common sound. In an interview with Rolling Stone from earlier this month, Al said he was a fan of June, but he was “kind of different…I was like, ‘I don’t know how we could find a bag.’” They connected through a mutual collaborator, the Los Angeles rapper Jay Worthy. When June hopped on the neon-lit easy listening number “Rainy Night in SF,” a song Al and Worthy were working on, it all clicked. The beats that Al supplies for The Great Escape are lush and hypnotic, full of acid jazz Rhodes pianos (“Art Talk”), muted funk guitars (“Summer Reign”), and cheesy lounge horns (“Solid Plan”). Al’s main talent—beyond an impeccable ear for samples—is his ability to fully inhabit a rapper’s world. For June, he keeps the tempos relaxed, the sounds luxurious, and the drums crisp, leaving plenty of space for his creative partner to stretch.
For all of June’s magnetism, he’s never been especially adventurous on the mic. He knows what works and sticks with it, placing phrases between beats like garden pavers. Still, June sounds invigorated on The Great Escape, toying with his delivery in unexpected ways. The subtle shifts in flow and enjambment reveal him to be a much more adept technician than his previous work has suggested. June only raps in his indoor voice, but the way he adopts a Phonte-like bounce on “Orange Village,” or cycles through tumbling internal rhymes on “Turkish Cotton,” gives his typically coolheaded style a welcome tension.
June peppers his bars with rich, evocative details, making his art feel like much more than lifestyle rap. He’ll easily spend $1,000 on candles or $500 on a salt shaker. His passion for cars goes beyond namechecking luxury automakers; he extends that appreciation for opulence to must-have accessories, like ceramic brakes and a push-button parking system. These moments feel immersive, setting him apart from other rappers whose entire brands rest on describing their wealth. Take Wiz Khalifa, who shows up on “What Happened to the World” without much to say, apart from the vague proclamation that he made so much “last week, [he] can’t speak on it.” Meanwhile, Larry brags about his money, but never comes off as hollow or sneering. He exudes a palpable sense of gratitude, rather than a spend-it-while-you-got-it nihilism; in the end, the approach makes him more interesting and relatable.
The Great Escape isn’t flawless; this is an album with a Big Sean verse, after all. The candlelit crooning of “Ocean Sounds” feels better suited to June’s last album, Spaceships on the Blade, which possessed a much more romantic sensibility. The beats on “What Happened to the World” and “Exito” are a little too similar, slightly slowing the album’s momentum. That said, the songs are still vivacious and frequently gorgeous. It’s a joy to hear these two expand their comfort zones into each other’s orbit, finding ways to both affirm and broaden what they do best.