On July 18, Lil B made a surprising announcement on Twitter. “Just knocked out a based freestyle album with chance the rapper in chi town,” he wrote. The result of their impromptu collaboration, Free (Based Freestyle Mixtape), arrived a few weeks later.
The spontaneous recording session was overseen by Jeff Arenson and Aidan Sigel-Bruse (Boathouse), who engineer/produce for the Closed Sessions label. Free is not a Closed Sessions release, according to Alexander Fruchter, who co-founded the label. “This was put together solely because Jeff and Aiden love Lil B and somehow tracked down their favorite artist and got him to come by and make music with them,” he added.
The FADER spoke with the two dedicated Based God fans recently about their rapid-fire session with Chance and Lil B. Read excerpts from the conversation below, and check out photos of the session, courtesy of Allison Gretchko.
How did you guys get into studio work?
Boathouse: I started out as an intern at the studio about a year ago now. I’ve been kind of producing, making beats and stuff like since I’m 17. I’m 22 now. I go to school in Chicago. Started at the school as an intern, put my head down, got to work, got to learning, leveled up here and there, made it to where I wanted to be, and now I’m in the studio every day doing stuff.
Arenson: I had a very similar upcoming as far as starting as an intern. As an intern I got to mix some records for the Closed Sessions label and then slowly became an engineer at Soundscape. Aiden and I both went to school at Columbia in Chicago so we’ve known each other from there as well.
So how did this project come together?
Arenson: I saw Based God had a Pitchfork after party. I reached out to him on Twitter saying when you’re in Chicago, we’d love to work with you—we’re all big fans over here. And we got in touch after that. A day or two beforehand he had started mentioning who he wanted to work with. When he came to the studio he wanted Chance to come through. Nothing was set in stone until it actually happened.
Boathouse: He pulled up pretty much and was like, ‘do any of you guys have a line on Chance?’ Our studio Soundscape as well as Closed Sessions has a pretty good relationship with them. We’ve known those guys for a while—Chance has recorded a bunch of stuff at Soundscape before. We got our boss, the owner of the studio, to hit him up. Dude hopped on a bike and ran over immediately.
How did they pick the beats for these songs?
Boathouse: Based God was there first. He was just hanging out and vibing. He was cycling through his large folder of beats on his computer. He’d bounce between listening to beats and listening to Max B for a little bit. Chance pulled up, they dapped each other up immediately and just sat down at the console and started freestyling to some music. One thing just led to another very quickly, and they were like, let’s make a mixtape. We opened up pro-tools, popped up a beat in there, and they just each went in, laid a verse, opened up the next beat.
Arenson: After the first one, it was like whatever was next in that folder, and it was like bring it in. There was probably two minutes between each track. There was no time for writing or thinking or anything.
Boathouse: 100% based freestyle.
Do Chance and Lil B have different styles of recording?
Arenson: You can tell in some of the songs that they’re rhyming off each other. Based God will pick up where Chance left off. We were just trying to soak in the room. It got off to an interesting start—that studio was brand new, so Aiden and I were just trying to get everything ready. By the time we did record it, I wasn’t paying attention to the rap as much as I was trying to engineer it properly.
Boathouse: This studio is fairly brand new, this room. It’s like a really nice, top of the line bedroom studio. We have a really nice console in there that we had in our B room at Soundscape last year. But the room is really just coming together as we run sessions out of it. After that session, anyone could rap in there.
Arenson: We just put in the headphone tree like 30 minutes before Based God got there so there could be two headphones. I don’t know how things would’ve gone if there was one pair of headphones and they had to take turns the whole time. Everything just kind of fell into place.
Is the sequence the songs were recorded in the same sequence they appear on the tape?
Arenson: It’s close. “We Rare” was definitely done last.
Boathouse: That was in the last ten minutes of the whole session. I remember the recording of “We Rare”—Chance was just like I’m going to go lay this hook, and he laid the hook. Jeff looks over at me like, ‘just puts the dibs on this one.’ That’s his that he wants to mix for sure, which I was a little salty about, but that’s fine. That one was crazy. Just the last ten minutes, Lil B had to go catch a flight. They were like let’s do one more, Chance goes and does his thing, Lil B comes out lays an insane verse, then Chance and it was a wrap.
Arenson: That’s the only one off the top of my head that has a hook structure even. Most of ‘em are just rap rap rap.
The beat to that one is a little different too.
Boathouse: I think that was one of Nate Fox’s. Fox was in the session as well. He just pulled that one out and it went straight into pro-tools.
Arenson: Just the next one out of Nate’s folder. When we hit spacebar, that played.
Do you have a favorite moment from the session?
Arenson: I enjoyed telling Based God my favorited Based God moments and particular tracks that aren’t in his everyday fan discography. Super throwbacks. Just seeing his reaction to me dropping some rare collectibles.
Boathouse: Being around that guy’s energy for the first time and realizing he’s exactly who he portrays on the internet—he’s the person he says he is. Meeting that was insane. I think the energy from having him in that room and in our presence stuck around for the next week. You could feel it, it was a physical thing.
Arenson: I think it’s hard to pick a moment when Aiden and I will casually just sing Based God lyrics on a regular day. Then one day Based God is here. It felt surreal. The whole building is very based. It’s still soaking in that ambience.